In the first debate since the terrorist attacks in Paris and California, Republican presidential candidates focused on national security issues and terrorism in Tuesday’s debate, the last GOP debate this year.
With Donald Trump still the front-runner in all national polls, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are rising, tried to gain some traction in the debate. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came out the gate saying Trump was not fit to be president.
Here are some highlights of the debate from the Associated Press:
Trump’s call for temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S. — a proposal roundly criticized by his rivals — dominated much of the discussion heading into the debate. He said he wasn’t seeking to discriminate against Muslims.“We are not talking about isolation; we’re talking about security,” he said. “We are not talking about religion, we are talking about security.”
Bush dismissed the proposal as unserious, saying “Donald is great at the one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.”
In contrast, Cruz and Rubio said they understood why Trump had raised the idea of banning Muslims and avoided directly criticizing the front-runner. Instead, they focused on each other, engaging in lengthy debates over their differences on national security and immigration, one of the most contentious issues in the Republican primary.
Rubio target over immigration bill
Rubio defended his support for eventually providing a pathway to citizenship for some people in the U.S. illegally, an unpopular position within the Republican Party. Rubio was a co-author of comprehensive Senate legislation in 2013 that would have created that pathway, but he has since said the nation’s immigration crisis must be addressed in piecemeal fashion, with legalization only an option after the U.S.-Mexico border is secured.
Cruz went further than he has previously in opposing legalization for people in the U.S. illegally, declaring, “I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says Rubio is opening the country to more terrorist attacks with attempts to allow more legal immigration.
Paul says Rubio tries to portray himself as strong on national security, but is actually the weakest because he promoted a broad immigration reform bill in 2013 and has opposed border security.
Paul says more restrictions on legal immigration might have prevented attacks such as the one in San Bernardino and on Sept. 11, 2011, and says Rubio has more of an allegiance to Democrats on immigration than he does to conservative policies.
The exchange comes as Rubio advocated the collection of phone metadata, which Paul opposes.
Kasich reminds candidates about importance of Ohio
Ohio Gov. John Kasich says it would have been a better use of time for world leaders to discuss destroying the Islamic State rather than climate change at a recent gathering in Paris.
Kasich says it’s imperative that the United States “get moving” in working with European and Arab allies to take on the Islamic State.
At home, he says the country must give law enforcement, including the FBI and local officials, the tools they need to stop attacks before happen. He says it’s essential to encourage Americans to talk to law enforcement when they see “red flags.”
Kasich played the role of unifier-in-chief during the debate. He started by saying the nation’s priorities are “creating jobs, making sure people can keep their jobs, the need for rising wages.” And he says there’s “too much yelling” in politics to solve those problems. “We’ll never get there if we are divided” along party lines, he says. “Before all of that,” he says, “we’re Americans.”
He also reminded the candidates in his closing remarks that “no Republican has ever been elected without winning Ohio”
Carson says U.S. can’t fix Middle East
Ben Carson is offering an air travel analogy to explain why he thinks the United States should focus on domestic needs.
Asked if the Middle East is better with dictators in charge, Carson says no one is better off with dictators, but the United States should “start thinking about the needs of the American people.”
Carson likened the situation to putting on an oxygen mask on in a plane during an emergency, before helping a neighbor.
“The fact of the matter is the Middle East has been in turmoil for thousands of years,” said the former pediatric neurosurgeon. “For us to think that we’re going to go in there and fix that with a couple of little bombs and a few little decorations is relatively foolish.”
Christie, Fiorina say they would be tough on world stage
New Jersey Sen. Chris Christie, who has been on the rise in New Hampshire, sought to assert himself in the national security discussions. He called for a no-fly zone over Syria and vowed to shoot down a Russian plane if it were to violate that space.
“Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it,” he said. “We would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if, in fact, they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
Carly Fiorina says all of the country’s problems and wounds can be healed by a tested leader such as herself, citing her experiences beating breast cancer, burying a child and climbing the corporate ranks to eventually become CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina says she’s been called “every B-word in the book” and has refused to take no for an answer.
Four lower-polling candidates appeared at an earlier event: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Jeb vs. Trump
At one point during the debate, Trump blamed CNN for setting him up. The former reality show star says it’s “sad that CNN leads Gov. Bush down a road by starting all of the questions, ‘Mr. Trump this.’… I think it’s very sad.”
Trump and Bush ended up in a terse exchange far from the foreign policy questions at issue.
Bush retorted to Trump, “If you think this is tough and you’re not being treated fairly, imagine dealing with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
Trump fired back, “Oh, you’re a tough guy, Jeb.”
Trump is reminding Bush of the wide gulf that separates them in presidential preference polls. He notes that at earlier debates, Bush stood near Trump at center stage because both were leading in the polls.
“You’re started off here,” Trump says, referring to the center. “You’re moving further and further. Pretty soon you’re going to be off the end.”
Paul goes after Christie on national security
Paul says, “if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate.”
Paul directed the barb at Christie after he said he would shoot down Russian planes if they violated a no-fly zone over Syria.
Paul says that is a “recipe for disaster” and shows poor judgment. He also jabbed Christie over the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, saying that also showed bad judgment. Christie hasn’t been charged in the bridge scandal, but others close to him have.
Christie ignored the bridge reference. He says he would shoot down Russian planes if “they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
Fiorina on Putin
Fiorina says now is not the time to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO says during the GOP debate that Putin respects strength, and she wouldn’t engage him until she set up a no-fly zone in Syria, brokered a new deal with Iran and rebuilt the missile defense system in Poland “right under his nose,” among other things.
Trump says US should focus on ISIS, not Assad
Trump says the U.S. needs to focus on one thing at a time, and should take out Islamic State militants before fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The business mogul is responding to a question at the GOP debate about how he could support leaving Assad in power and still say he likes winning. The debate moderator says leaving Assad in place means Iran and Hezbollah are winning.
Trump says Assad is a “very bad guy” but also says the U.S. has no idea about the identity of the anti-Assad rebels it’s arming. He says the Islamic State must be dealt with first.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie counters that America should focus its attention on Iran, and says the Islamic State came about because of Assad and his Iranian sponsors.
Cruz says Assad is better than the alternative
Cruz defended his position that the U.S. is more secure with Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
He says if Assad is removed, the Islamic State will “take over Syria.”
Cruz says the U.S. should “hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS” rather than create opportunities for them to grow.
His position puts him at odds with other Republicans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has clashed with Cruz on numerous issues raised in the debate.
Rubio says he “will not shed a tear” if Middle Eastern dictators are removed.
Crowd heckles Trump
Boos from the crowd inside the presidential debate hall befuddled Donald Trump, who has said he wants to kill the families of terrorists and close parts of the Internet in places such as Iraq and Syria where the Islamic State exists. He say he doesn’t understand why the crowd would object to infiltrating terrorists’ conversations.
He tells the crowd “these are people that want to kill us folks.”
Trump’s reaction came after Paul reminded debate watchers that closing the Internet would require getting rid of the First Amendment and killing the families of terrorists would defy the Geneva Conventions.
Trump replies with a rhetorical question: “So they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”
Carson says he has experience
Ben Carson says his experience as a pediatric neurosurgeon prepared him to make tough choices as a leader.
Asked if he could be “ruthless” as a commander in chief and order airstrikes that could kill children, Carson says that when he told children he’d have to take out a brain tumor “they don’t like me very much, at that point. But later on they love me.”
Pressed on whether he could order airstrikes that would kill children and civilians, Carson said he was prepared to be “tough, resolute, understanding what the problems are and understanding that the job of the president of the United States is to protect the people of this country.
Christie worries terrorism is the ‘new normal’
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says fear is the “new normal” in the United States.
During the Republican debate, Christie is stressing his background as a former federal prosecutor and criticizing President Barack Obama. Noting the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Christie says if a “center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere is a target for terrorists.”
Christie says the country needs a president who will “understand what actionable intelligence is going to look like and act on it.”