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Fireworks Fly Early And Often In Third GOP Presidential Debate

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Ben Carson, right, watches as Donald Trump speaks during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado.i

Ben Carson, right, watches as Donald Trump speaks during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

Ben Carson, right, watches as Donald Trump speaks during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado.

Ben Carson, right, watches as Donald Trump speaks during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

The third GOP presidential debate has not lacked action or passion so far.

From the very first question, the knives were out between both candidates and against the CNBC moderators, who are struggling to keep decorum in the feisty face-off.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who got punchy yesterday against his rivals, didn’t back down again and went after Donald Trump, who was happy to return the favor. And the simmering tensions between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his onetime protegee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, boiled over, but the freshman senator was ready to defend his performance and missed votes in the Senate.

Follow our live blog below for a real-time recap of all the action. Tweet us at #nprpolitics and check out our Twitter chat with those tweets. Here’s our earlier analysis of what each candidate needs to do. And we also have a recap of the four candidates who faced off during the undercard debate at 6 p.m. ET.

9:00 p.m. Trump gets a question he’s faced before — how can you claim to be a good businessman when you’ve filed for bankruptcy. He again defends his business — not personal — bankruptcies, says he used the laws to his advantage and the companies came out better for it.

8:55 p.m. Lots of differences from Christie and Huckabee on entitlement reform. Christie, which has gone hard for entitlement reform, doesn’t back down. But the more populist Huckabee is staunchly against touching them at all. “If this country does not keep its promise to seniors, then what can this country be trusted to keep?” Christie says that money’s already been spent though, and that the government should be honest with them and find alternate ways to help them.

8:45 p.m. Less than an hour in, the moderators have pretty much left all control. Cruz goes for the always popular “attack the media,” complaining that this is “not a cage match” and demanding substantive questions. He’s cut off though, but he probably scored points with his supporters. Also, Cruz just put out his own tax plan just before the debate in a Wall Street Journal op-ed here.

8:43 p.m. Fiorina has had good responses for her business record at Hewlett-Packard. She defends her tenure again very well with effective comebacks.

8:40 p.m. If you were expecting Bush vs. Rubio fireworks, you weren’t disappointed. Rubio was prepared for questions as to why he’s aiming for the White House after just a term as senator and why he keeps missing votes. He gets applause for hitting a local paper for calling on him to resign after missing votes — when Democrats running for other offices did the same thing and they never called for them to step down.

Bush seems an opening and jumps though. Noting he’s a constituent and former donor of Rubio’s, he says, “Marco when you signed up for this, it was a six year term. And you should be showing up for work.”

But Rubio is prepared to fire back, saying Bush never criticized other past GOP candidates when they did the same thing — and the only reason he is now is because he’s losing. Point: Rubio.

8:35 p.m Carly Fiorina’s tax code idea — cut it down to three pages (and that doesn’t just mean really small type).

8:30 p.m. John Kasich took the gloves off yesterday and he is here too. Summed up, he’s pretty much like “How am I losing to these guys.” He boasts about how he jumpstarted the Ohio economy and balanced the budget when he was in Congress, but Trump is having none of it. He hits Kasich for having worked at Lehmann brothers in between those stints and says Ohio simply got lucky because it benefited from fracking. Lots of fireworks as Trump insults Kasich as irrelevant since he’s polling so low and is at the end of the stage.

8:25 p.m. On the very first question, Trump gets testy with moderator John Harwood when he asks him how in the world all his proposals to build a wall along the Southern border and his tax plan. “Is this a comic book version of a campaign,” Harwood asks. Trump is highly offended, naturally, and keeps reiterating that CNBC’s Larry Kudlow loves his plan. He’s really rather Kudlow be questioning him.

Carson is also pressed by moderator Becky Quick on how his tax plan — which he now says would be closer to a 15 percent flat tax instead of 10 percent — would work. She says the numbers just don’t add up and would increase the deficit. He keeps insisting it won’t.

8:20 p.m. After a very long delay, we’re finally going. The first question to candidates — what’s your biggest weakness. Predictably, none of their answers are really saying their weaknesses. Kasich tries to turn it around by listing his opponents’ weaknesses. Huckabee, Bush and Rubio all essentially say they’re too optimistic. Trump says it’s that he holds grudges and doesn’t forgive people.

Carson’s answer is really puzzling though, essentially admitting he can’t see himself as president. That’s not the kind of confidence you’d expect from a frontrunner, but instead kind of reinforces his low-key nature. Cruz jokes he’s just too darn likable — something he’s definitely not in the Senate — before doubling down on how he’s taken on the establishment.

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