THE BIG IDEA:

— “Like all of you, I’m angry” is how Carly Fiorina began her opening statement. That sentence encapsulates not just last night’s two-hour debate in Las Vegas but also the entire Republican nominating contest thus far. Donald Trump himself was largely a non-factor in the candidates’ fifth and final showdown of 2015, but Trumpism was the dominant, animating force inside the Venetian Theatre.

Reaganesque the rhetoric was not. Trump catapulted to the top of the polls and has stayed there for six months now because he tapped into deep-seated anger and frustration of the conservative base that the country is slipping away from them. Chasing the front-runner’s success, the other leading candidates each tried to varying degrees to show that they get it, that they, too, are mad as hell and want to take the country back. There was little effort to play to the higher angels of the American consciousness. Instead, in the wake of attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, it often felt like the candidates were preying on the electorate’s fear, anxiety and sense of vulnerability.

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There is near consensus this morning that no one had a breakout performance. “In the end there were no outright winners,” Dan Balz declares in his analysis. “Negative exchanges — in word choice, tone, put-downs and facial expressions — dominated the debate,” the New York Times says in its analysis.

— The dominant storyline coming out of Vegas is Ted Cruz vs. Marco Rubio. That is the lead of every story in every major newspaper after the widely-anticipated and hoped-for Cruz vs. Trump throw-down did not materialize. There’s a lot to like about the Cruz vs. Rubio narrative: Two Cuban Americans, sons of immigrants, first-term senators, elected as tea party darlings, from the Sunbelt, both 44, etc., etc., etc.

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— While the overnight coverage is somewhat mixed, it is more likely than not that Rubio will come to be regarded as the loser of the matchup. There are three reasons for this:

1. Immigration was reframed as a national security issue, which means Rubio’s 2013 bill has once again become a serious anchor. The Florida senator deftly avoided answering for conservative apostasy on comprehensive immigration reform during the previous debates. Last night, facing a pile-on, he struggled to defend his position. His argument sounded procedural and Washington-esque. Meanwhile, his opponents smartly – and without being rebutted – linked the Gang of Eight immigration effort with broader concerns about ISIS and terrorists infiltrating the homeland.

“Border security is national security, and you know one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees, without mandating any background checks whatsoever,” Cruz said. “Now, we’ve seen what happened in San Bernardino. When you’re letting people in, when the FBI can’t vet them, it puts American citizens at risk.”

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Cruz is way better at one-liners than Rubio. When Marco said that Ted’s position was not all that different from his own, Cruz shot back that this was “like suggesting the fireman and the arsonist have the same record, because they were both at the scene of the fire.”

2. Rubio lost some of his outsider cred. He came across like a member in good standing of the Republican establishment.

The Floridian has tried hard to be all things to all people this year. He wants to be the bridge candidate. He’s won over billionaires who vocally support gay marriage at the same time that he aggressively courts an Iowa constituency focused on promoting traditional marriage. He’s tried to poach Jeb Bush donors one day and to make inroads with Trump backers the next.

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As a result of this, Rubio has lost his tea party mojo. Though he slayed Charlie Crist in 2010, and has hardly voted for anything besides immigration during his single Senate term, he’s increasingly perceived by voters as part of Washington.

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His attacks on Cruz sounded like exactly the sorts of things that a career politician would say. By invoking a Mark Levin column and Saul Alinsky, Cruz basically called Rubio a liar but in ways that will play with the base.

3. Rand Paul being on the main stage wound up working to Cruz’s advantage because he kept Rubio on the defensive. The Kentucky senator, who barely avoided being dropped into the undercard debate, burnished the Texan’s point that the USA Freedom Act was a middle-ground compromise. But he was most useful as a foil to attack Rubio as “the weakest of all the candidates on immigration.”

“If we want to defend the country, we have to defend against who’s coming in, and Marco is — has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy,” Paul said.

— Many thought leaders believe Rubio lost:

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  • National Review’s Jim Geraghty thinks it “may turn out” to have been “a consequentially bad night for Rubio”: “He turned in his usual smooth, concise, well-versed, well-rehearsed performance. But … if you’re completely opposed to a path to legal status – green card, not citizenship – Rubio didn’t reassure you. Rubio really needed to give a full-throated renunciation of the Gang of Eight bill, and he didn’t. He was walking a tightrope, and you could almost tell from his body language that he could feel the line wobble beneath him.”
  • NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted: “Rubio is getting a taste of what being a front-runner feels like. But his place in this race is VERY precarious. This pile on could hurt. … This was Rubio’s toughest debate mostly because he didn’t get to glide by without taking incoming. Will his immigration stance stop his rise?”
  • CNN described Rubio as “RATTLED” on the issue of immigration. 
  • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin gave Rubio a “B” because he “never found a way to bring [Cruz] down, even with armfuls of opposition research”: “The negative tact might have undermined the essence of his strong past debate performances. Finally got pressed on his support for a path to citizenship, creating more troubles for him down the road on all sides. Perhaps too intense and somber at times. A mostly solid performance by normal standards but not up to the level he’s achieved in previous debates.”
  • Vox named Rubio a loser because he looked out of touch with the rest of his party: “… Rubio came out looking less like a consensus conservative pick and more like John Kasich: an establishmentarian who base voters can’t trust.”
  • The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker thinks “the two first-term senators fought to a draw, although it could be argued that Cruz had the better evening overall”: He projected strength and confidence on foreign policy matters.… Rubio was solid.… But unlike Cruz … Rubio had to fend off attacks from multiple candidates…. It hamstrung Rubio’s ability to go on offense and control the debate, as he has in his previous four outings.”
  • The Daily Beast’s Will Rahn asks if Rubio has been “overrated all along”: “To unite the factions of the party that recoil at the thought of nominating either Trump or Cruz, Rubio may well have needed a much bigger, better night than the one he had.… Yes, Rubio has soaked up the Beltway buzz, but no one seems to know what primaries he could actually, you know, win. Right now Rubio is stuck in a distant third in Iowa, some 16 points or so behind Trump in New Hampshire, and fourth in South Carolina.”
  • The Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers Jr. also considers the map: “It’s like an old-school middleweight boxing tournament. The winner of the Cruz/Rubio clash gets the chance to take down Trump, the clear — but beatable — frontrunner.… Cruz knows that if he wins Iowa, it will pull Trump down closer to earth and set Cruz up to score huge victories in South Carolina, and later, the March 1 Texas contest.”
  • National Review editor Rich Lowry: “I’d score it for Rubio on points, but it was close and both senators are obviously exceptionally skilled. … Overall, Rubio once again demonstrated his command of the facts and fluidity as a communicator, but he took the most incoming of anyone and had to spend a lot of time explaining.”

— Two other takeaways:

  • Jeb Bush showed signs of improvement, but Chris Christie may overshadow him in New Hampshire. The former Florida governor went after Trump more directly than anyone else on stage, and at one point he clearly got under the front-runner’s skin. He used the word “serious” more than a dozen times and called Trump “the chaos candidate.” But it may be too little too late. Frank Luntz’s focus group on Fox News picked Christie and Cruz as the winners. Some words used to describe the New Jersey governor were “highly confident,” “on-point,” “experienced” and “tells it like he sees it.” He also got high marks when he criticized endless debates and inaction of the Senate.
  • Ben Carson whiffed on the commander in chief test. He got multiple tries to look presidential, and he just could not. His meandering and soft-spoken answers show he’s really not absorbing his lessons in foreign policy. Conservative columnist S.E. Cupp said his campaign is now on life support: “Carson’s campaign is in cardiac arrest right now. Anyone know a doctor?”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Congress reached a budget deal: “The sweeping agreement that came after weeks of bipartisan negotiations is the broadest tax and spending deal since the January 2013 ‘fiscal cliff’ agreement, which prevented automatic spending cuts from taking effect and shielded middle-class workers from tax increases while allowing some increases on the wealthy. Both parties will be able to claim policy victories while bemoaning what also made it in or was left out,” Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis report. “Ryan has portrayed the negotiations as a way to clear the decks for next year when under his leadership he promises a more methodical approach to moving appropriations bills.”

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The $1.149 trillion package will likely get a vote on Thursday or Friday as Ryan has promised ample time for members to examine the deal (which will move in the House in two parts as a separate appropriations and tax package). That’s because some Republicans won’t back the increased spending in the budget deal, and some Democrats won’t support the tax package. Lawmakers first need to pass another stopgap funding resolution to prevent the government from shutting down tonight.

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Here’s what made it into the deal (full budget text here):

  • A $650 billion tax package including extensions of about 50 tax breaks and a delay until 2017  of the medical device tax. Permanent extensions were included of the child tax credit; the earned income tax credit; state and local sales tax deductions; and low-income housing credits.
  • A two-year delay on the “Cadillac tax” on expensive employer-backed health care plans.
  • A lift in the 40-year-old oil export ban in exchange for tax breaks pushed by Democrats on wind and solar energy.
  • A permanent renewal of federal funds for 9/11 emergency aid workers.
  • New security requirements for the visa waiver program, which passed the House recently.
  • Reduced funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill does not contain language to restrict the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq. Nor does it contain language to strip funding for Planned Parenthood, which many conservatives demanded, or gun control legislation favored by Democrats.

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GET SMART FAST:

  1. The jury deliberating the case of the first officer charged in Freddie Gray’s death is deadlocked, but the judge urged the jurors to continue trying to reach a verdict. (Rachel Weiner, Justin Jouvenal, Lynh Bui and John Woodrow Cox)
  2. Bomb and gun threats that closed down Los Angeles public schools for the day were a hoax. (Diana Crandall, Mark Berman and Emma Brown)
  3. Iran’s missile test in October violated a U.N. resolution, the Security Council’s Panel of Experts said in a confidential report. (Reuters)
  4. John Kerry and Vladimir Putin will resume their talks about Syria and Ukraine later this week in New York. (Carol Morello and Andrew Roth)
  5. The Senate reached a deal to bring back the Federal Perkins Loan Program for another two years. (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel)
  6. The national high school graduation rate hit an all-time high, with 82 percent of students earning a diploma in the last academic year. (Lyndsey Layton)
  7. The Justice Department will charge the chief of Venezuela’s National Guard with drug trafficking. (Reuters)
  8. Ford will test autonomous cars next year in California. (Matt McFarland)
  9. Chipotle will limit the amount of local ingredients it uses in the wake of the chain’s latest E. coli outbreak. (Wall Street Journal)
  10. Eight passengers were injured in Nashville when a Southwest Airlines jet skidded off a runway and into a ditch. (The Tennessean)

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Trump met privately with billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson before the debate. (Robert Costa and Matea Gold)
  2. Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who housed prisoners in tents and allegedly racially profiled Latinos, will introduce Trump at a campaign stop in Phoenix. (Arizona Republic)
  3. Bernie Sanders said he pulled his Internet ad that attacked Hillary Clinton’s ties with Wall Street because it fell into a “gray area.” (ABC News)
  4. Chelsea Clinton will make her first solo campaign appearances of the cycle next month in Boston. (Time)
  5. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will travel to New Hampshire to campaign for Christie. (Josh Hicks)
  6. Carson, Fiorina and Mike Huckabee have all given paid speeches to nonprofits and business groups during their campaigns. (Politico)
  7. Boston University revoked Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, saying the comedian’s treatment of women “brought significant and lasting discredit upon himself.” (Valerie Strauss)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

 “Clinton seeks stark contrast with GOP on terrorism and national security,” by Anne Gearan: “Hillary Clinton sought Tuesday to showcase her long national-security experience in the face of renewed fears about homegrown terror threats. ‘Bluster and bigotry are not credentials’ to be commander in chief, Clinton said hours ahead of the Republican debate … ‘Promising to carpet-bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound tough,’ Clinton said in a reference to Cruz. ‘It makes you sound like you’re in over your head.’ …  Clinton laid out what she called a ‘360-degree strategy’ to defend against recruitment of homegrown terrorists and to uncover plots before an attack occurs…. She called for a reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons and said that the [U.S.] should tighten its visa requirements. With limited exception, anyone who has traveled to certain terror-prone trouble spots over the past five years should have to undergo a full background check to obtain a U.S. visa, she said.”

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SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Twitter and Facebook post-debate analyses both showed Donald Trump winning the biggest share of social media chatter during the debate. The Donald won the #GOPdebate conversation with 35 percent of mentions, followed by Jeb at 13 percent and Cruz at 11 percent. Carson and Rubio tied for fourth place with 9 percent of mentions. Trump also gained the most Twitter followers of the GOP candidates, but Bernie Sanders trumped him by winning the most followers overall.

On Facebook, Cruz was the second-most mentioned behind Trump. Jeb and Rubio were tied for third. Carson was fifth. Three of the top five issues mentioned during the debate focused on national security: Islam, ISIS and terrorism. The other two were racial discrimination and immigration. The most buzzed about moment on Facebook was when Bush dissed Trump by quipping: “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.”

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— GIFs and Vines of the day:

— Pictures of the day:

Rand bumped into Sarah Palin ahead of the debate:

Sanders posted this photo on Instagram in the middle of the event:

Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D) posted this photo from a remembrance ceremony for the Sandy Hook victims in Newtown, Conn.:

And Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-Mo.) appreciated the Christmas decorations at Dulles:

— Tweets of the day:

Jeb blasted Trump, saying he gets his foreign policy advice from “the shows”:

Celebrities live-tweeting the debate reserved plenty of criticism for the candidates:

Many, including Josh Groban, wondered who was coughing the whole time (it was apparently Carson):

Post cartoonist Michael Cavna shared these Star Wars-influenced images of Donald Trump and Jeb Bush:

Lena Dunham will be stumping for Hillary in Iowa, she announced:

Clinton’s team offered a campaign-trail fashion suggestion:

Meghan McCain asked a great, if rhetorical, question:

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) weighed in on the mystery behind the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, speculating that Sheldon Adelson might be the buyer:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wished for a budget deal as an early Christmas present (she seems to have gotten her wish):

— Instagrams of the day:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wished a happy birthday to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.):

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) took a selfie with Bonnie, a U.S. Capitol worker who is retiring after 47 years on the job:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— The Birmingham News, “Birmingham mayor, councilman taken to hospital after fight,” by John Archibald: “Birmingham police are investigating an altercation involving Birmingham mayor William Bell and council member Marcus Lundy that sent both men to the hospital. … Mayor Bell, 66, reportedly suffered injuries to his throat and knee. He was treated and released from the hospital … Officials said the two went into a back room to talk about a consultant. The discussion became heated and the mayor tried to leave. No one else was in the room. At some point, Lundy put his hands around the mayor’s neck and tried to pull him back, squeezing and leaving marks … It was reported Lundy said Bell talked to Regions Bank, Lundy’s employer, and said Lundy should be fired. … An arrest warrant for Lundy was later sworn out.… Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin said Lundy would press charges but would not answer when asked who initiated the conflict.”

— New York Times, “Afghans see Taliban as key to U.S. aid projects, study finds,” by James Risen: “The United States spent $64,597 to build a wall around a school in Qala Nazir Baba, a village in Logar Province in Afghanistan. It spent an additional $41,792 to rehabilitate an irrigation system in Zoya, a village in Wardak Province. Both projects were part of a ‘stabilization program’ intended by [USAID] to supplement military operations against the Taliban and to demonstrate to Afghans the benefits of supporting the government in Kabul. But according to an internal study … the result was just the opposite. Villagers believed that the projects would not have been allowed to take place without the Taliban’s approval, and so their support for the Taliban, rather than for the United States or the Afghan government, actually increased because of the aid.”

— Wall Street Journal, “Trump supporters in Nevada struggle with caucus process,” by Reid J. Epstein: “Nevada, which will be the fourth state to judge the GOP presidential field, has never hosted a competitive Republican contest since it jumped near the front of the nominating calendar in 2008. Even a strong debate performance on Tuesday with a corresponding lift in the polls won’t substitute for a deep ground game in Iowa and other early caucus states, and that’s especially so in Nevada where the rules have changed and voters don’t have easy resources to navigate the system by themselves. … This year, five GOP candidates — Bush, Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Trump — have more paid staff in Nevada than the three Mr. Romney employed in 2012. The Mormon support in Nevada is now split. The most prominent Mormon Republican, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, is the state campaign chairman for Mr. Rubio. Sen. Dean Heller, who also is Mormon, backs Mr. Bush. They will all need to teach their supporters the very basics of the process in order to compete.”

— Politico, “Intelligence agencies say two Clinton emails were ‘top secret,’ but one is no longer,” by Josh Gerstein: “The intelligence community is standing by its conclusion that two emails sent to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contained information classified ‘Top Secret’ at the time it was sent, but is acknowledging that one of those messages can now be treated at a lower classification level, a U.S. official said Tuesday. The State Department had disputed those classifications, prompting the intelligence agencies involved to take a second look at the issue. The review resulted in one email being downgraded to the ‘Secret’ level, based on changed circumstances … The other message is still considered ‘Top Secret’.”

HOT ON THE LEFT

Rick Santorum defended Trump’s ban on Muslims by blaming Obama. From Talking Points Memo: “What Donald Trump was saying was nothing against Muslims,” Santorum said in the undercard debate. “His comment was against this administration who doesn’t have a policy to properly vet people coming into this country.” He suggested that people were piling on “maybe from the polls” and that Trump was bringing up “a legitimate issue.”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“No, Rubio’s and Cruz’s conservatism does not make them ‘traitors’ to Hispanics.” From National Review: “Cruz’s and Rubio’s opposition to raising the minimum wage, amnestying illegal immigrants, and a host of other pet issues of the Left means they’re ‘anti-Latino,’ according to some Hispanic leaders. This effort is so blatantly outrageous it might serve a purpose. It should make it clear, for the umpteenth time, that the next president — whoever he or she is — must prioritize dismantling the entire framework of identity politics.”

DAYBOOK:

— What’s happening today on the campaign trail: Bernie participates in an interfaith roundtable at a mosque in D.C. Trump holds a rally in Mesa, Ariz. Clinton stops in Omaha, Neb., to campaign with Warren Buffett and then goes to the college towns of Iowa City and Mason City, Iowa. Cruz is raising money in California but will hold a press avail at an L.A. airport at 11:25 a.m. PT. Rubio and Kasich are both speaking in Ankeny, Iowa, today. Afterward, Rubio departs for Manchester, N.H. Earlier in the day, Kasich campaigns in Salt Lake City. Carson holds events in Las Vegas, Carson City and Elko, Nevada. Carly Fiorina participates in a 3 p.m. event with Americans for Prosperity in Reno focused on energy issues.

— On the Hill: The Senate meets at 11 a.m. The House meets at 9 a.m. for legislative business.

— At the White House: Obama and Biden huddle with Kerry at the White House.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Can I just stay out of this debate?” — Patriots quarterback Tom Brady when asked on a radio show if he supports Trump for president. (Cindy Boren)

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

— “No doubt we’re in the midst of a cooling trend. But it’s about as gradual as can be as high pressure brings another nice December day. Highs still reach the mid-50s to near 60 under mostly sunny skies,” the Capital Weather Gang reports. 

—  A Manassas detective killed himself as police tried to arrest him for allegedly molesting two boys whom he coached in youth hockey. (Tom Jackman)

The Federal Transit Administration ordered Metro to fix more than 200 safety issues, some of which date back to 2008. (Lori Aratani)

— Metro will vote on a proposal to allow MillerCoors to pay for free train rides home between midnight and 3 a.m. on New Year’s morning. (Faiz Siddiqui)

Several Virginia high school debate coaches want their annual championship tournament to be moved from Liberty University in light of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s disparaging comments about Muslims. (Michelle Boorstein)

— The National Organization for Women endorsed Donna Edwards in the Democratic primary for Maryland Senate. (Rachel Weiner)

— Mitch McConnell said the Nationals should get rid of Jonathan Papelbon. “Getting in fights with the most valuable player in the National League strikes me as not a team-building exercise,” the Majority Leader said, referring to Bryce Harper. He also think that the team needs “a solid, good-hitting outfielder, because Jayson Werth is getting older and not playing many games anymore.” (Scott Allen)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Trump and Bush got heated over whose turn it was to speak:

Lindsey Graham invoked Princess Buttercup of “The Princess Bride” while talking about foreign policy:

President Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony. “In the Syrian refugee today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II,” he said at the National Archives, surrounded by the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. “How quickly we forget. How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two generations pass, and we don’t remember where we came from and suggest that there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them’ — not remembering that we used to be ‘them.’ ” Watch the 20-minute speech here:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) snapped video of dolphins in her home state: