Republican presidential candidates squared off Saturday night for their final debate ahead of Tuesday’s all-important New Hampshire primary.
The debate capped a months-long push by establishment-minded like Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to win over Granite State voters.
Most of those candidates’ fire this week has been aimed at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has been surging after his stronger-than-expected, third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. And in Saturday night’s debate, the knives came out for Rubio.
The one candidate who didn’t direct many shots at Rubio this week was real-estate magnate Donald Trump, who remains the front-runner in New Hampshire even after his second-place finish in Iowa.
Instead, he has spent much of the week feuding with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the winner of the Iowa caucuses, who he has said “stole” the victory there. The charge stems from messages delivered by Cruz campaign staffers on caucus night that said retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was “suspending campaigning,” among other things — when, in fact, Carson’s campaign said he was simply flying from Iowa to Florida to get a “fresh pair of clothes.”
The Cruz and Carson campaigns have been feuding about the incident for much of the week.
Here are the best moments from Saturday’s debate:
10:44 p.m. ET — Trump slammed the door on Cruz during his closing statement.
After Cruz criticised Trump and Rubio for supposedly pandering to special interests in Iowa by supporting ethanol subsidies, Trump criticised Cruz for misleading Carson supporters in Iowa into believing he dropped out.
“The people of Iowa put country and our children over cronyism and corporate welfare,” Cruz said.
“That’s because he got Ben Carson’s votes, by the way,” Trump said of Cruz’s victory in the Iowa caucuses.
10:35 p.m. ET — The Republican presidential candidates weighed in on who they believed would win the Super Bowl on Sunday. Kasich, Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all said that they believed that the Carolina Panthers would win (or at least were rooting for them). Christie put his money on the Denver Broncos, and Bush said that because quarterback Peyton Manning was supporting his presidential bid, he was rooting for Denver. Carson made a joke by saying he was sure either Denver or Carolina would win.
10:30 p.m. ET — Rubio said he did not believe that his opposition to same-sex marriage made him “a bigot or a hater.” The Florida senator also criticised different media outlets for not asking Democrats during debates about abortion.
10:28 p.m. ET — Cruz maintained that he would not negotiate with terrorists or pay ransom to terrorists holding Americans hostage, saying that this approach would “put a bounty” on Americans abroad. When asked, Trump said that he agreed.
10:23 p.m. ET — Bush said he would allow women to register for selective service.
10:21 p.m. ET — Christie said he would quarantine people coming from Brazil if he believed they had the Zika virus.
10:12 p.m. ET — Rubio defended his comments about President Barack Obama’s visit to a mosque this week, criticising the president for supposedly overemphasizing Islamophobia.
“He continues to put out this fiction that there’s widespread, systematic discrimination against Muslim Americans,” Rubio said of Obama.
“We need to have strong, positive relationships in the Islamic communities in this country so they will identify and report [terrorist] activity.”
Rubio said that the Obama administration discriminated against Christians in the US.
10:05 p.m. ET — Trump reiterated that police are “mistreated.”
“If they make one mistake its on your newscasts all night, all week, all month. The police in this country have done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order,” Trump said. “They’re afraid for their jobs, they’re afraid of the mistreatment they get.”
Kasich also weighed in, touting a task force that he created to improve policing by lessening tensions between minority communities and police forces.
“We love the police, but we’ve got to be responsive to people in the communities,” Kasich said.
9:54 p.m. ET —Several candidates weighed-in on the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire.
Cruz told the story of how his half-sister suffered from addiction to drugs, while Christie reemphasized that heroin abuse was a “moral crisis,” and he’d be willing to engage in cross-border enforcement into Mexico to keep drugs from being imported into the US.
“I’m pro-life. And not just for the nine months in the womb. I’m pro-life when they get out and it’s a lot more complicated,” Christie said.
9:42 p.m. ET — Cruz said that he would not implement waterboarding in “any sort of widespread use,” but asserted that it was not torture.
Trump broke with Cruz, saying that he would bring back former President George W. Bush’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
“I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump said.
9:35 p.m. ET — Before sharing his thoughts about the threat from ISIS in Libya, Carson ribbed the moderators for not giving him enough speaking time.
“I want to say something about this because I’m not here just to add beauty to the stage,” Carson said.
“We have to have a proactive foreign-policy strategy. And of course the next place that ISIS will tack to is Libya.”
9:24 p.m. ET — Christie said the 68% of Americans who support raising taxes on millionaires are wrong.
“It’s a failed idea and a failed policy and it’s class warfare,” Christie said.
9:20 p.m. ET — Christie criticised Kasich for expanding the state government in Ohio.
9:05 p.m. ET — Trump and Bush squared off over eminent domain.
Bush hit Trump over his attempt to use eminent domain to build a limousine parking lot at one of his New Jersey casinos.
“To turn this into a limousine parking lot for his casinos isn’t public domain,” Bush said.
“Jeb wants to be a tough guy, and it doesn’t work out very well,” Trump said.
“How tough is it to take away property from an elderly woman?” Bush interjected.
Trump told Bush to be quiet, prompting booing from the audience. The mogul then shifted away from his points about eminent domain, telling viewers that the debate audience was stacked with donors.
“That’s all of his donors and special interests out there,” Trump said, gesturing at the audience.
“The RNC told us: We have all donors in the audience,” Trump said referring to the Republican National Committee. “And the reason they’re not loving me is I don’t want their money.”
9:00 p.m. ET — Though he did not specify how, Trump said that he would not let people who cannot afford private health insurance die.
“You’re not going to let people die sitting in the middle of the street in any city in this country,” Trump said.
8:57 p.m. ET — Cruz said that he has “someone in mind” to build a wall along the southern US border, gesturing at Trump.
8:53 p.m. ET —Despite Trump’s plan to deport the approximately 11 million immigrants living in the US without permission, Kasich stood by his immigration plan, which includes a legalization plan for millions of immigrants.
“We have to have practical solutions,” Kasich said.
“I can’t even imagine how we would even begin to think about taking a mum or a dad out of a house if they haven’t committed a crime since they got here.”
8:47 p.m. ET — Asked about what it would take to use military action against North Korea, Trump instead commented on Rubio’s earlier comment that President Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing. Trump disagreed.
“I think we have a president who as a president is totally incompetent and doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Trump said.
“Our country is going to hell.”
8:35 p.m. ET — Christie and Rubio got into a heated back-and-forth.
Christie stood behind his comments that Rubio was not qualified for the White House due to his lack of executive experience and short tenure in the senate.
“Every morning, what a United States Senator wakes up, they think ‘What kind of speech can I give,’ or ‘What kind of bill can I draw up,'” Christie said.
“The fact is, Marco, you shouldn’t compare yourself to Joe Biden, and you shouldn’t say that that’s what we’re doing,” Christie said. “You have not been involved in a consequential decision when you’ve been held accountable.”
After Rubio hit Christie over New Jersey’s recent credit downgrade, Christie don’t hold back.
“That’s what Washington, DC, does: the drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him,” Christie said.
Rubio shot back, noting Christie was so busy campaigning he had to be “shamed” into going home during a major snowstorm that hit New Jersey last month.
8:29 p.m. ET — Carson said he was disappointed in members of Cruz’s campaign for having so little faith in the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign that they believed that Carson would drop out on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
“I’m not going to use this opportunity to savage the reputation of Sen. Cruz,” Carson said. I will say that I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me.”
Cruz apologised to Carson onstage shortly after.
8:25 p.m. ET — Trump criticised Cruz for not answering whether he believed Trump was qualified to be commander-in-chief.
“I respect what Ted just said, but he didn’t answer your question,” Trump said to ABC’s anchors. “That’s what’s going to happen with our enemies and the people that we compete against.”
“People back down with Trump, and that’s what I like.”
8:22 p.m. ET — Asked about whether he stood by his assertion that Trump didn’t have the temperament to be commander-in-chief, Cruz said that he would leave it to the voters to decide.
Brett LoGiurato contributed reporting.
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