Early in the two-and-a-half-hour debate Wednesday, a few of the 10 debaters went after each other instead of Trump, who has previously drawn the ire of fellow candidates. Eventually the group settled into a more substantive go round on Social Security, government regulations, the Federal Reserve and federal budgets.
It was also the first debate where the political insiders clearly seemed to fare better than the outsiders, being able to give more meaty answers to the grilling they got from CNBC hosts John Harwood, Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla.
The hosts and the media in general were often the targets of candidates' barbs, with the audience a willing participant, cheering at Senator Marco Rubio's frequent attacks on mainstream media and booing multiple times at the hosts' tough questioning of candidates.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who needed a strong showing in the debate to boost his small poll numbers, came out early attacking the flat tax and Trump tax plans as "fantasy."
"You can't do it with empty promises," Kasich said. "These plans would put us trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. I can get it done because I'm realistic. You have to deal with entitlements. You have to be in a position to deal with discretionary spending. You've got to be creative and imaginative."
"You should be showing up to work," Bush said. "What is it, like a French work week? You get like three days you have to show up. You can campaign or just resign. Let someone else take the job. There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck in Florida. They're looking for a senator that will fight for them every single day."
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who dropped in the polls since the boost she got from the previous debate, gave perhaps her best response of the night in defending herself against criticism that her management of the company gutted stock value.
"Something I think people don't understand is how accountable a CEO actually is," she said. "I had to report results every 90 days in excruciating detail. I had to answer every single question about every single result and every single projection in public until there were no more questions. And if I misrepresented those results or projections in anyway, I was held criminally liable. Imagine if a politician were held to that standard of accountability. I will run on my record all day long."
Donald Trump defended his casino's multiple bankruptcies less than apologetically. In fact, seemed to imply he would use bankruptcy to solve the nation's deficit.
"I've used it three times, maybe four times," he said. "Came out great, but I guess I'm supposed to come out great. That's what I can do for the country. We owe 19 trillion dollars. Boy, am I good at solving debt problems. Nobody can solve it like me. I used the laws of the country to my benefit, I'm sorry."
Here are some other highlights from the debate at the University of Colorado, in Boulder:
On Social Security:
"This is not a matter of math. This is a matter of morality," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. "If this country does not keep it's promise to seniors, then what promise can this country hope to be trusted to keep."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wouldn't put any cuts on current Social Security beneficiaries either.
"We can save and preserve and strengthen Social Security by making no changes for seniors," Cruz said. "But for younger workers gradually increasing retirement age, changing the rate of growth so that it matches inflation and critically allowing younger workers to keep a portion of our tax payments in a personal account that we own, we control and we can pass on to our kids."
Bush on the budget:
"You find me a Democrat who will cut spending $10, heck, you find me a Republican in Congress that would cut spending $10, I'll talk to him," he said. "You find me a Democrat that's for cutting spending $10, I'll give him a warm kiss."
Rubio on companies hiring foreign workers:
"Before you hire anyone from abroad, you should have to advertise that job for 180 days," Rubio said. "You also have to prove you're going to pay these people more than someone else so you're not undercutting it and bringing in cheap labor. For the life of me, why did we stop doing vocational education in America? People who can work with their hands. People that you can train to do this work while they're still in high school so they can graduate ready to go to work."
On the Federal Reserve:
Cruz wants to audit the Fed and get it "out of the business of trying to juice our economy and simply be focused on sound money and monetary stability, ideally tied to gold."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blamed the Fed for income inequality and the housing crisis, and agreed with Cruz on auditing the organization, but added "what you need to do is free up interest rates. Interest rates are the price of money and you shouldn't have price controls on the price of money."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the Justice Department prosecuting corporate wrongdoing:
"If there is somebody who is price gouging, we have laws for prosecutors to take that on."
Ben Carson on how his views on government subsidies have changed:
"I was wrong on government subsidies," he said. "I've concluded the best policy is to get rid of all government subsidies and get the government out of our lives. Let people rise and fall based on how good they are."
Paul on entitlement solvency:
"It's not the Republicans' fault. It's not the Democrats' fault. It's your grandparents' fault for having too many damn kids," he said. "We used to have 16 workers to one retiree, now we have three workers to one retiree."