Many expected the Republican debate would focus on Donald Trump. They weren’t disappointed. He was both center stage and the center target in the marquee event Wednesday night.

Trump began the debate with an unusual flurry of insults, but he almost disappeared for the next half-hour, as the other 10 candidates on the stage engaged in more conventional arguments about foreign policy and abortion.

Asked about his own character at the debate’s outset, Trump moved quickly, and without a clear reason, to jab Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. “First of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage,” Trump said, because he was so low in the polls.

Paul responded by calling Trump sophomoric, for insulting his opponents’ appearances.

Trump then seemed to prove him right.

“I never attacked him on his looks,” Trump said of Paul. “And believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter there.”

It was another candidate’s looks that closed the first hour of debate. CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Carly Fiorina to respond to one of Trump’s most infamous insults, in which he told a Rolling Stone reporter that people might not vote for her because of her face.

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she said, to sustained applause.

“I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” Trump replied, to much less reaction.

Fiorina, the former tech executive, had some of the most memorable lines in the opening act of the crowded, contentious debate, an hour that veered from sophomoric insults to sober debates over Senate tactics.

Fiorina made the most emotional plea for Republicans to confront President Obama in an effort to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. In emotional tones, she recalled a scene from undercover videos that aimed to show Planned Parenthood taking advantage of abortions to harvest the body parts of the fetuses.

“While someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” she said, that should require an effort to force Obama to veto this bill. If not, she said, “Shame on us.”

Trump and former Florida governor Jeb Bush – whose front-runner status Trump stole – sparred over whether Trump would apologize to Bush’s wife, in one of several surreal moments that marked Trump’s second appearance in a GOP debate.

“Why don’t you to apologize to her,” Bush said, after a question about Trump’s reference to Bush’s wife, who was born in Mexico, as having influenced his policy on immigration.

“Well, I won’t do that because I did nothing wrong,” Trump said. “But I hear she’s a lovely woman.”

That moment led the debate, at least briefly, out of the realm of insult comedy and into the realm of policy. Bush said that he wanted to expand opportunities for illegal immigrants to achieve legal status, citing President Ronald Reagan as an example of a politician who had done so. That was followed by an argument between Bush and Trump over whether it was appropriate for Bush to have spoken Spanish in a televised interview.

Trump said this sent a bad signal about assimilation: “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”

That brought the best moment of the night for Sen. Marco Rubio, who described how his grandfather, an immigrant from Cuba, came to love America, and conservatism, and pass both loves on to Rubio.

“He taught me that in Spanish. Because that was the language he was most comfortable in,” Rubio said. He said he viewed current-day immigrants in a similar way, and spoke Spanish to reach them: “If they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me, not from a translator at Univision.”

A phase of the debate ranged over the nuclear deal with Iran – which Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said should be ripped up, and Paul said ought to be enforced, since it hadn’t been stopped. The field then moved to a question of Senate tactics: Should Republicans risk a government shutdown to force a confrontation in order to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a provider of abortions reviled by conservatives?

“I would not be for shutting the government down, because I don’t think it’s going to work out,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said, arguing that the cause was valuable, but the tactic wouldn’t work.

“We need to stop surrendering and start standing for our principles,” said Cruz, arguing that the cause was so valuable that the tactics were worth the risk. Cruz, of course, convinced Republicans to try a similar confrontational tactic to stop the president’s health care law. The government did shut down, and Republicans did not succeed in getting what they wanted.

After that, host Jake Tapper turned the debate to a question about Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee repeated his argument that the Supreme Court had reached outside its authority by legalizing same-sex marriage in the first place. “If the court can just make a decision, and we just all surrender to it,” that is judicial tyranny, Huckabee. He then shushed Tapper, who had tried to stop him, by saying that he hadn’t been given much time to talk so far. Of Davis’s jailing, Huckabee said, “What else is it other than the criminalization of her faith?”

While the debate opened with Trump turning on his opponents, it appeared that several had prepared to attack Trump: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has declined in polls as Trump has risen, spoke up with what seemed a pre-scripted attack.

“We don’t need an ‘apprentice’ in the White House. We have one right now,” said, referring to Obama. He did not mention that, in Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice,” Trump is not the apprentice. He is the boss.

Trump responded with a jab – one of many he’s used on Walker – about his record in Wisconsin, and his decline in polls in Iowa.

“In Wisconsin I went to number one, and you went down the tubes,” Trump said.

Trump also insulted a rival who wasn’t even onstage: former New York Gov. George Pataki, whose numbers are so low that he was relegated to the undercard debate. Trump said that Pataki – who has feuded with the front-runner for weeks – “couldn’t even be elected dog-catcher in New York.”

The first few minutes of the debate had been fought on Trump’s terms, focused on insults and not the details of policy positions. From the edge of the debate stage, Ohio Gov. John Kasich spoke up.

“If I were sitting at home watching this back and forth, I’d be inclined to turn it off,” he said.

The night strayed into territory rarely seen in the polite environment of a presidential debate, where lines like “There you go again,” are celebrated as killer take-downs. Bush and Trump bickered like teenagers at times, cutting one another off and shushing each other. The main dispute was about whether Trump had tried to buy his way into casino gambling in Florida: Bush said he’d rejected Trump, Trump said he hadn’t really been trying.

“You’ve got more energy, tonight,” Trump told Bush. “I like that.”

The second-place figure in the race, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, was mostly a quiet presence in this debate, a low-key contrast to Trump and those throwing bombs at him.

The debate, carried out in front of a jetliner that served as Air Force One for President Ronald Reagan, was the largest of any primary debate in history. Just introducing them all took a significant period of time, as several made attempts at humor. Huckabee drew a parallel to the ’80s TV show “The A Team.” “We even have our own Mr. T.,” he said, meaning Trump, “who doesn’t mind saying about others, ‘You’re a fool.'” For his part, Rubio — who was mocked for lunging for a drink of water during a televised response to the State of the Union — held up a bottle. “I made sure I brought my own water,” he said.

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