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3 undercard Republican debaters make the case for themselves

The GOP “undercard” debate Thursday night concluded with all three candidates promising that they’d be the best to take on the Democratic front-runner — glossing over, for the moment, the seven other Republicans they’d have to beat first.

“You cannot wait to see the debate between me and Hillary Clinton. You would pay to see that fight,” said former tech executive Carly Fiorina. She cast herself as a stand-in for women everywhere, saying she’d been told to accept less than the best her whole life.

Fiorina denounced both GOP front-runner Donald Trump and Clinton as examples of “crony capitalism.” The difference is that Clinton works inside government to benefit cronies in the private sector, while “Donald Trump sits outside government and rakes in billions buying people like Hillary Clinton,” Fiorina said.

The other two candidates onstage, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, talked about races they’d run against Clinton’s allies. “You want a fighter? You want a winner? I’d appreciate your vote,” Santorum said.

The tone of Thursday night’s debate was unusually fearful and confrontational, as all three candidates onstage hoped for a Hail Mary pass — a single breakthrough moment that would elevate them to the top tier of candidates at long last.

But if nothing else, at least they were there. In his closing statement, Santorum mocked another candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who felt that the undercard debate was beneath him. “I’m going to take some of Rand Paul’s time here for a second,” Santorum said.

Huckabee seemed to play up conspiracies over President Barack Obama’s gun-control reform, saying it would seize firearms from lawful owners, a claim Obama denies. He also offered skepticism about the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, saying he saw little hope for rebuilding a nation “like the land of the Flintstones.”

Santorum raised fears of an apocalyptic attack by Iran, which he said would develop a nuclear weapon because of Obama’s efforts to sign and keep a nuclear deal. Santorum also sought to reframe his plan to increase deportation of undocumented immigrants as a “gift” from the United States, bringing the benefit of U.S.-educated people. He said, “They can start a renaissance in their country so they won’t be coming here anymore!”

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