Republican presidential candidates debated Saturday night in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the first debate since the New Hampshire primary and the last before next Saturday’s South Carolina GOP primary. The participants were businessman Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson. CBS News hosted the event.
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“I’m going to send a lot of power, money and influence back to where we all live,” Kasich. “The Lord made all of us special. The Lord wants all of us to be connected . . . and I will send the power back.”
“The spirit of American does come from the top down, it comes from all of us,” Kasich, referencing God several times.
Carson said, “I, like you, are a member of ‘We the people.’ ” He said the economy and values of the country are declining, but “we the people can stop that decline.”
Bush said the next president will face an unseen threat, such as a pandemic.
“Who do you want sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Bush said. “I will have a steady hand . . . we led, we ran to the challenge.”
Rubio called it “a difficult time in our country.”
“Our culture is in trouble, wrong is now considered right,” he said. “Our allies don’t trust us, our adversaries don’t fear us . . . but 2016 can be a turning point,” Rubio said.
“We are going to be a country that says life begins at conception . . . that marriage is between one man and one woman,” he said, and that power doesn’t come from politics, “but from our creator . . . we will make a new American century.”
Cruz targeted the Democrats, saying that if either Hillary Clinton or Sanders won, South Carolinians would lose their gun rights, abortion would proliferate and gay marriage would become the law of the land. “Our country literally hangs in the balance,” he said.
Cruz said a conservative is needed “to stand with the American people.”
Trump said, “Politicians are all talk, no action. You’ve seen where they’ve taken you to. We need a change, we need a very big change.”
“We are going to start winning again,” Trump said. “I’m working for you, I’m not working for anybody else.”
Trump was asked about any time he was told he was wrong.
“My wife tells me I’m wrong all the time and I listen,” Trump said.
“I do listen to experts, they are top, top people,” Trump said.
Trump was asked about his use of profanity occasionally in speeches. He blamed the media.
“If I say a word that is a little bit off color, I will be hit with it,” Trump said.
Bush said the nation needs “someone who doesn’t disparage someone . . . someone who didn’t go bankrupt.”
“That’s another lie,” Trump interrupted.
Trump said he “used the laws to my benefit . . . I never went bankrupt, never.”
Then Trump said Bush “put so much debt on Florida” that Florida “crashed” as soon as he left office.
“He loaded it up with debt and his spending went up the roof,” Trump said.
Bush said he turned deficits into surpluses, “We didn’t go bankrupt like Trump did.”
Rubio was asked what he would ask a past president about the job.
“Ronald Reagan had a vision for the future,” Rubio said. “The question you would ask is how did you inspire the American people to have faith in the future?”
“Somehow Ronald Reagan was able to instill in our nation a sense of optimism,” Rubio said.
Carson said, “So many people have told me I have to scream and jump and up and down. “Is that what you really want? I don’t think so.”
“We cannot be tearing each other down,” Carson said.
“First of all, I’m not a politician. I’m never going to become a politician,” Carson said.
He said the Democrats’ call for free or greatly reduced college education “is a non-starter” because the country is on the brink of fiscal collapse through debt.
“The first think we have to do is grow the economy,” Kasich said. “ You need common sense regulations so small business can flourish . . . and you need a fiscal plan.”
With that, “you can explode the economy as I have done,” Kasich said.
“I’m a uniter, I think people sense it,” Kasich said. He said “blue-collar Democrats” will vote for him rather than a socialist such as Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders. “The first thing we have to do is grow the economy,” Kasich said.
“In life you have flexibility,” Trump said, saying he is like former President Ronald Reagan, who once was a liberal before becoming conservative.
“I feel I am a conservative, I feel I am a common sense conservative,” Trump said, after a week in which his opponents questioned his past, more moderate and liberal positions when he was a Democrat.
Bush again criticized Trump for allegedly using eminent domain to evict an old woman to make room for a casino parking lot, a charge Trump denies.
“For most of his life, he has been a liberal,” Cruz said.
“You are the single biggest liar, probably worse than Jeb Bush,” Trump said. “This guy will say anything. Nasty guy . . . He’s a nasty guy.”
Trump accused Cruz of dirty tricks to derail Carson’s campaign, too.
“When you point to his own record,” Cruz said Trump, “he cries ‘liar, liar, liar.’”
Cruz also criticized Trump past support for Planned Parenthood. Trump said he always opposed the group’s abortion program.
“If Donald Trump is elected, he will appoint liberals” to the Supreme Court, Cruz said.
Bush defended Reagan as a true conservative, “He didn’t tear down people like Donald Trump has, he tore down the Berlin Wall.”
Trump again tried to interrupt.
“Donald, adults learn not to interrupt,” Cruz said.
Trump was asked what power would give him the ability to tax companies to stay in this country instead of moving their factories overseas, as he has promised.
“I would build consensus, you have to cajole,” Trump said, saying he could get Congress to act to provide the power to create disincentives for companies to leave the United States for cheaper labor.
He said trade pacts under Obama “are no good for us and no good for our workers.”
Carson was asked about whether Wall Street executives should be held personally accountable for actions that damage the economy.
“We have all these government regulators and all they are doing is looking for people to fine,” Carson said. “I think what we really need to do is trim the regulatory agencies” rather than hamstringing Wall Street efforts that advance the economy.
“You want to get rid of poverty, get rid of the regulations,” Carson said.
Cruz said the “Obama economy” has hurt the poor the most.
“Small businesses are the heart of the economy,” Cruz said. He said Obamacare has forced layoffs and we “need to lift the burden on small businesses and we need welfare reform to get people back to work.”
Turning to immigration, Trump said, “I want everyone taken care of, but I want everyone in our family taken care of.”
“I will build a wall . . . and remember this, the wall will be paid for by Mexico,” Trump said. He has called for a wall along the Mexican border to end illegal immigration.
“People have lost trust in the federal government,” Rubio said of Obama’s failed effort to stop immigration.
“I think the American people will be very reasonable,” he said, defending his plan to end illegal immigration, but provide a way for law-abiding immigrants without proper documentation to stay in the United States.
“In a Republican primary everyone talks tough about immigration,” Cruz said. “But we have been burned” in the past.
Then Cruz blamed Rubio for supporting a failed amnesty plan pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).
“The Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan passed the Senate and was on the verge of passing in the House,” Cruz said.
Rubio said Cruz has flip-flopped, once supporting a path to citizenship. “Either he wasn’t telling the truth then, or he wasn’t telling the truth now.”
“I oppose citizenship” for illegal immigrants, Cruz said, denying any flip-flop.
“For weeks Ted Cruz has been lying . . . he makes things up,” Rubio said. Rubio also blamed Cruz directly for a his campaign action that he called a dirty trick that undermined Carson’s campaign.
“That is knowingly false,” Cruz shot back.
Bush said he was “channeling his inner Chris Christie” and complained that Rubio and Cruz endlessly debate their positions on an amnesty bill that didn’t pass.
Bush criticized Trump on his immigration stance, saying immigrants “are not all rapists.”
“Illegal immigration wasn’t even an issue until I brought it up,” Trump said. “The weakest person by far on this stage about illegal immigration is Jeb Bush.”
“This is the standard operating procedure to disparage me,” Bush said.
Trump criticized Bush for allegedly saying he would “moon” opponents, but then criticized Trump for using a profanity on the stage.
“Give me a break,” Trump said.
Kasich again tried to take the high road and ridiculed the exchanges so far, “some of which have been personal.”
“I think we are fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this,” Kasich said.
Kasich said he will reduce the cost of Medicaid nationally, as he has in Ohio.
“When we take the drug addicted and treat them . . . we stop the revolving door” of prisons, Kasich said.
Kasich said he’s turned Ohio around for all while treating the addicted and mentally ill better. “People should look at Ohio,” Kasich said.
Kasich and Bush battled over how to best provide health care that doesn’t bankrupt the state.
“South Carolinians want to make sure they elect the most conservative governor, or candidate, who can win,” Bush said.
“I am sick of the negative campaigning and I am going to stay positive,” Kasich said.
“What we need to do is reform the tax code, to simplify the rates and take power away from Washington, D.C.,” Bush said.
Carson said his tax plan has been praised by The Wall Street Journal and conservative think tanks as a plan that will work, while reducing the tax bills of most Americans.
Trump defended his plan not to end entitlements such as Social Security, but said he could pay for it all with a more robust economy he would lead.
“I’m going to save Social Security, I’m going to bring jobs back from China, from Mexico,” Trump said. “I’m lowering taxes . . . we are going to make this economy strong.”
“We have to make this economy grow again,” Trump said. “We’re dying.”
Asked to specifically say how, he cited “tremendous fraud, waste and abuse” that he would end.
“Everyone here understands the middle class has been left behind the last seven years under the Obama economy,” Cruz said. “But it’s not going to be solved with magic pixie dust,” in an apparent criticism of Trump’s broad pronouncements.
Cruz said he will make a flatter, fair tax for all.
Cruz defended his business proposal as a broad-based tax, not a sales tax and said the net will be a reduction by ending Obama’s health care tax and other taxes.
“It would lift everyone’s income by double digits,” Cruz said.
Rubio defended proposing a higher tax rate than his Republican opponents. He said he would use it for plans such as a family child care tax credit and for school vouchers.
“Family formation is the most important institution in society,” Rubio said. “You cannot have a strong country without strong families.”
“I don’t believe the United States should be drawn into civil wars,” Kasich said. “We should go into war when it is our direct interest . . . then come home when we accomplished our goals.”
“I thank God every day that it was George W. Bush in the White House and not Al Gore,” Rubio said.
“He kept us safe,” Rubio said.
“How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center came down?” Trump said. “I lost hundreds of friends.”
Rubio blamed former President Bill Clinton for the 2001 terrorist attack for failing to “get” Osama bin Laden.
Carson said the United States has failed in the Middle East because of it destabilized dictators who were simply replaced by other dictators.
Carson criticized Obama for being too careful not to bomb tanker trucks and other nonmilitary targets.
“That’s just asinine thinking,” Carson said. “There’s going to be collateral damage.”
“The single greatest threat is a nuclear Iran,” Cruz said.
As for ISIS, Cruz said: “We need a commander . . . to utterly defeat them.”
“If ground troops are necessary, we should deploy them,” Cruz said, saying he would heavily rely on U.S. military experts.
Cruz called for overpowering air attacks, special forces and ground troops “if necessary.”
Trump was asked about Bush’s use of his brother, former President George H.W. Bush, on the campaign trail.
“I get along with everybody,” Trump said. “Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake.”
He criticized Jeb Bush for “taking five days” to decide the war begun by his brother was a mistake.
“They lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none. And they knew there were none,” Trump said.
Bush said it’s “blood sport” to take him on, but not his family.
“While Donald Trump was building a TV show, my brother was building a security system that kept us safe,” Bush said.
Bush said Trump also insulted his mother.
“She should run,” Trump interjected.
“I gotta tell you this is just crazy,” Kasich said of the Trump-Bush dust-up.
Carson said that although he spent his career in medicine, he is ready for the crisis decisions of a president.
“Judgment is what is required,” Carson said.
Kasich said any attack on NATO by ISIS “is going to be an attack on us,” demanding swift reprisal.
“Everybody now is being threatened by radical Islam . . . the world is desperate for leadership, the world needs us,” he said. He called for a coalition of “civilized” people to combat ISIS.
Bush blamed the Obama administration for a “complete unmitigated disaster” of a policy to try to “contain” ISIS.
“It is absolutely ludicrous to say Russia could be a partner on this,” Bush said. He also said he would have a “policy of containment” on Iran to stop it from developing a nuclear weapon.
“Jeb is so wrong,” Trump said, then said the boos in the audience were Bush’s “special interests.”
“These are animals,” Trump said of ISIS.
Trump also said former candidate Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Bush supporter, “had zero in his polls,” and said politicians are failing to stop ISIS.
“This is a guy who gets his foreign policy from ‘the shows’ . . . who insults his way to the nomination,” Bush replied.
Moving to national security issues, the candidates were asked to specify their broad proposals to combat the terror group the Islamic State, also known as or ISIS.
Trump said his first three questions as president would be “What do we want to do, when do we want to do it and how hard do we want to hit . . . ISIS.”
Rubio said he would address three major threats immediately: North Korea, China and ISIS.
“One of the hardest decisions you will ever make in Congress is to authorize the use of force,” Rubio said.
Trump said that he understands President Obama will try to appoint a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, who was found dead in Texas on Saturday. Scalia was a conservative judge nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. But Trump said he would hope the Senate would “delay, delay, delay.”
Kasich called for compassion for Scalia’s family rather than divisive politics.
“I would like the president, just for once here, put the country first,” and not nominate a replacement, he said.
Carson also called for Obama to put off naming a replacement until the next president takes office.
“We need to think about the divisiveness that is going on in our country . . . it’s truly a shame,” Carson said, who is trying to appeal to religious conservatives who dominate the South Carolina GOP primary vote.
“His loss is tremendous,” Rubio said Scalia. He said Scalia knew better than any jurist that the Supreme Court must abide by the intent of the Constitution and its framers.
“We need to put people on the bench who understand the Constitution is not a living and breathing document,” Rubio said.
Bush said he would have no “litmus test” on specific issues if he were to nominate Supreme Court justices.
“The next president needs to appoint someone with a proven conservative record, similar to Justice Scalia,” Bush said.
Cruz also said Obama shouldn’t appointment a replacement to Scalia.
“Justice Scalia was a legal giant,” Cruz said. “He changed the arc of American legal history.”
He said the United States is “one justice away” from eroding abortion laws and attacking gun owner rights.