John Dickerson, with panelists Major Garrett and Kimberley Strassel
CBS News and streamed on CBSN
The ninth Republican presidential debate was held on February 13, 2016 at the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. It was hosted by CBS News, and presided over by moderator John Dickerson, with contributions from Major Garret and Kimberly Strassel.
The contest occurred just a few days following the first primary in the nation, in the critical state of New Hampshire, where businessman Donald Trump had successfully reasserted himself as Republican frontrunner and won a convincing victory after having lost to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses. This debate also came just shortly before the South Carolina primary, the first in the important, conservative-rich southern portion of the United States.
In addition to the leader, Donald Trump, Republican candidates attending tonight were Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Dr Ben Carson, and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Following the showdown in New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had bowed out of the race, as had businesswoman Carly Fiorina, whose polls had slumped to the point that she was failing to qualify for primetime debates.
With his persistent status as GOP top dog and momentum after winning in New Hampshire, analysts were predicting it would be difficult to stop a Donald Trump nomination if he were to prevail in the soon-to-come South Carolina primary, resting crosshairs squarely on the mogul's forehead. Ted Cruz would be hoping to build on his Iowa victory, in turn, while Marco Rubio may have had something to prove: After what was nearly universally regarded as an abysmal performance in the last debate (with Rubio himself admitting he had done badly), the charismatic Senator may have damaged his otherwise strong campaign, and needed to get things back on track.
The debate began on a somber note, with the candidates discussing the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the importance of nominating a replacement capable of bringing to the court the conservative voice he had. This was a subdued, respectful beginning without clashes between the candidates – though moderator John Dickerson did earn a chorus of boos from the audience for challenging Cruz on the history of American judicial nomination.
Fireworks began to fly in short order, however, when Bush attacked Trump for having said that he would get along with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush charged that Putin could never be an ally to the United States. Trump defended himself with his usual flare, repeating “Jeb is so wrong” several times. Later, the two battled over the war in Iraq, with Trump claiming that Bush had gone back and forth on his opinion before finally being told what to say by his handlers and admitting that the war had been a mistake. It's notable that Bush's supporters were out in force during these exchanges; Trump could scarcely edge in a criticism of Bush or his family without being nearly drowned out by audience boos. Unintimidated, he merely accused his hecklers of representing Bush's “special interests”.
Cruz came under fire when Rubio charged that the Texas Senator had a poor immigration record, saying that Cruz had supported policies such as additional guest worker visas before now taking a more conservative position on the issue. “Either he wasn't telling the truth then, or he's not telling the truth now,” Rubio said, with audience support. Cruz responded by calling Rubio's own immigration positions into question, and criticizing comments her had made on the Spanish-language network Univision. Amusingly, Rubio countered that Cruz couldn't know what he had said on Univision, since Cruz doesn't speak Spanish. The Texan then responded that they could speak in Spanish right now if Rubio wanted - in Spanish.
As always, important issues that came up included combating ISIS, foreign policy in general, and Republican intentions to repeal and replace Obamacare. Kasich charged that special interests were the reason that the border with Mexico had not been sealed. Carson said that government regulatory agencies should be reduced in order to encourage those attempting to stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, Cruz advocated supporting small businesses to help the poor.
The evening concluded with closing statements from each candidate. Ben Carson implicitly admitted his poor showings in recent polls, but said that if everyone who agrees with him but believes he can't win were to vote for him, he could indeed win. Rubio worried that America's standing in the world was declining and that its values were changing, so that right is considered wrong and wrong is considered right. Trump, meanwhile, spoke of economically empowering the nation and returned to familiar sentiments of “making America great again”.
9th Republican Presidential Primary Debate February 13, 2016 - FULL