THE BIG IDEA:

SIMI VALLEY, Calif.—Carly Fiorina, who was stuck at the kids’ table during the first debate, has emerged as the undisputed victor of the second.

She’s a non-politician and a fighter in a moment when those qualities are in high demand by the Republican base. She’s the only woman running at a time when Democrats are likely to nominate Hillary Clinton. And her memorable zingers here last night impressed not just activists but conservative thought leaders and elites across the mainstream media.

Fiorina showed she can bloody Trump, and her back-and-forth with him may soon be seen as a tipping point. She succeeded at making him uncomfortable. That is something that Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and others have tried but failed to do.

Asked about Trump mocking her looks in an interview with Rolling Stone, Fiorina deadpanned: “Women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” The line resonated. “It clearly was a harpoon and it stuck,” Hugh Hewitt said after the debate.

She also gave the crowd chills when she talked about losing her stepdaughter to drugs.

During the second GOP debate, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina shared a personal story about the loss of her stepdaughter to drugs. The story came up as a response as candidates were debating the legalization of marijuana. (CNN)

A host of female conservative pundits were especially enamored. “Trump finally met his match,” wrote “Right Turn” blogger Jennifer Rubin. “In a smashing performance that will earn her poll points, campaign donations and praise from Republicans, she went after Trump with surgical precision.” Katie Pavlich of TownHall.com, a frequent Fox talking head, said Fiorina “landed a number of punches on Trump and is the only candidate so far in the race who has been able to successfully do so.”

But it was more than Republican women. ABC’s Jonathan Karl declared Fiorina “the clear stand out.” Jonathan Capehart called Fiorina’s response to the Rolling Stone quote “the knock-out moment of the night.” The headline on the cover of the New York Post today says “Carly trumps The Donald.”

— Rubio is also widely perceived as a big winner of last night’s showdown at the Reagan library. Here’s a round-up of what insiders had to say after the debate, compiled by PowerPost’s Kelsey Snell and David Clarke—

  • National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry said he will be “very surprised if Carly doesn’t continue her rise after this.” Rubio was “excellent,” he thought, “but he didn’t have one signature moment.”
  • Karl Rove, appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show, picked Fiorina and Rubio as the two winners. He said the question is whether Rubio’s numbers will improve after this because they did not last time. He said the “most improved” were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. He thinks Ben Carson didn’t do well, Mike Huckabee didn’t do much and Rand Paul looked desperate.
  • The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes said Fiorina and Rubio were “co-winners.” He ranked the others this way: 3. Christie; 4. Walker; 5. Cruz; 6. Kasich; 7. Huckabee; 8. Bush; 9. Paul; 10. Carson; 11. Trump.
  • Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson said Fiorina and Rubio both peeled off Trump supporters in her focus group. They asked participants before and after: who’s your favorite? It started out with 10 for Trump and two for Carson. Fiorina and Rubio peeled off two Trump supporters each.
  • Frank Luntz said on Fox that only one person in his focus group offered a negative comment about Fiorina. They liked her, Rubio and Christie.
  • Digital strategist Liz Mair said Fiorina “edged out” Rubio. “But the main reason I say that is she didn’t make the dumb water joke upfront,” she wrote. She called Trump a “big time” loser, with Walker—her former boss—and Huckabee “to a lesser extent.”
  • RedState’s Erick Erickson: “Carly may have won tonight’s debate, but I suspect Rubio has won some Bush donors.”

Who else helped themselves? 

  • NBC “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd said it is “hard to name one winner.” But he argued that Carly, Jeb, Christie, Cruz and Rubio all improved their standing.
  • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin says Carly had the best night, Carson shined, and Jeb held his own, but no one delivered a knockout blow. His report card: Fiorina A–, Carson B+, Trump B+, Bush B, Rubio B.
  • 538’s Nate Silver wrote that “Fiorina won the first half of the debate, Rubio won the second half, and Bush won the third half.”
  • The Fix’s Chris Cillizza named five winners besides Fiorina: Rubio, Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Christie and Jeb in the third hour. His losers were Walker, Huckabee, Rand, Jeb in hours one and two, as well as Rick Santorum.

— Looking ahead: Who is going to go after Fiorina now? It’s a tricky dynamic to attack the only woman on stage, which is why Christie looked like such a bully when he snapped at her for trying to chime in as he made a point. “Carly, listen,” the New Jersey governor admonished her. “You can interrupt everybody else on this stage; you’re not going to interrupt me, okay?”

— Conservative men like that Fiorina does not explicitly play the woman card. “When the moderator asked the candidates which woman they would like to see on the $10 bill, the male candidates offered suggestions including Rosa Parks, the choice of Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), and Mother Teresa, the pick of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Fiorina said she wouldn’t make any changes,” Vanessa Williams writes. “Honestly, it’s a gesture. I don’t think it helps to change our history,” Fiorina said. “What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.”

— Her success will draw tougher scrutiny of her business record. E.J. Dionne Jr. calls her the “big winner” but thinks that “she lost some ground as the debate wore on” and that “she lost the exchange with Trump over her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard.” Other journalists, like Vox’s Sarah Kliff, point out that Fiorina pretty significantly exaggerated what is on the Planned Parenthood undercover videos, at least the ones that have been released.

— Carson’s unwillingness to engage with Trump the way that Fiorina did made him look soft. He was reluctant to decry the billionaire’s scientifically-discredited position on vaccines. Though he’s second in the polls, Carson did not get a representative amount of time to speak because the moderators recognized that he was in no mood to go after his rivals. He wouldn’t even restate his criticisms of Trump’s plan to build a border wall. “I didn’t like the format very well,” Carson said in the spin room afterward.

The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol talked down Trump and Carson after the debate. “One minor problem revealed or confirmed by the debate: The two leaders in the GOP race in the polls aren’t qualified to be president,” he tweeted. “Prediction: Neither party will nominate either of the top two candidates in the polls. Not Trump or Carson, not Clinton or Sanders.”

Donald Trump was put to the test, while Carly Fiorina emerged as a big winner. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Trump’s campaign could end with a whimper, not a bang. Jeb and others, including Walker, took him seriously last night. “For the first time since he joined the race, Trump wasn’t the commanding presence on the stage,” Dan Balz writes in his front-page take. “Trump was put on the defensive as much as he tried to stay on the offensive.” While he may continue to dominate the polls, the debate indicated that “he can expect a bumpier ride in the weeks and months ahead,” Dan predicts.

His share of the coverage was significantly smaller than a normal day. Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs found that Trump received a 36 percent share of the overall GOP conversation during the three-hour debate. During the day before, for context, it was 61 percent. And that’s despite the fact that Trump got meaningfully more time than everyone else to talk. Walker got the least amount of time on the microphone, 8 minutes and 24 seconds, compared to nearly 19 minutes for Trump.

Others used the time they got to create moments. The annotated chart below illustrates the five key moments that defined the debate, and attracted the most social media reaction:

— Another takeaway: Everyone thinks the debate was too long, and moderator Jake Tapper should have better utilized his cohosts. Women across the ideological spectrum feel Dana Bash should have gotten more opportunities to ask questions, and conservatives wish Hewitt had more chances for thoughtful give-and-take from the right.

  • Crystal Wright, who runs the Conservative Black Chick Blog, described the pair as “props.”
  • “I would like to have seen a lot more from Dana Bash,” former Bush 43 White House press secretary Dana Perino told Megyn Kelly on Fox News. “She was asked to be there for a reason, and I feel like she kind of got the short end of the stick.”

There were also a bunch of painfully obvious follow-up questions that went unasked. James Fallows from the Atlantic, for example, could not believe when Jeb’s claim that George W. kept America safe went unchallenged.

CNN also took heat on social media for misidentifying a random woman in the debate hall as Nancy Reagan; the former First Lady was not healthy enough to be able to attend the debate.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Carey Gabey, 43, the aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who was shot in the head by a stray bullet in Brooklyn last week, died last night. He was declared brain dead on Tuesday and removed from a respirator by his family. Police think he was an innocent bystander caught in gang-related crossfire after returning at 3:40 a.m. from a Jamaican music festival. (NYT)

— A magnitude-8.3 quake hit off the coast of northern Chile, causing buildings to sway in Santiago and prompting authorities to issue a tsunami warning for the Andean nation’s entire Pacific coast. (AP)

GET SMART FAST:

  1. President Obama invited Ahmed Mohamed to visit the White House after a digital clock that the 14-year-old built was mistaken for a bomb at his Texas high school.
  2. Expedia won approval from antitrust officials to acquire rival Orbitz for $1.3 billion.
  3. Federal prosecutors are poised to announce a $1 billion settlement with General Motors over 124 deaths linked to faulty ignition switches. No individual employees will be charged in the case.
  4. Missouri’s Republican legislature failed to override the Democratic governor’s veto of legislation that would make the state a right-to-work state, despite significant investment. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
  5. Hundreds of European refugees hiked through cornfields to reach welcoming Croatia even as others faced tear gas and water cannons from Hungarian police determined to turn them away. (William Booth)
  6. The IRS revoked the nonprofit status of Veterans for a Strong America, the group that hosted and sold tickets for Trump’s foreign policy speech aboard the USS Iowa. The group failed to file tax returns for three years. (AP)
  7. The 35-year police chief of Surf City, N.C., was forced to retire after posting on Facebook that Black Lives Matter is “nothing more than an American born terrorist group brought on by the lie of the hands up don’t shoot during the criminal thug Michael Brown incident.”
  8. The professional hunter who helped kill Cecil the lion has been arrested for helping smuggle 29 sable antelope out of the country.
  9. Flash flooding in Utah has now claimed the lives of 18 people, including six visitors to Zion National Park.
  10. A 46-year old American tourist on her first visit to India says she was gang raped earlier this week. (Fred Barbash)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Anthony Weiner is out of work again after just two months on the job at the powerhouse public-relations firm MWW, the New York Post reports. According to an internal memo from the head of the firm, Weiner “understands that his presence here has created noise and distraction that just isn’t helpful.” (Page Six)
  2. Joe Biden met with one of the Nevada’s most powerful political players: the leader of the Culinary Union, which backed Obama over Hillary in 2008 and could help make the VP competitive against her in the early state’s caucuses. (Las Vegas Sun)
  3. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) resigned from the House Freedom Caucus, saying that the group’s hardball tactics have hurt the conservative cause.
  4. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Russia next week to talk with Vladmir Putin about stopping clashes between Russian forces and the Israeli army in Syria. (Haaretz)
  5. As the Iran nuclear pact is set to take effect today, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of the ‘political and cultural  infiltration by the United States’ as the greatest danger facing the Islamic Republic. (AFP)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Number of Americans without health insurance falls as income and poverty rate stay level,” by Amy Goldstein, Jeff Guo and Lazaro Gamio: “The proportion of Americans who lack health insurance took a big dip last year, with nearly 9 million people gaining coverage since 2013, according to federal figures announced Wednesday morning…The new figures… are the most solid evidence to date of the impact that the Affordable Care Act has had since its main coverage provisions took effect in 2014.”

Administration searches for new approach to aiding rebels in Syria,” by Karen DeYoung: “The Obama administration is moving toward major changes in its military train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition after the acknowledged failure of efforts to create a new force of rebel fighters to combat the Islamic State there… Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress on Wednesday that only ‘four or five’ trainees from the program, a $500 million plan officially launched in December to prepare as many as 5,400 fighters this year, have ended up “in the fight” inside Syria.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— The top three social moments on Facebook, in terms of buzz generated: 1. Fiorina responds to Trump’s comments on her appearance; 2. Trump, Fiorina, and Christie debate the merits of their business track-records; 3. Trump criticizes Rand’s appearance.

  • Top candidates discussed on Facebook during the debate: 1. Trump; 2. Carly; 3. Carson; 4. Jeb; 5. Cruz.
  • Top issues discussed on the social network during the debate: 1. Immigration; 2. The Economy; 3. Iran; 4. Racial Issues; 5. Iraq, Syria, and ISIS.

–Pictures of the day:

Before the debate, Rand Paul invited reporters to watch him shoot boxes of the U.S. Tax Code with a high-powered rifle:

For Jeb Bush, it meant watching “The Apprentice” for guidance (and posting the whole thing on Snapchat):

Comedian Patton Oswalt was on the set of “The Circle,” with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, and they turned on the debate. “There’s no sound on the TV monitor and Tom Hanks is providing all the candidates’ voices and it’s g—-mned fried magic,” Oswalt tweeted:

The Trump phenomena helped draw a bunch of celebrities who normally are not at debates. Clay Aiken of “American Idol” fame was on assignment for “Entertainment Tonight.” There were also crews from “Extra” and “The Insider” roaming the spin room. A guy with a “Funny or Die” microphone heckled the candidates with outrageous questions.

The sun set around 7 p.m. PST, with one more hour still to go in the debate:

Back in D.C., Jon Stewart came to Capitol Hill to push for more funding for health care for 9/11 first responders:

— Tweets of the day:

Jeb apologized to his mother after acknowledging he smoked marijuana as a young man:

That mea culpa has gotten more than 22,000 retweets and 20,000 favorites. Meanwhile, Jim Gilmore — the only Republican presidential candidate who didn’t qualify for either debate — live-tweeted how he’d answer the questions to his paltry 1,600 followers:

After Trump and Jeb tangled over Bush’s use of Spanish, Hillary tweeted in Spanih:

Reporters commented widely about the candidates’ shiny faces starting early in the debate:

Ann Coulter tweeted a series of incendiary remarks about the candidates’ support for Israel:

Soon after the debate ended, Fiorina’s super PAC circulated this card on Twitter:

Mike Huckabee’s team posted a picture of their boss duck hunting (he chose “Duck Hunter” as his preferred Secret Service code name):

–Instagrams of the day:

Katie Couric enjoyed a slice of pizza while watching the first debate:

Jeb placed a call to George H.W. Bush before heading into the Reagan Library:

Protesters assembled outside, along with some colorful props:

Ben Carson called himself “so blessed” to have his sons in attendance:

RNC strategist Sean Spicer took a selfie with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Back in Washington, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) showed off her Shinola watch at the store’s opening on 14th Street:

And the National Zoo released a photo of the still-unnamed panda cub:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

New York Times, “Post-deal Iran asks if U.S. is still ‘Great Satan,’ or something less,” by Thomas Erdbrink: “…a new kind of struggle is unfolding now in Iran, where the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani have begun to tackle a question Iranians have not thought about much since the revolution 37 years ago: How to deal with their great enemy, the United States, after having reached a compromise with it…The two leaders are offering starkly opposing visions of Iran’s post-deal future…’Our Great Satan without sanctions is just not the same anymore,’ said Saeed Laylaz, an economist and supporter of Mr. Rouhani. ‘Perhaps we should use ‘lesser Satan’ now or something like that.'”

Wall Street Journal, “Wall Street has doubts about Fed lifting interest rates,” by Min Zing and Ira Iosebashvili: “Wall Street is skeptical that the Federal Reserve has room to raise short-term interest rates Thursday, underscoring persistent doubts about the health of the global economy and financial markets following seven years of easy policy. Some of the biggest names in the financial industry say a rate rise now would be unwise. And some executives whose firms would benefit from higher rates nevertheless don’t expect an increase Thursday. The view marks a sharp reversal from earlier this year, when a mid-2015 increase was widely expected.”

Politico, “McCarthy, Ryan call for end to Boehner drama,” by Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Anna Palmer: “The only two viable potential replacements for John Boehner as speaker of the House say they back the Ohio Republican and will oppose any effort to remove him from power. But other high-ranking Republicans are testing the waters should the embattled speaker be forced out…In a pair of statements to POLITICO, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) forcefully backed Boehner and called for an end to the intraparty warfare crippling the House Republican Conference as it faces a possible government shutdown on Oct. 1…Several GOP lawmakers have approached McCarthy, majority leader since mid-2014, to discuss Boehner’s fate. The California Republican isn’t entertaining that talk or planning a run, but a number of other Republicans in leadership have started to formally test their own political viability inside the GOP conference in the event that Boehner is forced to give up his post…House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has been actively positioning herself for a run for the No. 2 spot.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Is Jerry Brown considering a presidential bid? From the Weekly Standard: “California governor Jerry Brown gave signs in a Wednesday interview on CNN that he may be considering running for president. Brown, who has run for president three times before, spoke with Wolf Blitzer about the current Democratic field … ‘I would say, though, it is early,’ Brown said. ‘You could have a lot of big surprises, a lot of action between now and the first Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. A lot’s going to happen in the Republican primary, and I think some things could happen on the Democratic side as well.'”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

White House invites Catholic dissenters to greet Pope Francis. From Breitbart: “President Obama will apparently test just how far Pope Francis’ notorious tolerance will go by inviting a rogue’s gallery of people opposed to Catholic teaching to greet the pontiff at the White House during his visit next week. In a stunning show of political indecorum, Obama has invited a series of individuals who publicly flout Catholic teaching, including a pro-abortion religious sister, a transgender woman and the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, along with at least two Catholic gay activists.”

DAYBOOK:

–What’s happening today on the campaign trail: In New Hampshire, Hillary participates in events about substance abuse in Nashua and Laconia, followed by a town hall in Concord, and Donald Trump holds a town hall in Rochester. Two candidates are in Nevada: Jeb, rallying in Las Vegas, and Rand, meeting students at the University of Nevada in Reno. Martin O’Malley holds a listening session on marijuana legalization in Denver. John Kasich speaks at the New Majority Luncheon in Irvine, Calif. 

–On the Hill: The Senate meets at 10 a.m. Republican leadership plans to force a re-vote on the Iran nuclear deal by making approval of the deal contingent on Iran releasing four American hostages and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The House meets at 12 p.m. for legislative business.

–At the White House: President Obama meets with three young Americans who stopped a shooter on a Paris train last month. Obama also meets with Secretary of State John Kerry and, later, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Vice President Biden speaks in Detroit about federal investments in the city and in Columbus about preventing sexual assault on campus. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “America’s winning right now,” Obama told executives at a meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington, taking a shot at Trump’s campaign slogan. “America’s great right now.”

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

“High pressure is parked squarely over the area the next three days. The sun-filled days are giving nearly equal time to the starry nights as astronomical fall arrives next week. A cold front hobbles into the area Sunday and parks over the area early next week,” the Capital Weather Gang reports.

Truffle fries and mushroom croquettes may have been responsible for the salmonella outbreak at Fig&Olive, which has now reopened, according to interviews with diners and observations of food handling procedures. Those items have been removed from the menu.

The Nationals swept the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 12-2.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Hillary appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, a play to bracket the Republican debate. In one sketch, she played herself to Fallon’s Trump. Watch a video of their call:

During the interview, she allowed Fallon to test whether her hair is real (something Trump has done at his events):

And finally, here are the best of Trump’s high-fives: