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The 5 Most Important Takeaways From the First Debate of 2016

Why Donald Trump being Donald Trump is a problem, why Jeb Bush is lucky to be a Bush, and how Carly Fiorina broke through from the undercard to the main event.
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Trump Trades Blows With GOP Foes at First Debate

“It’s over!” exclaimed Megyn Kelly at 11:03 p.m., just slightly more than two hours after the start of the Fox News prime-time debate in Cleveland—bringing to a close an event that John Weaver, the chief strategist for Ohio Governor John Kasich, compared in terms of media anticipation to the chariot race in “Ben Hur.” The debate was not quite that spectacular, but it was certainly a wild ride. Anyone who expected politesse or a gentle, soothing entry into the forensic stage of the GOP nomination fight was quickly disabused of such fantasies. And this was not just because of the surreal, pyrotechnic presence of Donald J. Trump on the stage. There will be acres of analysis of the inaugural debate in the days to come, but herewith five big insta-takeaways from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland:

From the very first question, regarding the candidates' willingness to foreswear launching an independent bid for president, Trump was at the center of the action. (The explanation he coughed for his refusal to take that pledge was a combination of word salad and verbal hash.) His answers from then on provided fuel for Trump skeptics on both right and left, from his suggestion that single-payer health care might at one point have worked in the U.S. to his sure-to-be-played-in-an-infinite-loop-on-cable reply to Kelly’s tough-as-nails question about his verbal abuse of women (“only Rosie O’Donnell”). Whether these and other answers—including his tacit endorsement of pay-to-play, coupled with the vivid suggestion that his campaign donations to Hillary Clinton in effect bought her attendance at his wedding—will dent Trump’s support with his core supporters remains to be seen. But it is hard to imagine his performance did much to expand his appeal to a wider swath of voters, and impossible to argue that it made him seem presidential.