Ted Cruz attacks the moderators for the opening salvo of questions to his rivals. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

THE BIG IDEA:

Here are five of my takeaways from last night’s face-off among GOP presidential candidates in Boulder, Colorado:

1. The consensus that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won hardened overnight.

Though each is 44-years-old, in his first term and represents the Sunbelt, they occupy very different lanes. Rubio is playing to be the bridge candidate, backed by the establishment while able to make inroads with conservatives angry at that same establishment. Cruz is the ideologically pure conservative who is unapologetic about his wars against leadership. Playing the long game, the Texan spent the summer cozying up to Donald Trump in hopes that he might eventually emerge as the guy best able to tap into the intense anger and yearning for an outsider.

Last night validated each of their strategies. Watching the two-hour event, it was easy to see a scenario in which the unpredictable and fluid race could come down to the two Cuban-Americans, with maybe a third candidate in the mix. Trump is fading; Ben Carson, another first-time candidate, did not seem like someone who has what it takes to go the distance. Jeb Bush, who before this year had not run for anything since 2002, had another really bad night and has shown himself to be a bad candidate. Cruz could very conceivably win the Iowa caucuses; Rubio might win in Nevada or South Carolina, and if he bests Bush to win their home state of Florida on March 15, it’s off to the races.

Two post-debate analyses capture the zeitgeist:

The Post’s Dan Balz writes that the third debate was a breakout moment for the pair: “For most of this year, Rubio and Cruz have been lurking in the background. … On Wednesday night, they broke out into the open, delivering strong and forceful performances in a raucous and rambling Republican debate marked by squabbling and sharp elbows. Both Rubio and Cruz have won modest plaudits for their performances in the first two debates, but there was a demonstrable difference in what unfolded on the stage at the University of Colorado. They outshone Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the leaders in the polls, and Rubio overshadowed his onetime mentor, former Florida governor Jeb Bush.”

National Review’s Jim Geraghty calls it “A Big Night for the GOP’s Cuban-American Duo:” “This was indisputably the worst-moderated debate of this young cycle, and perhaps the worst-moderated debate ever. … Because of this, Cruz won the night when he took a rhetorical flamethrower to the moderators, spelling out the dismissive, DNC-talking-point-style questions they had posed to each candidate. … Cruz just seemed to be dramatically better tonight in general: His answers were concise, succinct, and direct, and they hit the right emotional notes. … Rubio had the second-best moment of the night when he declared, ‘Democrats have their own SuperPAC. It’s called the mainstream media.’ Bush and the CNBC moderators both came after him, and there’s little sign they did much damage.”

Frank Luntz, famous for his TV focus groups, said: “Ted Cruz’s focus group dials hits 98 with his attack on media bias. That’s the highest score we’ve ever measured. EVER.”

NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd: “If Rubio ends up the nominee, this debate performance will be considered one of, if not, THE moment.”

From George W. Bush’s White House Press Secretary:

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol: “Rubio & Cruz seem more plausible (even likely) as finalists.”

The former student schools the teacher. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

2. Jeb Bush’s failure to deliver may doom his already-struggling campaign.

Near the top of the debate, with the stakes higher for him than anyone else, the former Florida governor tried to force a moment by criticizing Trump’s tax plan. The moderators would not let him. Then he tried to attack Rubio for blowing off his Senate day job. But the younger rival had well-rehearsed comebacks at the ready. “Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” he said, ending the discussion. Later, Jeb delivered a nominally funny and mundane response to a question about fantasy football regulation. Chris Christie, who had a good night, jumped in and ripped him for it. “Are we really talking about getting the federal government involved in fantasy football?” he asked.

In the last debate, Bush was a close second to Trump on most speaking time. He was dead last this time. He talked for fewer than six minutes of the two-hour debate, about a third as much as he spoke at the Reagan Library. He spoke less than Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee, who were basically non-factors last night.

The Bush campaign recognizes the debate was bad. Manager Danny Diaz confronted a CNBC producer during the debate to yell about the allocation of time and the questioning. In the spin room, advisers mainly stressed that another debate is less than two weeks away.

With donors already contemplating defections, the clips are brutal. Politico’s headline is “Bush walks into Rubio’s trap”: “‘Horrible’ is how one Florida-based Bush bundler summed up the night. ‘He got crushed.’  … ‘Marco is a [expletive] Jedi Master,’ one distraught Florida donor said. ‘Hopefully these idiots learn not to [expletive] with him anymore. Not necessary.’”

The knives have come out on the right. Despite his super PAC’s impressive war chest, it will be very hard for Jeb to survive through Iowa if these kinds of stories persist:

  • The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last:Jeb’s dead: adios amigo.
  • RedState blogger Erick Erickson: “I do like Jeb Bush. He is a good person. But he needs to start thinking about his future now.”
  • National Review Editor Rich Lowry: “Even when Bush gets time, he doesn’t punch through.”
  • Frank Luntz: “Jeb Bush is doing poorly. His Rubio attack failed. His defense of his own record failed. Everything failed.”
  • Matt Drudge: “Jeb Bush can eat carbs now…”
  • David Frum, a speechwriter to George W. who is now at The Atlantic: “… [T]his was the most important debate to date: it finished off the Bush campaign.”
Trump applauds before the start of the debate. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

3. Donald Trump faded into the backdrop, but he didn’t lash out. The billionaire debated pretty well, especially in the second hour. But after sucking up all the oxygen from the first debate and much of it from the second, he felt kind of like a non-factor. He did not, as was widely expected, attack Ben Carson, who has overtaken him in Iowa polls.

Trump was fourth in terms of how much time he got to speak, trailing Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Rubio. For context, he spoke just over 9 minutes during last night’s two-hour debate. During last debate (granted, three hours), he spoke for 19 minutes. In fact, last night Trump went 28 minutes (from 8:32 to 9 p.m.) without talking once.

  • ABC News’s Jonathan Karl: “Where’s @realDonaldTrump?”
  • Katy Tur of NBC News: “No seriously, where’s Trump?”
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein: “Amazing that the two guys with 55% combined support from the GOP electorate are bit players in the GOP presidential debate.”

4. Ben Carson is not prepared to be the front-runner, but no one landed a punch on him. The retired neurosurgeon could not really offer specifics when pressed, but kept his cool and (like Cruz) turned the audience against the moderators, especially over his sketchy relationship with a medical company that paid $7 million to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit. John Kasich said Carson would dismantle Medicare and the moderator noted that Carson;s tax plan (which he’s likened to tithing) would cause huge deficits. “That’s not true,” Carson replied.

Carson’s inability to answer Jim Cramer’s question about how he’d deal with price gouging by pharmaceutical companies showed that the first-time candidate has a steep learning curve and could struggle with intensifying scrutiny. Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp noted afterwards that Carson “could barely answer the question,” despite spending a career in medicine.

5. CNBC struggled to control the debate, and the candidates’ attacks on the mainstream media resonated with those watching at home. 

“CNBC failure wasn’t the tough questions. It was the moderators’ failure to have the knowledge and sources to back them up and keep control,” tweeted New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman.

Conservatives were much harsher:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus criticized the cable channel:

But the debate was sanctioned by the RNC, and Priebus drew rebukes from many leading voices in light of his takeover of the debate process:

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— The Royals beat the Mets 7-1, taking a two game lead in the World Series.

Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto celebrates after last night’s win. (Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports)

— The Nationals intend to hire former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black to replace the fired Matt Williams, my colleague James Wagner scoops: “Black managed the Padres for eight and a half seasons before he was fired midway through this past season when San Diego got off to a disappointing 32-33 start. Black compiled a 649-713 record (.477) and never reached the playoffs with the Padres. But in San Diego, Black built a strong reputation for handling a pitching staff and for his ability to communicate well with players thanks to an easy-going personality.” Columnist Thomas Boswell opines that this gives the Nationals exactly what they were looking for: EXPERIENCE.

— China’s Communist Party has decided to abolish its one-child policy, according to state media. Developing…

GET SMART FAST:

  1. The budget deal poised to pass the Senate this week wards off a historic spike in Medicare premiums for the coming year, “but it will nevertheless require nearly one in three older Americans to pay 17 percent more in monthly premiums for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care,” Amy Goldstein reports.
  2. “The U.S. naval challenge to China’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea this week came after months of frustration within the Pentagon at what some defense officials saw as unnecessary delays by the White House and State Department in approving the mission,” Reuters reports.
  3. India is seriously considering rules to ban foreigners from hiring surrogate mothers, which would shut down the so-called rent-a-womb industry.
  4. Senior DOD officials fumed that it is “outrageous” female guards at Guantanamo Bay are barred by a judge’s order from transporting five detainees because the suspected terrorists say physical contact with women they’re not related to violates their Muslim beliefs. (AP)
  5. A plainclothes police officer who fatally shot a stranded motorist, Corey Jones, in Florida 10 days ago apparently wasn’t qualified for his undercover surveillance assignment, Yahoo News reports. Al Sharpton will speak at a high-profile funeral for the victim on Friday.

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. A SurveyUSA poll for Kentucky’s biggest media outlets shows Democrat Jack Conway leading Republican Matt Bevin by 5 points, 45-40, ahead of next Tuesday’s governor’s race. (Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman)
  2. HRC said in New Hampshire that she does not favor abolishing the death penalty, but that “we have to take a hard look at it.” (Politico)
  3. Clinton is using her support for the Export-Import Bank and Bernie’s opposition as a fresh data point of the contrast between them in an effort to show up business-minded donors. (The Hill)
  4. Cruz laid out his plan for a flat tax in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. (Katie Zezima)
  5. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty in federal court in Chicago to lying to the FBI and violating federal banking laws. (Matt Zapotosky)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

Paul Ryan during a House Leadership meeting yesterday in what will soon be his own office. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

GOP hopes Paul Ryan, presumptive speaker, can unite a splintered party,” by Mike DeBonis: “Ryan is set to be formally elected to succeed outgoing speaker John A. Boehner ­(R-Ohio) in a House vote Thursday morning … Ryan said his nomination ‘begins a new day in the House of Representatives. Tomorrow, we are turning the page,’ he said. ‘We are not going to have a House that looks like it’s looked the last few years’ … While Ryan won support from 80 percent of his GOP colleagues, there were signs Wednesday that the party’s fissures may persist. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who has gained a small but loyal following among hard-right lawmakers drawn to his pledges to change House rules and procedures, earned 43 votes to Ryan’s 200. Most Webster backers — many of them members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus — indicated they will back the party nominee after Ryan spent the past week reassuring them that they will play a more prominent role in lawmaking.”

Surrounded by staff and colleagues, John Boehner teared up yesterday during his final House Leadership meeting in his office. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Boehner exit breaks up the long-running ‘Big Four’ in Congress,” by Paul Kane: “When House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) casts his last vote Thursday, he leaves behind three other party leaders he knows all too well. They’ve fought over war and peace, a great recession and an economic recovery, leading to huge wins for Democrats and massive wins for Republicans. For almost nine straight years, Boehner, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have led their respective caucuses together — longer than any other quartet of party leaders in congressional history … ‘Very well, I know all of them very well,’ Boehner said Wednesday in an exit interview with congressional media. He acknowledged that one motivation in forging this week’s budget deal was that [Paul Ryan] would have had to make in­cred­ibly difficult decisions in his first week on the job without having any real relationship with Pelosi, Reid and McConnell. ‘When you throw somebody new into the mix at the last second and something has to happen, it really isn’t fair for them or frankly for the others,’ Boehner said.”

Ben Carson during a commercial break last night (AFP Photo/Robyn Beck)

Ben Carson’s religion isn’t hurting him with Evangelical voters,” by Michelle Boorstein, Katie Zezima and Karen Tumulty: “The boost evangelical voters gave Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson in the polls this week — catapulting him for the first time to a clear GOP lead — is evidence of what experts are calling a continued evangelical shift away from identity politics.”… “Since Carson began his rise, various supporters and political observers have pointed to the constant and also ecumenical way he speaks about his faith. While Carson says he is an orthodox Adventist and doesn’t part from his faith community anywhere in particular, as far back as 1999 he told the Religion News Service that he wasn’t convinced “denomination is the most important thing. … I think it’s the relationship with God that’s most important.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with John Kerry in Vienna last week over Syria. (Handout from Russian Foreign Ministry)

As talks on Syria begin, the future of Assad will be set aside for now,” by Karen DeYoung: “New international negotiations on Syria that will start Friday follow weeks of intensive diplomacy, a significant amount of arm-twisting on all sides, and agreement between the United States and Russia that the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not be on the table for now. In the lead-up to the talks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Russian counterpart have stipulated in near-daily conversations that their ongoing disagreement about where a Syrian political transition must end — with the United States insisting Assad must go, and Russia demanding the opposite — should not prevent the process from starting. At least a dozen countries, including Assad-backer Iran as well as U.S. allies in Europe and the region, will attend the talks in Vienna.”

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: Cruz dominated the social media conversation. The third GOP debate lacked some of the fire of the previous two contests and had a new target for criticism: the media. Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs tracked more than 650,000 mentions of the GOP field during the two-hour debate – way down from the chatter in the previous debates. Ted Cruz scored the night’s biggest moment with his criticism of the media’s questions. Here’s a look at the Cruz spike:

1029a

In that one moment, Cruz captured a majority of the social and traditional media mentions of any candidate throughout the two-hour debate. In all, Cruz commanded 20 percent of the overall candidate chatter followed by Trump at 15 percent, Carson with 13 percent and Rubio with 12 percent. Bush commanded just 8 percent of the media chatter during the debate, while Fiorina, who turned in two previous strong debate performances, drew just 7.5 percent of the mentions — the same share as Christie.

1029b

Here’s a look at the top emojis used in Tweets that mentioned the five most-frequently-mentioned GOP candidates Wednesday night:

debate-emojis2 (1)

–Pictures of the day:

Before all the debate hubbub, there was plenty going on at the Capitol. Here’s a shot of Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Mullin’s sons waiting for the results of the Speaker election. “We are all in for Paul!” Smith wrote on Instagram:

This nameplate could change as soon as tomorrow, when Ryan is officially elected Speaker:

Meanwhile, as he prepares to leave, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) posted another pensive shot of his view down the National Mall:

Jeff Bridges stopped by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office and spoke with senators about child nutrition:

Over at the White House, Prince Harry paid a visit to President Obama:

POTUS had just returned from Chicago, where he attended a Bulls game:

— Pictures of the day, debate edition:

Team Rubio posted this shot from their greenroom after the debate:

Volunteers waiting to deploy in the spin room:

Candy Carson hanging out in a locker room turned makeshift greenroom:

Chris Christie wore his Mets cufflinks:

And Bush showed off his cowboy boots:

The Post’s cartoonist had fun with the Bush-Rubio dynamic:

–Tweets of the day:

How Hillary Clinton’s campaign reacted to the Republican debate (GIF from last week’s Benghazi hearing):

Clinton campaign chair John Podesta missed much of the event:

Former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), spunky as ever, did not:

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who represents Boulder, complained that the local liberal community was not allowed into the hall:

Earlier in the day, Clinton communications director Jen Palmieri and other aides found themselves locked in the women’s bathroom at the campaign headquarters:

No door handle, no problem:

Noted chocoholic Nancy Pelosi celebrated National Chocolate Day:

As did the DSCC:


(@dscc)

–Instagrams of the day:

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) congratulated a group of hunters who “bagged this impressive 10-point buck with a bow.” “Now, that’s every deer hunter’s dream come true,” Johnson wrote on Instagram:

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) went to a Martina McBride concert, (“great show”):

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

The New York Times, “How 4 federal lawyers paved the way to kill Osama bin Laden,” by Charlie Savage: “Weeks before President ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, four administration lawyers developed rationales intended to overcome any legal obstacles — and made it all but inevitable that Navy SEALs would kill the fugitive Qaeda leader, not capture him. Stretching sparse precedents, the lawyers worked in intense secrecy. Fearing leaks, the White House would not let them consult aides or even the administration’s top lawyer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. They did their own research, wrote memos on highly secure laptops and traded drafts hand-delivered by trusted couriers.”

The Wall Street Journal, “Inside Europe’s migrant smuggling rings,” by Joe Parkinson, Georgi Kantchev and Ellen Emerentze Jervell: “Across Europe, longtime criminal networks, best-known for smuggling guns and drugs, have shape-shifted to take advantage of the cash bonanza created by record migration from war-torn Syria and beyond. The new smuggling networks include drivers like one calling himself Ivo—he won’t give his real name—who says he ferries illegal migrants across Bulgaria. Speeding toward the Serbian frontier at 100 miles an hour in a battered Volkswagen and chain-smoking Merilyn Slims, Ivo explains how migrant-moving has overtaken drug-running and cigarette-smuggling. ‘The smugglers do it because there’s no money and no jobs,’ Ivo says, gesticulating with scarred hands. ‘Take me to America, and I’ll happily work as your gardener.'”

The Guardian, “South Sudan civil war inquiry details torture and forced cannibalism,” by Sam Jones and Mark Anderson: “A new report has laid bare the scale of the atrocities committed during South Sudan’s 22-month civil war, detailing cases of rape, torture, mutilation and instances of forced cannibalism. ‘The [African Union] commission found cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by both parties against women,’ says the report. ‘It also documented extreme cruelty exercised through the mutilation of bodies, burning of bodies, draining human blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh.'”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Was Huckabee referring to Vince Foster? From TPM: “Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he took on the Clintons and ‘lived to tell about it,’ invoking old conspiracy theories that Clinton had something to do with the suicide of her husband’s former White House counsel, Vince Foster … ‘Not only did I fight them and win, I lived to tell about it. I’m standing on this stage tonight as evidence of that and I think that ought to be worth something.’ Huckabee didn’t mention Foster by name.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

A Republican Virginia state senator says he was threatened by supporter of gun control. From The Post: William M. Stanley Jr., said that the father of the slain Roanoke TV reporter sent a Facebook note saying, ““I’m going to be your worst nightmare you little bastard.” Stanley, who has received an A rating from the National Rifle Association, said, “I take this very seriously as a threat against the safety of my family.” He said he contacted Capitol Police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and picked up applications for concealed handgun permits for himself and his wife because of the message.

DAYBOOK:

–What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Donald Trump rallies supporters in Sparks, Nevada. Ted Cruz campaigns in Southern Nevada. In New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton speaks in Berlin and Littleon, while Jeb Bush greets voters in Portsmouth and New London. In Iowa, Rick Santorum stops in Council Bluffs, Harlan and Carroll, while Bobby Jindal holds a town hall in Des Moines. 

–On the Hill: The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to consider the budget deal. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivers farewell remarks at around 9:40 a.m., before the House holds a manual roll call on the election of the presumptive next Speaker, Paul Ryan. Later, Ryan delivers remarks and takes the oath of office.

–At the White House: President Obama meets with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and participates in a DCCC fundraiser. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Look, she’d make a great vice president,” Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said of Hillary Clinton. “We’re willing to give her more credit than Obama did. We’re willing to consider her for vice president. We’ll give her serious consideration. We’ll even interview her.” (Bloomberg)

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

“Clearing skies and gloriously mild temps are only marred today by occasional torrents of leaves falling from the trees as breezes kick up. The weekend gets off to a fine start and the ghouls should keep  their candy dry on their Halloween night excursions, but just barely,” per the Capital Weather Gang.

The Wizards beat the Orlando Magic in a suspenseful season opener, 88-87.

The Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1.

Metro has picked Neal Cohen, an aerospace and defense industry executive, as its new general manager. He’ll be installed assuming the sides can settle on a compensation package.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

If you missed it, here are six videos from the GOP debate:

–10 must-watch moments from the debate

–5 times Rubio wowed the crowd

–Trump and Kasich clash early

–Bush takes a swipe at Rubio

–Rubio defends his Senate voting record

–Bush and Christie talk fantasy football

Bad Lip Reading released its parody video of the Democratic primary debate:

Watch Obama’s Oval Office meeting with Prince Harry:

Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords’ husband, posts NASA photos from his twin brother’s now 216day mission aboard the International Space Station. See them here.

And finally, we leave you with the GIF of the night: