8th Republican Presidential Primary Debate
February 6, 2016 8 PM/ET
St. Anselm College
ABC News, IJReview.com, WMUR
David Muir and Martha Raddatz
8th Republican Presidential Primary Debate | Full Debate
Video includes pre and post-debate coverage.
Debate starts at 2 hours and 24 minutes into the video.
The eighth Republican primary debate took place on February 6, 2016, at the St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was hosted by ABC News, and moderated by “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz. Questions were also contributed by WMUR political director Josh McElveen and conservative journalist Mary Katherine Ham.
This was the first GOP debate held since the whirlwind Iowa caucuses that took place on February 1. In that crucial contest, Texas Senator Ted Cruz had shocked political analysts by winning the night over Republican frontrunner and businessman Donald Trump, who would later accuse Cruz of fraudulent campaign practices. The other major upset of Iowa on the Republican side was the performance of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who put in an unexpectedly stellar performance at the polls that yielded him a comfortable third place.
Attending tonight, in addition to GOP front man Donald Trump (who boycotted the seventh debate, in a move that has been partially blamed for his Iowa defeat) and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, were former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Dr Ben Carson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina's lackluster polls did not qualify her for an invitation, while Kentucky Senator Rand Paul had announced the suspension of his presidential campaign following a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.
The stage was set for a contentious showdown tonight, with Cruz (for his win) and Rubio (for his surprise seizure of third place) most prominently in the crosshairs. Indeed, the very first question of the debate, asked by moderator David Muir, encouraged Trump to respond to comments that had been made previously by Cruz alleging that Trump lacked the proper temperament to be president. This seemed to be an invitation to battle between the two, but notably, Trump merely defended his readiness to be president without impugning Cruz, while a followup question asking Cruz whether he stood by his comments also produced no fireworks. The most that came of this exchange was a sharp claim by Trump that Cruz had not actually answered Muir's question.
The case was different when it came to Rubio, as Chris Christie proved to be a man on a mission to assail the Florida Senator. Governor Christie charged Rubio with lacking the necessary executive experience to be president of the nation. He questioned Rubio's legitimacy in listing his support of a Hezbollah-related bill among his senatorial accomplishments, saying that Rubio had not actually been present in the Senate to vote for it, and sharply claiming “that's not leadership, that's truancy.” Rubio seemed genuinely flustered by this attack. The normally charismatic and confident young man only briefly mentioned Christie in his rebuttal at all, and quickly resorted to repeated – almost word for word – a criticism he had just made of Barack Obama accusing the president of deliberately acting to change the United States. Christie called Rubio out for the repetition, speaking of memorized statements relayed by campaign aides that would do nothing to solve real problems, yet Rubio inexplicably persisted, repeating his diatribe a third time. His only substantive defense was to accuse Christie of not wanting to return to his state of New Jersey following a snowstorm two weeks prior, and leveling the accusation that Christie “had to be shamed” into going back, but the audience loudly booed Rubio for this.
Later, Donald Trump found himself in the hardly unfamiliar position of coming under fire from Jeb Bush. With the controversial subject of eminent domain – compulsory seizure of land by the government – under discussion, Bush accused Trump of once using the doctrine to attempt to forcibly take away an elderly woman's property for his own private business use, which Bush called “downright wrong”. During Trump's response, he charged that Bush was “trying to be a tough guy”, causing Bush to aggressively break in and demand to know how tough it was to take property from an elderly woman. Trump, who was in turn to speak, held his finger to his face and softly said, “quiet”. The audience unleashed a cacophony of boos at this behavior, which was to its peril – The Donald then turned his umbrage on them, charging that the reason they didn't like him was because those receiving tickets to sit in the auditorium were all political donors, who knew that Trump didn't need their money. Those in attendance were not pleased with his characterization of them.
Other issues raised included the ongoing immigration issue, the persistent threat from ISIS, and North Korea's nuclear capabilities. During one interesting moment, the definition of the term “conservatism” was discussed, and Rubio – who had stumbled during his bout with Christie – was once again in rare form, speaking fluidly and comfortably of his opinion that the word has “conserve” as its essential root, including the conservation of wealth and tradition. Even the adversarial Trump agreed with the Senator.
As usual, the evening concluded with closing statements from each candidate. Christie spoke of putting the American people first, before politics. Bush called attention to the fact that the debate occurred on the day of what would have been conservative icon and former President Ronald Reagan's 105th birthday. Trump, meanwhile, in a rare case of using a closing statement to attack an opponent, took a swipe at Ted Cruz's political success by saying it had only happened because “he got Ben Carson's votes”, in a reference to a statement Cruz's campaign had released prior to the Iowa caucuses that falsely claimed Carson had dropped out of the race.
Cruz, who had already delivered his closing statement, was not given an opportunity to respond.