The somber news of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death just hours before the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina did little to keep Republican candidates’ tempers from flaring Saturday night.
It didn’t take long for the ongoing feud to erupt between the winners of the first two primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and billionaire Donald Trump — at the Republican debate in Greenville, S.C. The first of the fireworks were launched after Cruz, who champions many pro-Christian platforms in his campaign, challenged the business mogul’s record on abortion — questioning whether he was really pro-life.
This inference did not sit well with Trump.
“You are the single biggest liar,” Trump quipped back at Cruz. “You’re probably worse than Jeb Bush.”
This questioning revolved around discussions over Scalia’s death and the appointing of his successor, with Cruz retorting back that Trump would most likely “appoint liberals” to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) if he were elected president.
Scalia’s death, which was publicized just hours before the debate, prompted Cruz and a number of other candidates to emphasize how they would work to uphold his legacy and how important voters choices for the next president will be.
Trump addressed the negative ramifications the loss will have on the political Right.
“[It’s a] tremendous blow to conservatism,” Trump said of Scalia’s death.
Cruz also had words about the loss to America’s justice system, promising that he would appoint a replacement who firmly sticks to the U.S. Constitution.
“[Scalia was a] legal giant [who] changed the arc of American legal history,” Cruz commented, according to Fox News. “[His death] underscores the stakes of this election. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion [by states, threaten gun rights and] undermine [religious liberty].”
Shortly after President Barack Obama announced that he is definitely planning to nominate Scalia’s successor — just moments before the debate got underway — a number of candidates promised that they would do all they could to make sure this will not happen … in order to safeguard conservative rulings. Many conservatives are hoping that Obama will not be able to confirm a SCOTUS appointee with Republicans leading the Senate.
Inflammation over immigration
Cruz wasn’t timid about going into attack mode with former Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) either, bringing up his opponent’s alleged promise on Univision to not rescind Obama’s executive order on immigration on his first day — if elected president. This led to Rubio’s quick retort.
“I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn’t speak Spanish,” Rubio combatted, triggering Cruz to continue their fiery debate in Spanish.
Cruz, then, immediately began debating Rubio in Spanish, which provoked Rubio to tell the South Carolina audience that Cruz “lies about all sorts of things.” He went on to accuse the Texas senator of actually supporting the legalization of illegal immigrants — an allegation Cruz said was “simply false.”
Both candidates ended up contending that the other did not take a firm stance against illegal immigration, with Cruz arguing that Rubio supported a comprehensive immigration reform bill paving the way to legalizing the status of illegal aliens. Rubio sprung back to insist that Cruz also backed that effort.
This exchange over amnesty became so volatile that Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) jumped in to quell the argument with the following words.
“I think we’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this,” Kasich said in an attempt to mediate.
Old tussles reignited
Trump’s temper also flared when his longstanding rivalry with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) rekindled as they began talking national security, specifically targeting policies they would implement to counter terrorism based in the Middle East in the name of jihad.
“Jeb is so wrong,” Trump said, insinuating that Bush’s plan to engage Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while ignoring Russia and other “allies” would put America in harm’s way. “You have to knock out ISIS. …. You decide what you have to do after. You can’t fight two wars at one time.”
Many in the audience booed after Trump yelled out his arguments, and Bush replied by insisting that Russia is not an ally of the United States. He also impressed that no resolution in the Syrian war can be reached as long as Assad is still in power.
Hitting a peripheral issue, Trump then attacked the former Florida governor’s brother for starting the war with Iraq more than a decade ago during his first term in the White House, following the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks.
“[Entering Iraq was] a big fat mistake [that] destabilized the Middle East,” Trump expressed to Bush about his brother’s decision, adding that his administration “lied” about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction.
Bush then attempted to derail Trump’s attack.
“I am sick and tired of him going after my family,” Bush told the crowd after hearing Trump’s accusation, noting that he admired the measures his brother took to ensure America’s security.
Bush’s reply received a quick comeback, with Trump bringing up another alleged failure of security that he attributed to George W. Bush.
“The World Trade Center came down,” the billionaire GOP candidate reminded the younger Bush about the Islamic attack during his brother’s first term as president. “That’s not keeping us safe.”
Trump’s continued attack on Bush was countered by Rubio — a longtime rival of the former Florida governor — who reminded the real estate tycoon that the administration of George W. Bush “kept us safe.”
Narrowing the playing field
The South Carolina debate marked the first time in the campaign season that Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina weren’t on the campaign trail for president.
Former neuro brain surgeon Ben Carson, the sixth candidate on the playing field, ended the debate with his distinct plan to fix America’s troubled tax system.
“[M]y tax plan has been praised by Cato, by [the] Wall Street Journal,” Carson asserted. “Forbes said it is the best — the most pro-growth tax plan. And it’s based on real fairness for everybody.”
He went on to insist that his plan will ensure equity and economic fairness for all.
‘[I]t deals with the corporate tax rate — it makes it the same as everybody else,” Carson concluded before being reminded that the time for the debate had elapsed. “Everybody pays exactly the same.”
With six left in the race for the Republican ticket in November’s presidential election, the candidates are intently focused on doing well in South Carolina to set the tone as they prepare to tour the rest of the nation.
According to the most recent polling data, Trump is the favorite so far in the Palmetto State, with Cruz and Rubio taking the number two and three spots with conservatives as the Republican presidential field continues to narrow.
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