CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash
Talk radio host Hugh Hewitt and The Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan will join as questioners.
The twelfth Republican primary debate was held on March 10, 2006, at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida. It occurred just a day after the eighth Democratic debate, also in Miami, and two days after “Super Tuesday 2” when Donald Trump had swept the contest by winning the states of Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Tonight's contest was hosted by CNN and moderated by journalist Jake Tapper, with contributions by CNN's Dana Bash, Salem radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, and Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times.
This was the last debate to be held before the important “Super Tuesday 3” on March 15, when (among others) the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio would cast their votes. The elections in those states were made crucial by the fact that Trump's immense momentum – evidenced by his wins on March 8 – meant that a victory on the 15th might all but seal his eventual seizure of the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio – once Trump's greatest challenger in Rubio's home state of Florida – had shown a dreadful performance on Super Tuesday 2, weakening his campaign to the point that many were calling for him to drop out of the race. Rubio was also smarting from the failure of his most recent strategy against Trump, when negative personal attacks against the frontrunner on such matters as the size of Trump's hands had been judged as juvenile by many, leading Rubio to publicly express regret over his tone. Aside from Rubio and Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich were also onstage tonight.
The debate was notably, remarkably subdued in comparison to previous Republican outings, with no personal attacks and only few direct clashes between the candidates, to the point that Trump at one point remarked, “so far I can't believe how civil it's been up here.” Jobs was the evening's first issue up for discussion, which segued into opinions on education. Trump and Cruz, the two frontrunners, agreed on their opposition to the federal Common Core initiative, calling for the return of control over schooling to the states. Social Security was later raised, with Rubio suggesting that cuts to the program would be necessary to prevent insolvency, while Trump spoke of strengthening the American economy so that it was possible to afford benefits payments as is. On none of these matters did the candidates devolve into posturing or the at-times juvenile insults that had come to characterize previous debates.
There was some friction between the contenders, however, mostly generated by Cruz taking jabs at Trump. The Texas Senator criticized the businessman for supporting what could potentially be a 45% tariff on imports, saying that this would effectively amount to a tax on working people who would be forced to pay higher prices for goods. Trump responded that the tariff was “a threat, not a tax,” which would only be imposed if importers failed to behave properly, and that if it became necessary to use the tariff, factories would immediately be built to produce those items in America and eliminate the need to import them at all. Cruz also challenged Trump's stated intention not to disregard President Obama's deal with Iran, as well as his desire to remain neutral in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump said that he would be extremely tough on the Iran deal and eventually catch them violating and thus annulling it, and that he was very pro-Israel but a skilled negotiator who needed to keep the Palestinians at ease in the hopes of winning peace.
Cruz also took a swipe at Trump for allegedly being in the habit of having attendees at his rallies pledge their support to him. Trump scoffed and rebutted that Cruz was referring to an incident at one specific rally, when a question he asked his audience as to whether they planned to vote turned into a joke about whether they would promise to vote for him. He said that he and his supporters were merely having fun together, and remarked, “That's why my rallies are bigger than Ted's – we have fun.”
Despite the less confrontational nature of tonight's debate, Trump still received some difficult questions about comments he had made previously from moderator Jake Tapper. At one point, Tapper reminded Trump that he had recently said “Islam hates us”, and asked whether Trump really meant that all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world harbor animosity toward the United States. Trump said simply “I mean a lot of 'em,” and elaborated only to state that he stands by his comments.
Other issues raised tonight included climate change and its anthropogenic vs. natural origins, the terrorist group ISIS, and trade with China. In closing statements, Kasich said that has run an unwaveringly positive campaign, Rubio declared that America had been made great by each generation laying the groundwork for the next to be even better, and Cruz jabbed at Trump by implying that he was the only privileged candidate on a stage otherwise populated by men of humble beginnings. Trump himself, meanwhile, continuing what has been called a “presidential” attitude that suggested he was already presuming himself the Republican nominee, called for unity within the GOP.