Republican Presidential Debate - Live Report

Washington (AFP) - 03:21 GMT - AFP IS NOW CLOSING THIS LIVE REPORT on the first Republican presidential debate, the first formal campaign event ahead of the November 2016 White House election.

03:14 GMT - Trump: Make America a winner (like me!) - Donald Trump had the last word at what was, overall, a rollicking, raucous debate.

"Our country is in serious trouble. We don't win anymore. We don't beat China in trade. We don't beat Japan," Trump said, adding -- as he does at almost all of his campaign events -- "we have to make our country great again.

"And I will do that!"

03:10 GMT - Scandal-ridden Hillary? - Mike Huckabee took a parting swipe at the likely Democratic nominee.

"It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who is very high in the polls, but doesn't have a clue about how to govern. A person who has been filled with scandals and who could not lead," the former TV talkshow host said.

"And of course, I'm talking about Hillary Clinton," he said to guffaws from the crowd.

03:03 GMT - Washington half-brains? - Neurosurgeon Ben Carson's closing zinger, as he asked for the public's support.

"I'm the only one that has separated Siamese twins. The only one to operate on babies while they were still in their mother's womb," he said.

"The only one to take out half-a-brain, although you would think if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it."

02:59 GMT - Rubio: Rescuing the American dream - "Both my parents were born to poor families on the island of Cuba. They came to America because it was the only place for people like them to have a chance," Marco Rubio said.

"It is what makes our nation different. I'm running for president because I want that to be possible" for Americans today.

02:58 GMT - Paul closing statement - Rand Paul will "defend your right to be left alone.... I'm a different kind of Republican."

Closing statements

02:54 GMT - Republicans count their blessings - God has blessed the Republican party, Marco Rubio said, about the usually large presidential field.

"He's blessed us with some very good candidates. The Democrats can't even find one."

02:48 GMT - Look out, Putin! - "Putin believes in the old adage, you probe with bayonets. When you find steel you stop. Under Obama and Clinton we found a lot of mush," Scott Walker said, adding that he would send weapons to Ukraine and put NATO troops on Poland's eastern border.

02:46 GMT - Fun fact: Ted Cruz - One fun Cruz fact is that he was born in Canada, but is allowed to run for the White House because he has a US passport thanks to his American mother. His father was an émigré from Cuba.

Cruz, 44, was the first in the field to declare his White House candidacy. A first term US senator from Texas, he's a champion debater, firebrand orator, known for hurling rhetorical firebombs on the Senate floor and for an overnight filibuster against Obamacare in which he talked for some 21 hours, greatly raising his political profile.

02:39 GMT - Iran: Buy low, sell high - Donald Trump explained the Iran nuclear deal like a true multi-billionaire mogul.

"If Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it right now. You'll quadruple," he said.

"What happened in Iran is a disgrace. And it is going to lead to destruction in large portions of the world."

02:32 GMT - Black Lives Matter? - "It's about training," said Scott Walker, asked about finding a solution to the problem of fraught relations between African Americans and police.

The key, he said, is "making sure that law enforcement professionals -- not only on the way in but all the way through their time -- have the proper training, particularly when it comes to use of force."

02:26 GMT - Evolution, Trump-style - "When did you actually become a Republican?" skeptical moderator Megyn Kelly asks Trump, citing his past support for an assault weapons ban and other positions unpopular in the party.

Trump's answer? "I've evolved on many issues over the years."

02:23 GMT - Fun fact: Scott Walker - Governor Scott Walker, 47, stared down the labor unions in his state of Wisconsin, in the process becoming an American conservative star.

And this son of a preacher often proudly boasts about being an Eagle Scout -- the very top rank in the boy scouts.

02:21 GMT - Iran: Tear up that deal! - Scott Walker vows that the Iran nuclear deal won't go through if he's elected president.

"I remember as a kid tying a yellow ribbon on the tree in front of my house during those 44 days (of the Iran hostage crisis)," he said, calling the agreement "yet another example of the failed foreign policy of the Obama-Clinton doctrine."

02:11 GMT - Take-no-prisoners Trump - It wasn't entirely clear ahead of the debate, that Trump would bring his inflammatory, take-no-prisoners rhetoric to the stage with his Republican opponents on stage right next to him.

He definitely has, and many in the crowd are eating it up.

02:08 GMT - The Donald on Hillary - The full, unexpurgated quote from Trump:

"For Hillary Clinton, I said, 'be at my wedding,' and she came to my wedding. She had no choice because I gave to a foundation that frankly is supposed to do good.

"I didn't know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was."

02:02 GMT - Carson: Bring it on! - Ben Carson on a general election battle with Clinton:

"If Hillary is the candidate, which I doubt, that would be a dream come true.

"But you know, the fact of the matter is, she is the epitome of the progressive, the secular progressive movement. And she counts on the fact that people are uninformed."

02:00 GMT - Tinker, tailor ... - Kasich reminds us again that his father was a mailman; Carly Fiorina earlier underscored her start as a secretary.

Biography -- especially when emphasizing humble roots -- counts for a lot in the US presidential contest.

01:55 GMT - More Hillary... - "Right this minute, 10 Republican men are on national TV, arguing over which one will do the best job of dragging our country backwards. I'm not watching, and I don't need to be," Clinton wrote.

"They are out of step with the kind of country Americans want for themselves and their children," she adds, asking supporters "to chip in one dollar or more right now, to fight for the vision you and I share."

01:53 GMT - Meanwhile, Hillary ... - In an email blast to her donors, Hillary Clinton declares "I'm not watching tonight's debate."

01:49 GMT - Trump on Clinton: "I gave, she came" - Trump repeats a favorite campaign theme: That he's beholden to no one, since he's self-financed -- unlike his opponents.

"I've given to most of the people on this stage," he proclaimed.

He said that his largess also went to Hillary Clinton, who later felt compelled to go to his wedding.

"She had no choice, because I gave!"

01:48 GMT - Fun facts about Paul - Paul, 52, son of perennial presidential contender and former US congressman Ron Paul, is a Libertarian like his dad.

He's been fiercely attacked by many others in the GOP field for his isolationist foreign policy views. A Time magazine cover story once anointed him "The Most Interesting Man in Politics."

01:45 GMT - Rueful Carson - "I wasn't sure I was going to get the chance to talk again," said a rueful Ben Carson, after the rhetorical thrust-and-parry among his feisty fellow Republicans.

01:43 GMT - Hugging Obama?! - Christie rails about Paul "blowing hot air" on a Senate subcommittee.

Paul counters: " I don't trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead."

About the worst thing you can accuse a fellow Republican of, is a feeling of fondness for the president.

01:36 GMT - Christie: Another straight-talker - Four years ago, the world was Christie's oyster -- Republicans begged him to run for the White House.

He demurred, saying it wasn't his time. Now that he's ready and running, voters have seemed, well, underwhelmed.

But Christie is a gifted speaker with an outsized personality, and could get a big bump in the polls if he does well tonight.

01:35 GMT - Mano a mano - Chris Christie and Rand Paul have a sharp exchange over their differing points of view on security -- the most fireworks we've seen so far during the debate.

01:31 GMT - Kasich on Trump - John Kasich says Trump "has touched a nerve" with his comments on immigration.

Ohio's Kasich, 63, barely squeaked onto the Republican debate campaign stage -- which would have been an embarrassment since the event is being held in the state where he is governor.

He has kind words about The Donald now, but his campaign team once -- with perhaps the best line about how Republicans feel about sharing the stage with Trump -- compared it to a NASCAR race in which one of the drivers was drunk.

01:27 GMT - Incendiary Trump! - So now we know which Trump has showed up to today's debate. Hope the seats in the arena are flame-retardant.

01:24 GMT - Trump on illegal immigration - "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration," said Trump, who infamously said during his campaign announcement that undocumented Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals.

01:21 GMT - Even more pro-life - Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee:

"It's time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and we change the policy to be pro-life and protect children -- instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they're parts to a Buick."

01:18 GMT - Pro-life - All of the candidates on the stage are pro-life.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, on the abortion issue, said: "I've got a position that's consistent with many Americans out there in that I believe that that is an unborn child that's in need of protection out there."

01:14 GMT - Bush: top tier - John Ellis "Jeb" Bush, 62, son of America's most powerful political dynasty, is winning the campaign fundraising race hands down, with $120 million collected including outside 'Superpac' cash.

But his "shock and awe" fundraising strategy hasn't scared away other Republican comers from the race. His chances of locking up the nomination haven't been helped by the fact that he's been the target of most attacks so far by Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Bush is still seen however as being in the top tier of Republicans likely to go the distance in the primary campaign.

01:10 GMT - Bush: 'My own man!' - "I'm my own man!" Jeb Bush declared, trying to counter his rather milquetoast image on the campaign trail so far.

01:08 GMT - Political newcomer Carson - Ben Carson, 63, next up to speak -- the only African American in the field -- is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, but a political neophyte. He's never held elective office, or nor has he ever run for anything.

01:06 GMT - Boo! Hiss! - "I will not make the pledge," Trump declares, to boos and jeers from the audience.

01:04 GMT - Donald stands alone - He's the only candidate not to raise his hand when asked if he would pledge NOT to run as an independent if he fails to get the Republican nomination.

01:04 GMT - First: 'The Donald' - Donald Trump, 69, was already a household name before he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential nomination. His favorite word to describe his accomplishment is "huge" but the billionaire real estate mogul has played down expectations about how well he will do tonight, saying he's not a debater, but a businessman. Question is, can the self-financed candidate look presidential and increase his lead in the polls? Or will tonight mark the beginning of the end of his summer romance with voters?

01:00 GMT - Let the games begin! - The whole gang is on the stage. Let the debate begin! (Raucous applause from the crowd in the arena.)

The candidates on the stage, (in order of highest poll numbers to lowest) are:

Donald Trump, a real estate magnate who has never before run for elective office; former Florida Governor Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; US Senator Ted Cruz, from Texas; US Senator Marco Rubio, from Florida; US Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie; and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

The candidates take the stage

00:55 GMT - Trump a 'celebrity'? - Former Texas governor Rick Perry, said of Trump: "I do think that he is a celebrity -- just like (New York) Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani was a celebrity in '07."

00:51 GMT - Spin cycle - In the spin room next to the debate stage, debunking Trump was topic number one.

"I don't think he can beat Hillary Clinton," said US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

"I don't think you're going to be president of the United States when you label a whole class of people as rapists and drug dealers when they're not," he said citing Trump's now-infamous remarks about undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

00:48 GMT - Hundreds of reporters - Hundreds of journalists are covering the debate from inside the arena -- although they've been put in a filing center separate from the stage, which they cannot actually see. (Thank goodness for television monitors!)

00:47 GMT - 'Kids' table'? - The earlier debate had been likened -- perhaps a bit snarkily -- to the little kids' table at a formal Thanksgiving dinner or the undercard of a boxing match.

It's also been called the "Happy Hour" debate, since it took place at around the same time bars begin to fill up after the work day comes to an end.

One big question: Will today's prime-time debate be a continuation of the Donald Trump Show -- like much of the rest of the campaign so far?

Or will "The Donald," as he is affectionately known, try to look "presidential" and not go on the attack?

00:46 GMT - First blood? - Another question, who will draw first blood? Undoubtedly some on the stage will want to take Trump on, in a bid to raise their own profile.

In fact, with Trump being the larger-than-life personality that he is, all of the candidates are expected to have crafted a "Trump strategy" for tonight.

00:43 GMT - Trump front and center - Trump will be -- literally -- front and center onstage tonight, as the undisputed frontrunner of the Republican field. (Candidates with less impressive poll numbers have been relegated to the margins of the debate stage.)

00:41 GMT - Fun fact! - Each of the 10 candidates is expected to speak, all told, for about 10 minutes during the two-hour long debate.

00:36 GMT - WELCOME to AFP's coverage of the first presidential debate of the 2016 White House campaign -- the first of nine official Republican debates. (Democrats announced today they're planning six presidential debates in the coming months, but today, all eyes are on the Republicans.)

There are 17 Republican candidates -- an all-time record for any presidential campaign season. Today's debate is viewed by many as the first step in the process of winnowing down the field.

Only the top 10 presidential contenders -- as determined by an average of recent polls -- were allowed by Fox News to take part in the prime-time debate. Seven Republicans who fared less well in the polls took part -- some rather unhappily -- in a debate that started four hours earlier.