Update: 7:18 p.m. PST: As Trump crows about renegotiating the third debate down to two hours, “so we can get the hell out of here,” the debate wraps up. “For the record, the debate was always going to be two hours,” moderator John Harwood shoots back, sparking angry denials from Trump.

That moment captured one of the night’s big themes — the us-against-them refrain that Cruz, Rubio, Trump and Carson all played in their comments about liberal bias in the mainstream media.

Our predictions for that same media’s take on the third GOP go-round: Cruz, Rubio and Trump get high marks, while Bush and Fiorina sink, perhaps out of sight. Paul and Kasich introduced some important topics but don’t do much to raise their profiles. Huckabee’s zingers and Bush’s barbs don’t do them much good beyond the sound-bite level.

Other final thoughts and themes: Carson fumbled when it came to describing the details of his economic scheme. Flatter-tax plans (Rubio, Cruz) took center stage, as did tax reform (Fiorina, Bush) and a hearty dose of GOP fanfare about shrinking big government (Carson, Paul). But though the candidates tried to pin every societal problem — and particularly unemployment, income inequality and other issues that dovetailed with the evening’s emphasis — on the Obama administration, and by extension Barack Obama’s former secretary of state and the Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, the Republican presidential hopefuls still have to pull off quite a high-wire act in order to convince American voters that their way points in the direction of bridging the nation’s yawning economic divide. * * *

Update: 7:06 p.m. PST: Below is a smattering of the candidates’ quotes from the debate’s final half:

“We don’t have a health care crisis in America — we have a health crisis.” — Gov. Mike Huckabee

“Does he support police officers? Does he stand up for law enforcement? No, he doesn’t.” — Gov. Chris Christie on President Obama

“I’m wearing a Trump tie tonight. Get over that one.” — Gov. Mike Huckabee

“I think gun-free zones are a catastrophe.” — Donald Trump

“Income inequality is driven by a lack of skills when kids don’t get what they need in order to compete and win in this economy.” — Gov. John Kasich

“Our monetary policy, tax policy and regulatory policy needs to be radically changed.” — Gov. Jeb Bush

“Let’s bring the Fed forward … and talk about how it causes income inequality.” — Sen. Rand Paul

“You know, the Democrats have the ultimate super PAC — it’s called the mainstream media.”—Sen. Marco Rubio

* * *

Update: 6:41 p.m. PST: The Washington Post says Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have “outshined” front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the debate’s first hour.

* * *

Update: 6:15 p.m. PST: “Crony capitalism is alive and well,” Carly Fiorina declared, before pointing fingers at the government for “creating” the student loan crisis. “This is how socialism starts,” Fiorina said, claiming the government “causes a problem, and then government steps in to solve the problem.”

Soon afterward, in response to CNBC moderator Becky Quick’s question about how Ted Cruz would improve the lot of American women in particular, Fiorina jumped in and took aim at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, declaring: “It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about [becoming] the first woman president when every single policy she espouses and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women.”

Time magazine is keeping a running transcript of the debate here. * * * Update: 5:45 p.m. PST: Following Marco Rubio’s successful lead, Ted Cruz pushed back on the CNBC moderators’ questions and, by extension, the mainstream media at large, drawing an enthusiastic response from the audience with an underdog monologue:

The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match, and if you look at the questions: “Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult the two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”

How about talking about the substantive issues people care about? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, “Which of you is more handsome and wise … ?”

… And let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. And nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators have any intention of voting at a Republican primary.

Previously, Rubio had deflected questions, from the moderators’ desk and from Jeb Bush, about recent stories regarding his absence from his day job in favor of his campaign obligations, by blaming the liberal media for holding him to standards they didn’t extend to Democratic candidates past and present.

* * *

Update: 5:27 p.m. PST: Gov. John Kasich came out strong in the first round of questioning, taking front-runners Ben Carson (for his 10 percent tithe idea) and Donald Trump (for his immigration proposal of shipping 10 million people out of the U.S.) to task for having little experience and making outlandish promises. “We are on the verge of picking someone who cannot do this job!” Kasich warned. “You don’t just make promises like this! Why don’t we just put a chicken in every pot?” he added. “These plans would put us trillions and trillions of dollars in debt.”

Trump, predictably, blamed Kasich’s low polling numbers for his attack, and accused him of “getting nasty.”

Meanwhile, Carson floundered in trying to break down the details of his approach to fixing the economy, and Ted Cruz jumped in with his flat-tax plan.

* * *

With a lineup that includes close-range front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, plus struggling runner-ups like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, Wednesday night’s Republican debate is likely to be lively, but CNBC’s big-tent event hinges on one main question as far as American voters are concerned.

As Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer put it that morning, as the candidates prepared to descend upon the University of Colorado at Boulder: “Are you the party of plutocracy, or do you care about the people?”

The theme of Wednesday’s face-off is “Your Money, Your Vote,” and although Carson has paid lip service to raising the minimum wage, and Trump has made noises about taxing hedge fund managers, whether any of the GOP hopefuls will present anything like a coherent vision for dealing with income inequality and other critical economic issues remains to be seen. And even if they talk the talk, politicians don’t tend to be famous for following through on their campaign promises.

Watch this space for ongoing coverage of Wednesday night’s debate — also, check out our Twitter feed at @truthdig for highlights from the GOP huddle at the Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

As for the warm-up act, featuring Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, as of this first posting, the most compelling moment went to Graham. Shortly after flouting party conventions by revealing he’s very concerned about climate change, the South Carolina senator succumbed to exasperation, exclaiming:

I am tired of losing! Good God, look who we’re running against! The No. 1 candidate on the other side thought she was flat broke after her and her husband were in the White House for eight years. The No. 2 guy went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon, and I don’t think he came back! If we don’t beat these people, who the hell we gonna beat?

Who indeed.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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