Donald Trump was as brash and out of the box as usual, drawing some boos and laughs from the audience. Jeb Bush defended his conservative record and his pedigree. “I am my own man,” he said. And Carly Fiorina stood out, albeit in a less watched forum.
Republicans started face to face debates Thursday for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination, and those were some of the highlights. Most eyes were on the 10 top polling candidates who debated in prime time. Another 7 debated earlier.
Here are the other highlights.
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Trump continues to dominate, and test the traditional limits of what’s acceptable in modern politics. This time, he angrily defended his use of terms such as fat pig and dog to describe women, drawing laughs from the GOP audience, but a cold stare from the Fox News moderator.
Bush challenged Trump on earlier remarks about Mexicans, and Rand Paul did on Trump’s refusal to vow support for the party’s eventual nominee should it be someone not named Trump. But most candidates seemed more deferential to the phenomenom of Trump’s surprisingly durable appeal in the polls.
And Fiorina likely scored the most in the second tier debate, conversing about a range of foreign policy issues and driving home that she would be relentless in challenging Hillary Clinton. Lindsay Graham and Rick Perry also made their points.
Jeb Bush. He came with a concise argument aimed at those who think he’s too liberal, noting he cut taxes every year as governor of Florida, increased reserves and won a AAA bond rating. “I governed as a conservative, and I govern effectively,” he said. “We left the state better off because I applied conservative principles in a purple state the right way, and people rose up.”
Ben Carson. His low key approach helped him all but disappear on a stage filled with forceful personalities. Asked at the outset about specific mistakes he’s made on foreign policy, he punted with a non-answer. “I could take issue,” he said. “But we don’t have time.” He did, but didn’t use it.
Chris Christie. The assertive Christie came through when he challenged Paul over criticisms of National Security Agency spying. The governor of New Jersey noted that he alone in the field was a federal prosecutor, and in New Jersey the 2001 terror attacks were a personal issue. “I will make no apologies ever,” he said.
Ted Cruz. The senator from Texas showed his skills as a debater, though didn’t get many opportunities to engage with rivals on the crowded stage. He asserted his main claim, that he’s an outsider even in Washington, and eager to challenge even his own party’s leaders. They’re not stupid, he said in dismissing an earlier comment, but they are unwilling to upset the status quo.
Mike Huckabee. The former governor of Arkansas made a strong appeal to Christian conservatives with a clearly worded pitch to invoke the 5th and 14th amendments to protect unborn children from abortions.
John Kasich. The Ohio governor engaged Trump, saying he’d touched a nerve among frustrated voters but that others like himself had other solutions. Dry at times, but showed compassion, particularly explaining why taking more federal Medicaid money had been immense help to working poor.
Rand Paul. Arguably the scrappiest one there, the senator from Kentucky jumped in at times to challenge Trump, calling him out for refusing to vow support for the GOP nominee and rule out a third party run himself. He showed outrage when Christie challenged him on government use of citizens’ records. Paul’s likely reinforced his appeal to the libertarian wing, and helped move his quiet campaign out of the doldrums.
Marco Rubio. Tried to be a voice of reason and part of the “party of the future.” The senator from Florida offered a different take on immigration, notably about the value of a fence (criminals could dig a tunnel) and about just who’s coming into this country (not just Mexicans).
Donald Trump. Lived up to his billing as the unapologetic center of attention. Got big cheers, big boos, particularly when he tried to joke his way out of the charge that he’s routinely insulted women. And when he refused to rule out an independent presidential bid.
Scott Walker. The governor of Wisconsin stuck to a lot of standard talking points on his record of taking on unions and winning three elections in his state. He seemed content to stay out of the fray, and all but disappeared for long periods.
“So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent. ... he’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.” Rand Paul on Donald Trump refusing to promise support for eventual GOP nominee.
“I’m proud of my dad, and I’m certainly proud of my brother. ... I am my own man.” Jeb Bush on skepticism of a family dynasty.
“It’s time we admit the Supreme Court is not the Supreme being,” Mike Huckabee on rulings on social issues.
When moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump about calling women such thngs as "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” he dismissed it with a joke, saying , “Only Rosie O'Donnell.”
While the audience laughed, Kelly did not. Trump brushed it aside as political correctness, and turned on Kelly
“I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don't win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.
“And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it's fun, it's kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn't do that.”
The most frequent targets of criticism: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Washington, Iran. Mentions in the 1st debate alone: Obama, 26; Washington, 21; Iran, 20; Clinton, 18.
The pre-debate debate
Carly Fiorina. The business executive likely scored with her ease with issues such as cyber security and her laser focus in the Obama-Clinton record. Had one of the top quotes describing her first day as president: “America is back in the leadership business.”
Jim Gilmore. Out of office for 13 years after one term, the former Virginia governor did nothing to stand out and force himself into a conversation that has moved on without him. His old resume didn’t help.
Lindsay Graham. The South Carolina senator turned most questions into broadsides at Clinton. “She represents the third term of a failed presidency.” Closed withtale of tough childhood that included help from Social Security, and his own offer to take fewer benefits himself to help the system. “This nation has been great to me.”
Bobby Jindal. The Louisiana governor at times eased back into the policy talk that first put him in the spotlight, before his local approval rating slipped, as the hosts said, into the mid 30s. Noted he cut the size of government and won 8 credit upgrades.
George Pataki. Recalled 12 years as New York’s governor. Questioned about his support for abortion rights, he talked instead about how offended he was at the talk of body parts by Planned Parenthood officials in a video and how he would take away their federal financing.
Perry: Seemed anxious to get out his talking points at first, then settled in. Boasted how he governed a big border state for 14 years, managing one of the nation’s biggest economies – but why is the U.S.-Mexican border still so porous?
Santorum: Reinforced his staunch conservative bona fides, unrelenting foe of same-sex marriage, abortion. At ease in debates, and it showed.