The ninth Republican presidential debate was in many ways the nastiest of the campaign, complete with raised voices, name calling, and criticism of family members Saturday night in South Carolina.
Donald Trump took sharp aim at former President George W. Bush’s foreign policy and his brother, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, rebuked him sharply. Sen. Ted Cruz called Sen. Marco Rubio soft on immigration and Rubio accused Cruz of not telling the truth. Trump flatly called Cruz the “single biggest liar” on stage while Cruz told him not to interrupt.
The biggest news story heading into the debate was the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But after consensus support at the top of the debate for a conservative to succeed him, Scalia’s death moved into the background as national security, immigration and the candidates’ records dominated the discussion.
At one point, Cruz accused Trump of glossing over his liberal past on Planned Parenthood and abortion. Trump angrily fought back.
“Why do you lie?” Trump asked him.
The two started talking over each other at another point and Cruz said: “Adults learn not to interrupt.” He also warned that with Trump, the country would get “liberal” nominees for the Supreme Court.
Trump blamed Cruz and George W. Bush — who he bashed routinely during the debate — for the nomination and support of Chief Justice John Roberts.
Earlier, Cruz and Rubio hit each other hard on immigration, with Cruz decrying the “Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan” and Rubio accusing Cruz of lying.
Cruz argued Rubio has been too soft on immigration and disparaged him for supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Rubio struck back by arguing that Cruz once supported legalization.
Things got personal when Cruz pointed to an interview Rubio did on Spanish-language television as evidence he would not rescind executive actions taken by President Obama.
“I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn’t speak Spanish,” Rubio shot back.
Minutes later, Jeb Bush and Trump clashed on immigration. Trump said Bush had the weakest immigration record of all the candidates.
Bush pivoted to other issues in his counterattack against Trump, saying it is “weak to disparage women. It’s weak to disparage Hispanics.”
Trump also hit former President George W. Bush hard, directing some blame at him for the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and saying he erred badly by invading Iraq in 2003.
Trump clashed sharply on the issue with Jeb Bush, who came out swinging against Trump’s foreign policy.
Bush accused Trump of dangerously advocating too cozy a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Middle East. As Trump defended himself, he was booed by the crowd. He argued the people who were booing him were Bush’s “special interests and lobbyists.
Trump later hit George W. Bush for making a “mistake” invading Iraq.
Jeb Bush counter-punched: “I could care less about the insults Donald Trump gives to me. … I am sick and tired of him going after my family.”
“The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe?” Trump said. “I lost hundreds of friends” in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Bush dismissed Trump’s foreign policy knowledge: “This is from a guy who gets his foreign policy from the shows.”
And in an exchange with Trump, Rubio blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on former President Bill Clinton. “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him,” Rubio said.
Earlier, Trump said that if he were president now, he would try to nominate a successor for deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but he said it is incumbent on Republican Senate leaders to prevent the confirmation of President Obama’s eventual nominee.
“I think it’s up to Mitch McConnell and everyone else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay,” he said.
Other candidates at the debate said that Obama should not nominate a new justice, praised Scalia’s service on the court and urged a conservative replacement.
“Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick,” said former Bush.
“I just wish we hadn’t run so fast into politics,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said: “The Senate needs to stand strong.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Jenna Johnson in Tampa, Philip Rucker in Greenville, Ed O’Keefe in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Jose A. DelReal in Washington contributed to this report.