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Let's set the scene: it's nine months to the election, about eleven till the inauguration. The GOP controls the Senate, but there's a Democratic president (in case you hadn't noticed). The Supreme Court has been split between four liberal and four conservative justices and one swing justice. One of the conservative justices dies, Justice Scalia. President Obama has the right to nominate his successor, and that choice will entirely change the Court's makeup to predictably liberal. And yet he needs the Republican Senate's advise and consent to do it. In an ideal world, justices would be "neutral" and the august and objective law would be the only guide they followed. But in the real world, justices each have a judicial attitude and philosophy that is reflected in decisions that tend to consistently and predictably lean to one side or other in their political consequences. Therefore no judge Obama nominates will be "neutral"; that person will be liberal if not leftist. That is a given.

As Donald Trump ramps up his attacks on Ted Cruz, the Washington Post is reporting that "The Republican establishment really, really doesn't like Ted Cruz."  This premise is nothing new to those of us who have been following Ted Cruz's career in the Senate and his presidential campaign, and to many serves as a feather in Cruz's cap.  The vitriol against him, though, is becoming quite pronounced . . . and not just from Trump. WaPo writes:
There's an assumption among casual consumers of politics that establishment Republicans loathe Donald Trump. Not really true.  Yes, they worry about what Trump might do downballot to the GOP if he is the nominee. But most view him with some mix of puzzlement and fascination. The Republican establishment saves its actual hatred for one man and one man only: Ted Cruz.
The evidence WaPo trots out is Iowa governor Terry "ethanol" Branstad.
Witness Terry Branstad, the four-term governor of Iowa and, without question, the face of the Republican establishment in the state. On Tuesday, he told reporters that he wants to see Cruz beaten in the Iowa caucuses in 13 days -- a remarkable admission by a sitting incumbent of such long standing.

As we watch the 2016 Republican primaries unfold in often-surprising ways, it is clear that there is a strong desire among Republican primary voters for change within the party.  Sick of what Ted Cruz calls "the Washington Cartel" and of the "election conservatives" who managed for so long to convince voters they uphold conservative values and principles, Republican primary voters are taking a stand. It began before Obama was elected, while President Bush was still in office, and has since only gained in strength and resolve, and the GOP establishment has been slow to notice or grasp what is happening. They saw glimpses of it in the TEA Party in 2009 and '10 and worked side-by-side with Democrats to diminish its influence, they may have noticed something was changing in the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, they probably got a more clear picture when Eric Cantor (then House GOP whip) was booted out of office, and they started to pay attention when Speaker Boehner was also forced out.  They thought they could handle it, though, so they plowed ahead . . . pushing Jeb Bush as the next in line for the presidency, and that's when things started to go so terribly wrong for the GOP establishment that they are finally sitting up and taking notice.

Having just won reelection to his Senate seat for a sixth term in 2014, Mitch McConnell is back to making comments such as the one he made last year about his plans for "crushing" the TEA Party. This time, McConnell is announcing that he will ensure that no GOP candidate who "can't win" will be allowed to run for the U. S. Senate. The Hill reports:

“The way you have a good election year is to nominate people who can win,” he told reporters during his final Capitol Hill press conference of 2015.

He urged Republican primary voters to avoid the mistakes of the past, mentioning several Tea Party candidates who went down in flames in recent Senate elections.

“What we did in 2014 was we didn’t have more Christine O’Donnell’s, Sharron Angles, Richard Mourdocks or Todd Akins. The people that were nominated [last year] were electable,” he said of the last midterm cycle.

“That will happen again in 2016. We will not nominate anybody for the United States Senate on the Republican side who’s not appealing to a general-election audience,” he added.

Between reports that representatives from major networks (CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, and CBS) gathered together to discuss how to take down Trump and John Kasich's bizarre ad, Trump seems to have more people poised to work against him than with him. The Hill reports that the GOP is in a "panic" over Trump and are finally taking his campaign seriously enough to call him "the clear front-runner" and to wonder how to derail it. So far, GOP strategists and pundits on both sides have been predicting that Trump's success will be short-lived, that it's just like the last presidential election in which each candidate had his or her 15 minutes of fame . . . only to crash, burn, and drop out in a matter of weeks. That, however, is not the case with Trump thus far; the Hill continues:
“The media has twisted and turned through a number of different positions where they tried to explain that it was just a fad — the summer of Trump,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa. “Well, it’s lasted all fall. There is a realization that you are not going to wake up tomorrow and he’s going to vanish.”

I suppose this is one way to look at things, but it's certainly not the slightest bit accurate. Sunday, President Obama accused Republicans of helping ISIS (though he always uses 'ISIL') by attacking Syrian refugees. Unsurprisingly, not one Republican has attacked any Syrian refugee. What Republicans have done is vocalize the same concerns articulated by U.S. intelligence agencies on the refugee vetting process. Namely, that because our intelligence ground game in Syria has been so weak, we have no data with which to vet an influx of refugee status seekers properly, at least not for the time being. However, that little factoid didn't stop President Obama from continuing his verbal assault on Republicans and a bevy of Democrats who've vowed to halt the president's refugee plan. Politico reported:
ISIL’s still not the varsity team, President Barack Obama said Sunday, but if Republicans running for president and in Congress continue to respond to attacks by playing off fears, they’re doing the terrorists’ work for them.

Howdy and thanks so much for joining us tonight! This is the first of two debate posts this evening. First of all, cable or no cable, you can watch the debate if you have an internet connection. CNN is streaming both debates for free, but it will only work if you are in the United States:
If you don't have cable, you'll still be able to watch CNN's Republican primary debate on Wednesday night, because the network is live streaming it for free on the web. The livestream will be front and center on between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET. It'll also be available through the news organization's apps and the CNNgo web site.
In tonight's early debate, we have:
  • Bobby Jindal
  • Rick Santorum
  • Lindsey Graham
  • George Pataki.

Watch real time debate reaction:

To providing a wide array of real time reactions, we've included a few different Twitter feeds for your entertainment. You'll find those beneath.

Join the conversation:

But here's the fun part. We want to hear from YOU. Questions, observations, thoughts, ideas? Share them in the comments section beneath. Amy and I will address them directly on the blog. Please keep them civil, appropriate, and debate-focused. We can't promise we will get to every single one, but we will do our best. Are you ready? Let the games begin! Post-debate UPDATE by WAJ: Here are my tweets and retweets of the night and take on the "result":

George Will has written a thought-provoking piece over at WaPo in which he argues that the GOP should purge itself of Trump and Trump's supporters. Will explains:
When, however, Trump decided that his next acquisition would be not another casino but the Republican presidential nomination, he tactically and quickly underwent many conversions of convenience (concerning abortion, health care, funding Democrats, etc.). His makeover demonstrates that he is a counterfeit Republican and no conservative.

He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of the National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley’s legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump “goes too far,” he has “tapped into something,” and therefore . . . .

Therefore what? This stance — if a semi-grovel can be dignified as a stance — is a recipe for deserved disaster. Remember, Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond “tapped into” things.

Love him, hate him, or feel ambivalent toward him, Mitt Romney was "right about everything," and that is standing him in good stead with the GOP.  Indeed, Politico is reporting that Romney is "working to rid the GOP presidential primary of the mayhem that marked his own race":
Mitt Romney is working with an unlikely collaborator — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign — in the hopes of ensuring that the GOP primary produces a mainstream conservative without any of the mayhem that marked his own race. The two, who speak monthly, aim to convince the wealthy contributors bankrolling various candidates to work together to avoid the kind of primary election chaos that Romney believes laid the seeds for his defeat in 2012. The former Massachusetts governor is also considering endorsing a candidate to achieve his goal. They’re unmistakable signs of Romney’s newly assertive role in the Republican Party but also of his determination to guarantee the GOP an unbloodied nominee with broad-based appeal.

Members of both political parties descended upon Selma, Alabama earlier today. Partisan politics were shelved as members of Congress were unified in remembering the sacrifice of those who marched for freedom. So how did Republicans commemorate the day? Take a look:
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