With less than seven weeks to go until the country’s first caucuses in Iowa, Republican presidential candidates took the stage for a debate in Las Vegas Tuesday night, their race changed by the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Here are some highlights from the final GOP debate of 2015.
"A Chaos Candidate"
Businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush insulted each other repeatedly over Trump’s foreign policy comments, including his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. A ban would make it more difficult for the United States to form a coalition with Muslims also opposed to the Islamic State, Bush said. Trump’s proposals are not serious, he said during the CNN debate.
“Donald is great at the one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate and he'd be a chaos president,” Bush said.
Trump responded that Bush did not really believe that Trump was unhinged as he had said earlier. Bush made the comment because his own candidacy has failed, Trump said.
“It's been a total disaster,” the real estate developer said.
The tiff continued when Trump was asked about his statement that the families of Islamic State fighters should also be killed.
“I know you’re trying to build up your energy Jeb, but it’s not working,” Trump told Bush.
“You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency, that's not going to happen, and I do have the strength,” Bush responded.
Jeb Bush is stuck at the bottom of the polls, with the most recent from NBC/WSJ showing him at 7 percent.
"I'll Get Donald Trump to Pay for It"
Another showdown came between the two Cuban-American first-term U.S. senators: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz versus Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. They have gone after each other over immigration and national security and continued the attacks Tuesday night.
The men first clashed over ending the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records, with Rubio accusing Cruz of weakening the ability to track terrorists. Cruz insisted that the new law, the USA Freedom Act, made it possible for the government to access cellphones and other technology that terrorists use.
“Marco knows what he’s saying isn’t true,” Cruz said.
On immigration, Cruz criticized Rubio over his part in an immigration reform bill, being one of the so-called “Gang of Eight” who put together the 2013 bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House.
Rubio said that he supported first getting illegal immigration under control, then giving some longtime residents work permits and only after 10 to 12 years allowing them to apply for green cards.
Cruz accused Rubio of trying to muddy the waters by minimizing differences between them. Cruz said he had never supported legalization and did not intend to.
“We will build a wall that works, and I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it," Cruz said.
As a Woman in the Republican Ranks
Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the only woman among the GOP candidates, quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,'” Fiorina said.
In her opening statement, Fiorina said she had been tested. She had beaten breast cancer, buried a child and had been called every "b-word in the book," she said.
Trump and Cruz Renew Their Friendship
Any budding spats between Trump and Cruz fizzled on stage.
Asked about Cruz, Trump said he had gotten to know him. “He’s just fine," Trump said. "Don’t worry about it.”
For his part, Cruz minimized a report that at a private fund-raiser he had questioned Trump’s judgement.
Pressed, he said: “That is a judgement for every voter to make.”
Every Republican candidate on the stage would make a better commander in chief than either President Obama or Hillary Clinton, he said.
World War III
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was back on the main stage, and drawing jabs from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky after Christie said he would shoot down Russian planes if they violated the no-fly zone over Syria.
“If you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate,” Paul responded and went on to make a mention of “someone who might shut down a bridge.”
That was a reference to the lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge in 2013, in which some of Christie’s close associates have been charged, though the governor has not.
Christie has been gaining ground in New Hampshire. In a poll released by Boston radio station WBUR last week Trump maintained his lead among the state’s Republican primary voters but Christie surged to second place with 12 percent.
No Independent Bid for Trump
Trump said he would not run as an independent if he fails to get the Republican nomination.
He said he had gained great respect for the Republican leadership and would do everything he could to beat Clinton.
“I am totally committed to the Republican party,” he said.