Trump and Cruz talk over each other during the Fox Business debate in South Carolina. (Reuters/Randall Hill)

THE BIG IDEA:

“I guess the bromance is over,” Donald Trump said in the spin room when asked about his back-and-forths with Ted Cruz. That pretty much sums up the night.

— There is near unanimity across the conservative and mainstream media this morning that three of the candidates came out stronger from the sixth GOP debate than they went in: Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio.

  • The Fix’s Chris Cillizza picks them as his three winners: “It wasn’t Cruz’s strongest debate but his ‘average’ performance is still pretty high,” says Cillizza. “Trump’s performances in these debates are never home runs — he’s too undisciplined and unprepared for that. But, this was, without question his best debate. … Rubio benefited from the fact that, despite all of the pre-debate predictions that he would be at the center of attacks from other establishment figures, he barely had a glove laid on him.”
  • Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt: “The trio of Trump, Cruz and Rubio stood far enough above the rest of the field here that you could, for the first time, really sense the separation of the two tiers on the debate stage.”
  • Washington Examiner columnist James Antle: “…looks like we are heading toward a three-way race between Trump, Cruz and Rubio.”
  • TownHall.com political editor Guy Benson:Top three all helped themselves: Trump, Cruz, Rubio. Mixed bag for the others. … Cruz dominated the start. Trump won some key exchanges & had a very good closing. Rubio consistently very strong at this.”

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It’s no coincidence that these three guys also had the best night on social media. The candidates who generated the most mentions on Facebook during the debate:

  1. Trump
  2. Cruz
  3. Rubio

And who gained the most new Twitter followers?

  1. @RealDonaldTrump
  2. @TedCruz
  3. @MarcoRubio

This Google Trends map, though, shows that one of the three was first among equals:


( @dabeard )

— Big picture: Trump cemented his status as the Republican frontrunner.


(Reuters/Chris Keane)

Everyone agrees he had his best debate yet. It seemed like he actually prepared this time and was not speaking from the seat of his pants. Several of his rivals sounded like they were trying to channel him. The debate played out on his terms and about issues that he had put into the bloodstream.

  • “What was unthinkable a few months ago no longer is,” Dan Balz, The Post’s chief correspondent, files from North Charleston. “Trump is anything but a typical front-runner. In fact, he is the most unconventional and atypical front-runner for as long as anyone can remember. … Because there is no dominant figure among the tightly bunched establishment candidates, they are all firing at one another. Overshadowed … they struggled to stand out … [and] no one seemed to gain much ground against the others.”
  • The conservative Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti says the debate “made clear” the nomination is now “Trump’s to lose”: “Trump’s considerable political skills were on display Thursday evening. Provocative, gauche, funny, emphatic, and fearless, Trump doesn’t back down when the crowd boos him, he holds his own against more polished opponents, and he has identified and exploited the anger of many Republican and independent voters. … For much of 2015, the question was, Is Trump serious? The past week should have settled that in the affirmative. So the question becomes: Who will stop Trump? Ted Cruz? Marco Rubio? Chris Christie? Hillary Clinton? And what happens if, as I suspect, the Trump phenomenon cannot be stopped?”
  • ABC News political director Rick Klein says last night “revealed the extent to which Trump has already won”: “Talking about Cruz’s birth was Trump’s idea – his insertion into the political conversation, dominating again. … Cruz and Trump were the main combatants – and their battle in Iowa could determine whether Trump can be stopped … Cruz may yet beat Trump there, and the establishment still has hopes of a third alternative emerging. But if Trump loses, he’ll lose in a race with terms he set.”
  • The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey: “Honestly this is the smartest @realDonaldTrump has sounded ever, in any debate.”
  • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin gave Trump an “A-“, the best grade he handed out on his post-debate report card: “Confident, unafraid, crisp, and without the self-consciousness he occasionally displayed in earlier debates. During his extended tiff with Cruz over the Texan’s citizenship, he kept the Canada issue in the public eye and never lost the crux of his agenda or his cool. Eloquently defended his native New York against Cruz criticism. Wisely made nice with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Had plenty of chances to invoke his core themes, utter his cherished phrases, and make the most of his airtime. His best debate of the cycle, certain to please his loyal fans and potentially expand his support.”
  • Trump is getting positive post-debate coverage on Fox platforms. “It was the most vigorous he’s been,” anchor Bret Baier said on the air afterwards. “Trump probably had a really strong debate tonight, as far as his supporters are concerned.” Charles Krauthammer added: “Trump’s 9/11 comment was the moment of the debate.”

The most memorable moments of the sixth GOP debate were Trump questioning the Texan’s eligibility to be president and then offering a spirited defense of “New York values.”

— Ted Cruz went a long way toward establishing himself as the main alternative to Trump.

The problem for Cruz is that he was everyone’s target, which meant that “he found himself repeatedly on the defensive,” as The Post’s spot story notes.

Other commentators thought Cruz won:

  • National Review editor Rich Lowry: “I think the winner of this night was Cruz. He is… becoming more & more plausible as a potential nominee.”
  • RedState founder Erick Erickson argued that, while many commentators liked Trump’s 9/11 answer, voters in Iowa will agree with Cruz’s point. “New York media loves Trump’s defense of New York,” he wrote. “Iowa voters are like ‘Oh yeah, there aren’t many conservatives there.'”
  • The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro: “Mr. Cruz did not just dominate much of the Republican debate, he slashed, he mocked, he charmed and he outmaneuvered everybody else on stage — but none as devastatingly and as thoroughly as [Trump] … In the process, Mr. Cruz — the high school student who once recited the Constitution from memory and the Princeton debater who dazzled judges with his ability to entrap less shrewd rivals — showed the American public that his surging candidacy is not a fluke. … For those watching on television, including Democrats who had lumped Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump together as a dream ticket of easily marginalized (if not parodied) general election candidates, Mr. Cruz seemed like something else: an intelligent and brutal tactician who may prove a more formidable and nimble opponent, should he gain his party’s nomination.”

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

— Marco Rubio finished third. He avoided the incoming attacks everyone assumed were on the way, but his best moments — hard knocks on Cruz — didn’t come until after 11 p.m.

  • Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin: “Rubio was noticeably energetic and on message. As in other debates, his answers were fluent and informed. What was different this time, however, was his level of energy and toughness. Plainly he is trying to demonstrate he is no lightweight. He succeeded in large part by sounding impassioned and at times channeling righteous anger, but without devolving into hysteria.”
  • NBC’s Chuck Todd: “Rubio’s strongest moment of the night came late, about the only thing Cruz camp should be happy about.”
  • Club for Growth Action, which has spent money attacking Trump, put out a statement saying it was a “rout for Cruz and Rubio”: “There were two clear Constitutional conservatives on the stage,” said David McIntosh, the group’s president.

Other takes from the mainstream media that posted overnight—

  • Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Gerald F. Seib said the establishment candidates “seemed uncertain” [on] “whether their mission was to go after the two top dogs or emerge from the rest of the pack as the alternative to them. By and large, they chose the latter course.”
  • National Journal political editor Josh Kraushaar says last night “underscored that there are only four candidates left with a credible chance of winning: Cruz, Trump, Rubio and Christie. … Unfortunately for Bush, Kasich and Carson, politics these days is more about performance than policy.”
  • Politico’s Glenn Thrush’s takeaways: 1. Cruz out-bullies Trump. 2. Rubio: Hey guys, don’t forget about me! 3. Carson surgically removed himself from contention. 4. Bush was the only one speaking the real language of the presidency. 5. Christie is cruising.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:


Hillary Clinton with host Jimmy Fallon during the taping of “The Tonight Show” (Douglas Gorenstein/NBC via AP)

— Hillary Clinton, appearing on “The Tonight Show,” said she would not watch the Republican debate. Jimmy Fallon suggested the Democratic frontrunner take a shot of alcohol each time the GOP candidates said her name in the debate. “I don’t think I would make it past the first half hour,” she replied. Fallon also conducted a fake job interview for the presidency, as he did with Trump the night before, jokingly asking Clinton if there is an email address he can reach her at. Clinton said that she’s not intimidated by Trump: “It would be quite the showdown.” (Story from NBC News; Watch the 3-minute mock job interview here; Watch her discuss the Democratic race here. Watch her talk about learning to deal with no sleep as Secretary of State; she says she digs her fingernails into her palms to stay awake when jet-lagged; Finally, she and Fallon recorded a Snapchat video:

The White House will today appoint Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to head a new interagency effort to tackle heroin and opioid abuse in rural America, Juliet Eilperin scoops. “The decision to centralize federal decision-making on drug abuse … comes as addiction to heroin and other opiates has become a crisis in many areas.”

— “It’s time to unleash America’s airpower in Afghanistan,” David Petraeus writes in an an op-ed for today’s Post. “We have the tools in place to step up our game considerably,” he writes with Michael O’Hanlon. “When combined with a motivated and competent ground force, airpower can be quite effective. … We do not need a big U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan, but we should take the gloves off of those who are there. … The development of the Afghan air force will take a least a few more years. In the meantime, we can and should do more to ensure that the Taliban does not win the war, which could lead to new sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State on the eastern flank of their broader area of operations.” (Read here.)

— Trump’s second TV commercial is going up today: It is built around a 30-second clip from the end of a speech he delivered in Lowell, Mass. “We are going to take our country, and we’re going to fix it,” he says. “We are going to take care of our vets. We are going to fix our military. We are going to strengthen our borders. … We are going to make (America) greater than ever before.” (Watch here.)

GET SMART FAST:

  1. The global organizing body of Anglicans suspended the U.S. branch of the Episcopal Church for three years as punishment for performing same-sex marriages. It’s a victory for conservatives from Africa. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  2. The Russian Duma will today consider a bill that would make it illegal for gay people to show public displays of affection, punishing those who hold hands or kiss with fines and possible jail time. (Andrew Roth)
  3. Planned Parenthood sued the anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos at one of its clinics, alleging they broke the law by recording without consent and violating non-disclosure agreements. (Sandhya Somashekhar)
  4. The Pentagon said the two Navy boats detained by Iran accidentally drifted into Iranian waters because of a navigation error. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
  5. ISIS took responsibility for the suicide bombings in Jakarta that killed seven. (Brian Murphy and Fred Barbash)
  6. Turkish forces launched attacks against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria in response to this week’s suicide bombing in Istanbul. (New York Times)
  7. Goldman Sachs will pay the U.S. a $5 billion fine for giving out subprime mortgages in the housing crisis. (AP)
  8. Alex is the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean in January since 1938. (Jason Samenow)
  9. A boy in Sierra Leone died of Ebola just hours after the World Health Organization declared West Africa Ebola-free. (BBC)
  10. The FDA rejected a drug that would have treated Duchennemuscular dystrophy because of serious side effects, like kidney damage. (Brady Dennis)
  11. Two teenage girls near Columbine, Colo., were charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit 1st degree murder in a plot reminiscent of the school massacre more than 15 years ago. (Yanan Wang)
  12. The Peace Corps suspended its El Salvador program because of the violence wracking that country. (Jerry Markon)
  13. The films nominated for “Best Picture” in the Oscars are “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “The Revenant” “Brooklyn,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian” and “Room.”

POWER PLAYERS IN THE NEWS:

  1. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) announced his retirement, creating a competitive open seat contest in the Virginia Beach area. (Rachel Weiner)
  2. Martin O’Malley will appear in Sunday’s Democratic debate after initially not qualifying based on his low poll numbers. NBC decided to round up. (Philip Bump)
  3. Sanders released a television ad that implicitly hits Clinton for taking money from big banks. “There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” the Vermont senator says in the spot, going up today in Iowa and New Hampshire. “One says it’s okay to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do. My plan: Break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes and make them pay their fair share.” (John Wagner’s story; Watch the ad.)
  4. Donald Trump rented out a theater in Iowa and will give supporters free tickets to see the Benghazi movie “13 hours,” which comes out today. (Des Moines Register)
  5. Ben Carson’s finance chairman, Dean Parker, quit. (Jose A. DelReal)
  6. A pro-Rand Paul super PAC, Concerned American Voters, raised $3 million in the fourth quarter. (David Weigel)
  7. Some pro-Paul hecklers interrupted the debate during the final minutes, chanting “We want Rand!” The Kentuckian boycotted it after being relegated to the undercard. (Weigel)
  8. George Allen, the former Virginia senator and governor, endorsed Rubio.
  9. Paul Kirk, the former DNC chair, endorsed Sanders.
  10. The International Association of Fire Fighters announced it will not endorse a presidential candidate during primary season, a lucky break for Hillary. They would have backed Joe Biden if he had gotten in.
  11. The Republican National Committeeman from the Virgin Island gave an impassioned, impromptu speech at a closed-door party meeting urging Reince Priebus and others to speak up more vocally about Trump. “There is a limit to loyalty,” said Holland Redfield. “As a party we owe it to ourselves to speak up, and not let the tail wag the dog, and not let someone say, all of a sudden, ‘If you don’t play my game, then I’m running as an independent.’” (Politico)

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

On A1 –> New questions for Rahm Emanuel on what he knew about teen shot 16 times by Chicago police,” by Mark Guarino, William Wan and Brady Dennis: “The embattled mayor faced renewed questions Thursday about whether he had known earlier than he had previously said that police accounts of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald conflicted with a dashboard-camera video of the 2014 incident … The Chicago Tribune published a report Thursday suggesting that city attorneys and top aides to the mayor knew about discrepancies in the McDonald case months before Emanuel has said he learned about them.”

— The Iowa caucuses have been nationalized –> In 2016, showing up isn’t enough anymore,” by John Wagner and Sean Sullivan: “In the crowded Republican field, the two most frequent visitors have been Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. The two previous winners of the Iowa caucuses are both stuck in the low single digits. Cruz, the leader in most recent Iowa polls, has been a relatively constant presence. But Trump ranks 12th among GOP visitors to the state … On the Democratic side, O’Malley is running a distant third in the polls behind Clinton and Sanders (despite logging the most days in the state). Clinton has put in the fewest appearances.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

— ZIGNAL VISUAL: There were more than 600,000 total mentions of the seven GOP candidates during the two-hour debate. Trump led the way with more than 177,000 mentions, followed by Cruz and Carson, according to our analytics partners at Zignal Labs:


When Cruz took on “New York values,” Twitter responded in kind, vaulting Cruz to the top of the total mentions chart during the first half of the debate. Here’s Cruz’s word cloud from the minutes after that exchange:


Trump responded with a defense of the Empire State that registered strongly in his debate word cloud:


Here are the top Tweeted emojis for each candidate during the debate:


Facebook says the top social moment was Cruz declaring: “I’m not going to take legal advice from Donald Trump.” The top issues on the social network: 1. Iran; 2. Immigration; 3. ISIS; 4. The economy; 5. Guns.

The moments when Twitter saw the bigger spikes in tweets per minute:

  1. Christie to President Obama: We’re going to “kick your rear end out of the White House.”
  2. Trump defends “New York values.”
  3. Trump and Cruz argue about polls

— Everything you need to see from the debate:

Trump hit the spin room afterward:

Of course, not everyone was a fan of Trump’s performance:


( @JebBush )

A few memorable lines became mini-memes:

The “bomb” quote generated a great Vine:

And it prompted freshman Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to tweet this:


( @BenSasse )

A Vine shows a dazed and confused Carson:


( Andy )

Surprising figures from the left rallied to Trump’s defense after he took umbrage to Cruz’s attack that he embodies “New York values.”

The New York Daily News cover this morning says: “Drop Dead, Ted” with an image of the Statue of Liberty holding up her middle finger. “Hey, Cruz,” says the subheadline. “You don’t like N.Y. values? Go back to Canada!” (See it here.)

Other candidates, especially Bush, failed to get the moment they desperately needed:

Outside of politics, reaction varied. A lot of viewers were upset that Fox Business ran the debate half an hour longer than scheduled. It didn’t wrap up until nearly 11:30 on the East Coast.

Conservative pundits loved the back-and-forth:

Coulter said Rubio sounded like a “Soviet spy,” drawing a rebuke from a former Cruz aide.

Interestingly, liberal groups trained much of their fire on Rubio:

And Team Rubio was quick to declare victory:

The DSCC wrapped up its live-tweeting with a tired cat GIF:


( @dscc )

And a Hillary spokesman was eager to throw down:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

Politico, “Bush donors await green light to jump ship,” by Anna Palmer and Ben White: The publication “talked to nearly two dozen major donors, and most say they are waiting for what one veteran Republican and former Bush 43 administration appointee described as the ‘family hall pass’ to jump to another campaign after the New Hampshire primary. ‘I’m resigned to it being over, frankly. It’s really disappointing,” said one top Bush Wall Street donor. ‘I’d urge him to get out after New Hampshire if he doesn’t do well, but he probably won’t’ … Now the fundraising pitch is decidedly different. ‘Hey, I need you to throw away money on Jeb — out of loyalty,’ a Bush fundraiser has told donors recently.

— National Review, “South Carolina’s critical GOP primary race is wide open,” by Tim Alberta: “Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, where a consensus among insiders has started to cement projecting Cruz and Trump victories, South Carolina remains an electoral enigma. The Palmetto State is more unpredictable than in past cycles due to a host of factors, including a larger and more ideologically fragmented field. But Republicans say four candidates have both the money and organization to survive until the February 20 primary, and all four have competitive claims in the state: Trump sits atop the polls; Cruz has the most enthusiastic followers; Rubio boasts the most experienced organization; and Bush enjoys the deepest reservoir of donor loyalty. Yet none possess traditional x-factors, such as deep southern roots or military experience, that would make them a natural favorite.”

— CNN, “Rubio’s immigration negotiator prompted conflict-of-interest concerns,” by Manu Raju: “Rubio made a risky decision three years ago during high-profile immigration talks: He hired as his chief negotiator a corporate attorney who represented clients with a direct stake in the legislation. The move surprised some on Capitol Hill, given the potential of a conflict-of-interest over hiring Florida lawyer Enrique Gonzalez, a friend of Rubio’s for roughly two decades. Late in the talks, Gonzalez inserted narrowly tailored provisions in the bill that could have helped clients he had represented, including universities, cruise liners and media companies, according to a review of emails and interviews with multiple sources involved in the negotiations. At the time, Gonzalez’s firm told the media that he had made a ‘clean break,’ putting to rest questions over any conflict. Yet a few months after the bill passed the Senate in June 2013, Gonzalez returned to his old employer — Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy — one of the nation’s largest immigration firms.”

— The Onion (satire): “Rubio Refutes Claim He’s Soft On Immigration By Dragging Undocumented Worker He Knocked Out Cold Onto Stage.

HOT ON THE LEFT

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis. incorrectly called Nikki Haley an immigrant. From Politico: “‘No two people agree on everything. And Governor Haley is an immigrant. She has powerful stories of being an immigrant and experiencing discrimination herself,” Johnson said. “And so she’s obviously gonna react different to somebody who’s never experienced that. I tend to align myself more with Governor Haley’s comments on the issue.'”

HOT ON THE RIGHT

In the undercard debate, Carly Fiorina took a dig at the Clintons’ marriage: “The truth is I’ve been blessed by a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things in my life and, unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.”

DAYBOOK:

–What’s happening today on the campaign trail:

  • Donald Trump holds a campaign event at 9:30 a.m. in Urbandale, Iowa.
  • Bill Clinton will be in Sioux City, Marshalltown and Coralville to campaign for Hillary.
  • Marco Rubio goes to New Hampshire for events in Derry, Heniker, Newport and Claremont.
  • Jeb Bush holds a 7 p.m. town hall in Hollis, N.H.
  • Martin O’Malley makes stops in Cedar Rapids and Mt. Vernon, Iowa.
  • John Kasich will be in Conway and Bretton Woods, N.H.
  • Mike Huckabee speaks in South Charleston, S.C. at 1 p.m. and Mt. Pleasant at at 3:30 p.m.

–On the Hill: Recess

–At the White House: President Obama and Vice President Biden eat lunch together at 12:30 p.m. Later President Obama sits for a post-State of the Union interview with three famous YouTube personalities at 2:15 p.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“This is not beanbag!” — Jeb tries to interject during the debate

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

— Carry an umbrella today. “The price of milder temperatures is incoming rain which may arrive by late afternoon into this evening. But at least we can dry and clear out some tomorrow with wind that won’t seem nearly as cold as what’s to come after. Real chill begins to arrive on Sunday, and it blasts us on Monday,” the Capital Weather Gang forecasts.

— The Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

The Anne Arundel county state attorney’s office is probing the purchase of furniture from the governor’s mansion by Martin O’Malley on his way out of office. He paid surprisingly little to basically empty the place of his favorite items.

— A federal judge rejected an effort by Trump supporters to bar voters from having to sign a “party loyalty” pledge before voting in the Virginia GOP primary.

The Zoo is trying to track down three coyotes that killed a endangered gazelle at its facility in Front Royal. (Michael E. Ruane)

— A 15-year-old girl was arrested for assault and robbery related to the disturbing attack aboard a Green Line train in November, when a man was beaten and called anti-gay slurs. (Faiz Siddiqui)

–Miss Washington USA (name: Stormy Keffeler) is being investigated after apparently stabbing her boyfriend, Major League Soccer player Marco Pappa.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

If you missed it, here’s your guide to the debate in three minutes flat:

Watch Trump take offense to Cruz’s attack on “New York values”:

Trump also embraced “the mantle of anger”:

Have you heard the Trump jam that plays at his rallies? Beware, it’s an earworm:

Go behind the scenes at the State of the Union with President Obama in this video from the White House:

Lots of people made fun of John Kasich’s hand motions at the last debate. Someone created a Kasich karate chop game (click to watch):