Nine Republican presidential hopefuls piled in front of the cameras Tuesday night in Las Vegas for a CNN sponsored debate on urgent policy issues affecting the American people.
The threat posed by radical Islamic jihadists and subsequent security concerns took center stage, as did attacking billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump for what many are calling his inflammatory and racist policies.
Joining Trump were Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Marco Rubio (FL), former HP executive Carly Fiorina, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Ohio governor John Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz (TX), Senator Rand Paul (KY) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
In his opening statement, Trump credited himself with opening up a conversation among the American public that many were too afraid to have. Earlier in December, Trump called to ban Muslims visiting the US.
Seemingly eager to fire back, Bush called Trump “unhinged” and criticized his policies. “We can’t disassociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims. If we expect to do this on our own, we will fail,” he said, adding that Trump is “great at the one-liners but he’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.”
In response, Trump stated, “Jeb doesn’t really believe I’m unhinged,” adding that Bush was attacking him because of his “failed” campaign. Trump defended his policies, saying “We are not talking about isolation; we are talking about security. We are not talking about religion; we are talking about security.”
Senator Rubio, who has been gaining in recent polls, dismissed Trump’s proposal, simply saying it “isn’t going to happen.” Senator Paul added, “I think if we ban certain religions, if we censor the internet, I think that at that point, the terrorists have won.”
As the battle between Trump and Bush simmered down, a confrontation between Cruz and Rubio broke out. Both candidates took the other to task for several policy disagreements, such as surveillance.
Rubio questioned Cruz for voting for the USA Freedom Act, which reformed the NSA’s mass surveillance program, making it more difficult for the government to access information based on phone records.
“Here’s the world we live in. This is a radical jihadist group that is increasingly sophisticated,” Rubio said, referring to ISIS. “We are at a time when we need more tools, not less tools.”
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Cruz defended his position, saying the bill “strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists…and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino.”
Regarding the turmoil in Syria, Cruz and Rubio disagreed over whether or not to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
“If we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria and it will worsen US national security interests,” Cruz stated. Rubio rejected Cruz’s sentiment, saying that Assad was simply an “anti-American dictator” and that sometimes the US is forced to work with “less than ideal governments.”
While the number of Republican candidates vying for the top spot at the White House has narrowed down significantly, compared to five debates ago, polls show Trump leading the pack with Cruz making some surprising gains.