Tonight’s GOP debate comes just one week from the South Carolina primary, a pivotal turning point in the campaign for far-behind candidates like Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, as well as a crucial time for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to separate themselves from the pack in their race to chase down South Carolina and national frontrunner Donald Trump. The debate saw fiery exchanges about President Bush’s legacy, foreign policy, taxation and health care.
Read our recap below, then vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the page.
The debate opened with a moment of silence marking the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and his passing inspired the first round of questions.
Trump didn’t deny that Obama’s prerogative was to select the nominee, but advocated a “delay, delay, delay” strategy to give the political process time to sort itself out.
Kasich echoed the President’s wishes to avoid polarization in urging the President not to immediately appoint Scalia’s replacement:
Carson criticized the idea of lifetime Supreme Court appointments as a relic of the shorter life expectancy in the era the Constitution was written:
Rubio pointed out the trend-breaking of having a “lame-duck” President appoint a Supreme Court Justice:
Cruz spoke of his experience with the Supreme Court to underscore his “judgment” in picking a Justice:
Bush explicitly rejected Bernie Sanders’s idea of a “litmus test” for Justices:
National Security/Foreign Policy
Donald Trump was asked the first three questions he’d have for his foreign policy experts:
Bush revealed his own foreign policy priorities:
Trump continued his stragegy of immediately attacking Bush (and a less-than-receptive audience) following his comments:
Trump also criticized the war in Iraq, President Bush’s defining foreign policy event.
The exchange sparked a round of debate about the Bush legacy, with Marco Rubio claiming that he “thanked God” President Bush and not 2000 rival Al Gore was in office during 9/11 and Kasich praising Colin Powell while admitting he did not ultimately believe the decision to invade Iraq was the right one.
Cruz criticized the Iran deal, a common refrain from the Senator:
Kasich talked about the “opportunity to lead” in the Arab world:
Rubio outlined his own foreign policy priorities:
Trump promised to save Social Security by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.
Cruz defended his value-added tax proposal, saying it would drastically simplify the IRS:
Rubio advocated a “pro-family” tax plan, calling families the driving force behind the economy.
Bush and Kasich exchanged harsh criticisms about the health care approaches each took as governor:
Cruz pointed out the worst victims of the struggling economy:
He claimed that the answer was to eliminate regulations to allow economic growth and reform welfare to encourage productivity.
Rubio echoed his concerns, and proposed a similar approach, later in the debate:
Trump reiterated his belief in building a wall at Mexicos defense, while Rubio defended the idea of a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.
Cruz criticized Rubio, including a jab at an interview on Univision.
When Dickerson asked about Trumps flexibility on his positions:
He defended his use of eminent domain, and criticized Jeb Bush for his inconsistency in condemning Trump’s use of the maneuver while his brother used the same as Governor of Texas.
Rubio and Cruz had a memorable exchange on immigration ending with this line:
When the topic turned to conservatism, the gloves came off between Trump and Cruz:
Kasich lamented the incivility:
Carson tried to set himself apart with a similar approach:
Kasich emphasized unity and his goal of empowering all Americans:
Carson invoked the forecasts that the current generation would be the first not to economically outperform their parents, and offered his candidacy as a turnaround:
Bush cited his experience to deal with the “unprecedented challenge” that the next President would see:
Rubio called to mind the struggle of Americans and what he termed a collapse of America’s strength and values, then pledged to be the “turning point:”
Cruz played up his conservative credentials and willingness to stand up for Republican ideals:
Trump lamented the lack of “winning” in current American policy, then said he would be “working for you, not working for anybody else.”