The fifth Republican presidential debate is now over. The meetup in Las Vegas was the first since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. The participants were businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. It was sponsored by CNN and Facebook.
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Paul said the greatest threat to national security is “our [national] debt. . . . It’s both parties’ fault. . . . There is an unholy alliance.”
“I’m the only fiscal conservative on the stage,” Paul said.
Kasich, the Ohio governor, said no president has won without winning Ohio: “Our message has to be big and bold . . . and connect with their hearts.”
Christie noted his wife and his brother were at risk on Sept. 11, 2001. “I will protect America from wars that are being brought to our doorstep,” he said. “You won’t have to worry if I will” do the job.
Fiorina said “to take our country back . . . we need to be better than our government.” She said Americans need to replace the “political class. . . . Together, if you join me, we will take our country back.”
Bush said his “proven record and detailed plans . . . will give you a sense that I will produce real results.”
Rubio said “our very identity as a nation” is at issue. “This election is about electing a president to restore our economic vibrancy” as well as a stronger military. “Together we will usher in a new American century.”
Cruz said “judgment, clarity and trust” are critical and he’ll provide it. As the country did under President Ronald Reagan, “America will win again.”
Carson said America is “exceptional. . . . My mother told me if I worked hard and believed in American principles” I would succeed.
“America doesn’t win anymore,” Trump said. “We have to change our whole way,” citing the health care system and care of veterans. “If I am elected president, we will win again, we will win a lot and we will have a great, great country, better than ever before.”
Trump was pressed on his recent comments that he might contest the GOP nominee at the convention if it’s not him and possibly run as an independent. Asked if he was ready to commit to the GOP nominee, whoever it is, Trump said: “I really am, I’ll be honest, I really am.”
Carson also said he is ready to support whoever the GOP nominee is.
Fiorina called North Korean President Kim Jong Un “a dangerous leader, without a doubt . . . so we must continue to isolate him. We will need China as part of that strategy.”
But first the U.S. must retaliate against China’s cyberattacks and threats to free trade, “and then we must ask for the support about North Korea,” she said.
“I definitely believe he is unstable,” Carson of the North Korean leader. But “economic power works just as well as military power, maybe better.”
Christie said he would wage a cyberattack on China to embarrass that government and show its people how they are abused. He criticized the Obama administration for not retaliating against China’s cyberattacks.
“I completely agree with Chris,” Bush said. “We have to have the best defensive capabilities . . . and offensively, we need to have capabilities second to none.”
“The biggest problem this world has is not . . . global warming . . . it’s nuclear proliferation and some madman having a weapon,” Trump said.
Trump was asked how he could call Cruz “a maniac” and weeks later say he could be a running mate. Trump said Cruz is OK, and laughed.
Cruz, now leading Trump in Iowa polling, wouldn’t attack his chief rival, but changed the subject and said all the GOP candidates would be better than Democratic President Barack Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton.
A question via Facebook asked how Christians could refuse to accept Syrian refugees.
“The first job of the president is protect your safety,” Christie said. “That’s the end of the conversation. We have to put America’s safety first. . . . The American people aren’t whispering, they are screaming at us to make this government work.”
“We know from San Bernadino women can commit heinous acts,” Christie.
Kasich said he’s been able to accept refugees in Ohio while keeping residents safe. But he said the Obama administration has a poor vetting process, so it’s time to “take a pause.”
Rubio said he sees “the good, the bad and the ugly” of immigration coming from a family of immigrants. He said legal immigration must be bolstered. “There is no trust in the federal government to enforce the law.”
“After we’ve done that, the thing we have to do is reform the illegal immigration system,” Rubio said.
He is open to immigrants in the U.S. without proper paperwork to eventually gain citizenship “down the road.”
Cruz again tried to tie Rubio, his chief rival in chasing Trump, with President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
Cruz said Rubio allowed Obama to accept refugees with poor vetting, “and it puts Americans at risk. . . . We will build a wall that works, and I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it.”
“On the campaign trails, candidates all the time make promises,” Cruz said, accusing Rubio of flip-flopping on immigration.
“America is fed up with the political class,” Fiorina interjected.
“I have a very hardline position,” Trump said. “We either have a country or we don’t have a country. . . . Walls work — ask the people in Israel. . . . We welcome people to come in, but they have to come in legally.”
Bush said his is a more moderate view of immigration control. “We have to secure the border. . . . The real problem is Barack Obama has had six years to fix this and he’s done nothing. . . . He wants to maintain it as a wedge issue” against Republicans. “And so does Hillary Clinton.”
Fiorina said she wouldn’t speak to Russian President Putin because of his military aggression in Europe and because he lied to the U.S.
“There is a time and a place for talk and there is a time and place for action,” Fiorina said. “As commander in chief, I will not speak to him until we set up that no-fly zone” over Syria.
Christie said he would create a no-fly zone over Syria and shoot down Russian planes that violate it.
“Maybe because I’m from New Jersey I have this plain language hang-up,” Christie said. “Yes, I would shoot them down.”
“If you want World War III, you have your candidate,” Paul said.
A no-fly zone “is a recipe for disaster, it is a recipe for World War III,” Paul said. Paul then brought up Christie’s New Jersey scandal, “of closing down a bridge for your friends.”
Bush took a shot at Trump, who said he gets his foreign policy information from the Sunday TV news programs. Bush said he didn’t get his information “from the shows, I don’t know if they are on Sunday morning or Saturday morning.”
“I think it’s very sad,” Trump said to moderator Hugh Hewitt, a radio commentator, who he said was framing his questions as criticism of Trump “in order to get ratings.”
Bush said if Trump can’t handle that heat, he can’t handle the presidency.
“Oh, you’re tough,” Trump said sarcastically to Bush. “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3,” he said, referring to polls.
Kasich and Fiorina jumped in and said fighting isn’t solving problems.
Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon and author, said he may not be “loud and rude,” but “look at what I have done to see strength.”
Cruz defended his stand that Middle East dictatorships that were toppled by the U.S. and its allies had made the region more stable.
“Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists,” Cruz said. “We need to learn from history. . . . They had a bad record, but they were assisting us.”
He said if the president of Syria is also toppled, ISIS will flourish.
Cruz said past presidents have been in a constant search for “mythical moderate rebels” who are like “purple unicorns. . . . They don’t exist.”
“There are moderates,” Kasich said. “I don’t want to be the policeman of the world . . . but we can’t walk away.”
Trump said trillions of dollars were wasted propping up Middle East leaders.
“The Middle East is a mess,” he said. “I wish we had four or five trillion dollars to use on roads . . . in the United States.”
Paul said there are “often variations of evil. . . . What we have to decide if regime change is a good idea, . . . It has not worked. Out of regime change you get chaos and repeatedly the rise of radical Islam.”
Cruz refused to yield to moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN at one point and wanted the questioning to focus on defeating ISIS.
Syrian President Assad “is a bad guy, a very bad guy,” Trump said. But “we have to do one thing at a time. . . . We have to get rid of ISIS first.”
“We can’t be fighting everyone at one time,” Trump said.
Christie said ISIS formed because of the abuses of Assad and Obama’s dealing with their enemy, Iran.
“One causes the other,” Christie said.
“It’s a huge mistake” to back regime change in Syria, Paul said.
“We have to have a more realistic foreign policy and not a utopian one where ‘we are going to spread democracy,’ ” Paul said.
A Facebook question asked why Trump would kill relatives of ISIS — innocent civilians.
“They knew exactly what was going on,” Trump responded. “I would be very, very firm with families. And that will make people think.”
“This is an example of a lack of seriousness,” Bush said. “It’s just crazy.”
“We need toughness,” Trump said. “Jeb is a very nice person, but we need toughness.”
Bush interrupted. “Are you talking or am I talking?” Trump said, irritated.
“We need a toughness, we need strength,” Trump said. “If we don’t get it back fast, we are just going to disintegrate.”
“Donald, you are not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” Bush said.
“With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again,” Trump said.
Carson was asked if he had the resolve to wage war, which could kill children.
Carson said he’s made tough calls, such as telling children he needed to operate on their brains.
“Ruthless is not the necessarily the word I would use, but tough . . . to what is necessary to get it done,” Carson said.
Paul said Trump “would defy every norm” of America to carry out his hardline anti-Muslim proposals. He said it would trample the Constitution.
“So, they can kill us, but we can’t kill them? That’s what you’re saying,” Trump said.
“It is a crazy notion,” Paul said of those who want to topple the president in Syria after nation building has failed for years.
“We have to go massively like we did in the first Gulf War,” Kasich said. “We must lead or the job won’t get done.”
Rubio was asked why he believes the Arab allies will be effective in fighting ISIS because they haven’t been so far.
“They have lost complete trust in this president,” Rubio said, after Obama made a nuclear deal with Iran. “This president led from behind.”
“Talking tough is not the same as being strong,” Fiorina said. She said as CEO she made tough calls, “not first-term senators” who never made a critical decision.
Fiorina said former British Prime Minister “Margaret Thatcher said if you want something talked about, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman.”
“We have a phobia over ‘boots on the ground,’” Carson said. “If our military expert say we need boots on the ground, we have to put boots on the ground.”
Trump was asked to explain his proposal to shut down parts of the Internet to combat ISIS.
“You talk freedom of speech, you talk freedom of whatever you want, I don’t want them communicating with our youth,” he said. So “ISIS cannot use the Internet.”
“I would certainly be open to closing areas [of the Internet] . . . yes, sir, I am,” Trump said.
Cruz said he supports “using overwhelming air power to completely and utterly destroy ISIS.”
“We need to be arming the Kurds,” he added. He said Obama’s “political correctness” has allowed terrorist attacks to go forward undetected.
“Political correctness is killing people,” he said.
Asked if he would kill civilians in his fight, Cruz said he would bomb where ISIS was, “to kill the ISIS terrorist.”
Rubio said ISIS can’t be defeated just through airstrikes, but would need ground troops mostly composed of Muslim allies.
“The airstrikes are important, but we need to have an air force capable of it,” Rubio said, blaming Obama for reducing military preparedness.
“If we continue those [military] cuts . . . we are going to be left with the smallest and oldest air force,” Rubio said.
Cruz shot back that ISIS will “face no more determined foe than I will be.”
“The cuts Sen. Cruz has supported would leave us with an even smaller Air Force and Navy,” Rubio said. “We have the most powerful military in the world and we need to act like it.”
Cruz defended the collection of phone call data to thwart terrorists.
“The focus on law enforcement is targeting the bad guys,” Cruz said. “We need to stop them before they carry out acts of terrorism.”
“The next time there is an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is, ‘Why didn’t we know about it?’ ” Rubio said, defending the need for more surveillance despite privacy concerns.
Paul said Rubio “is for an open border. . . . The weakest of all the candidates.” Paul said Rubio has more in common with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
Rubio shot back that he wants a stricter program for surveillance of telephone calls than is now on the books.
“I bet you we wish we had five years of his records,” Rubio said of the San Bernadino shooter.
“To defend the country, you have to defend the border,” Paul said. He called for stricter restrictions on legal immigration.
Christie dismissed the senators’ debate as rhetoric that made his “eyes glaze over.” He said he had to make decisions based on credible threats as a federal prosecutor.
“This is the difference between being a federal prosecutor . . . and a debater,” Christie said.
“We have to get over all this PC stuff,” Carson said, referring to a political correctness that he says is stopping more surveillance of Muslims. “We are at war. . . . We have to be smarter than this. We have to better than they are.”
“We can’t disassociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims,” Bush said. “The main thing we should be focused on is a strategy to destroy ISIS . . . leading the world.”
“That’s how you keep America safe,” he said.
Fiorina said the private sector can help the intelligence community, which relies on some outdated technology; they just need to be asked to help catch plotting terrorists.
“Of course, we’re going to miss them,” she charged. “Our government has become incompetent, corrupt . . . and that is now dangerous.”
Bush said ISIS must be destroyed in Syria and a no-fly zone is the first step, as is working with Muslim allies, not attacking a religion as Trump is.
“Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate, and he’d be a chaos president,” Bush said.
Trump said Bush doesn’t believe his own comments, but is desperate.
“I don’t want our country taken away from us and that is what is happening,” Trump said.
“It is not a serious proposal,” Bush said of Trump’s idea of blocking Muslim immigration.
Trump was confronted as an isolationist because of his plans for a wall on the Mexican border and stopping immigration by Muslims.
“We are not talking about isolation, we are talking about security,” Trump said.
“This is a very significant threat we face,” Rubio said, requiring serious proposals, not Trump’s.
Cruz said Trump’s proposals are a reaction to President Barack Obama’s failures to recognize the radical Islamic threat. Cruz proposes a narrower ban from ISIS-controlled companies.
“There are millions of peaceful Muslims across the world,” Cruz said. “We should focus on the problem. . . . It is not a war on a faith.”
Fiorina referred to Trump as among “entertainers throwing out sound bites.” She said she wants solutions, not rhetoric, and she can deliver.
She said the National Security Agency asked her for help, as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, and she helped stop a potential terrorist attack.
Christie said fear of terrorism “is not the new normal,” hours after the Los Angeles schools closed for the day after a threat.
He said “We need to restore tools” of surveillance that Obama “took away” over privacy concerns.
“Destroy ISIS, get joint intelligence,” Kasich said. “They need the tools to know what they are planning.”
Trump said he has always been at the fore among the candidates to combat terrorists.
In a low-keyed opening answer, he said he has been proven correct.
Carson called for a brief moment to remember the victims of the recent San Bernadino attacks.
“Right now, the United States of America is the patient,” said Carson. He said political correctness won’t heal it.
“If I am elected president, we will hunt down the terrorists,” Cruz said. “We will destroy ISIS.”
“We will not be admitting jihadists as refugees,” Cruz said. “We will keep America safe.”
“Today you have millions of American left out,” Rubio said, called bigots because they are afraid of terrorism. “If you elect me president, we will have a president who believes America is the greatest country in the world and a president who acts like it.”
“Our freedom is under attack, our economy is under water, our leading Democrat is under investigation,” Bush said. “Serious times need serious leadership,” he said in a slap at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“America has been betrayed,” Christie said. He cited the closing of the Los Angeles schools over a threat of an attack that was determined to be not credible. He blamed the Obama administration.
“We will win and we will be safe,” he said.
“Like all of you, I’m angry,” Fiorina said. “We need to take our country back. . . . Bombast and insults won’t take it back.”
Paul took on Trump right away for his hard-line anti-terror proposals, such as a halt on accepting Muslims into the U.S.
“The Constitution says otherwise,” Paul said.
Trump remains the front-runner in most polls and topped 40 percent in one national poll, but faces a challenge from Cruz, who is leading in Iowa.
Kasich said he understands why some people don’t like politics, which has become too noisy.
“We’ll never get there if Republicans and Democrats just fight each other,” he said. “We need to unify . . . for us, for our children and for the next generation.”