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On August 4, 2015, FOX News announced the candidates invited to take part in the prime time debate as follows (in alphabetical order) :
• Jeb Bush
• Ben Carson
• Chris Christie
• Ted Cruz
• Mike Huckabee
• John Kasich
• Rand Paul
• Marco Rubio
• Donald Trump
• Scott Walker
• Must meet all U.S. Constitutional requirements
• Must announce and register a formal campaign for president
• Must file all necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
• Must have paid all necessary federal and state filing fees
• Must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by FOX News leading up to August 4th at 5 PM/ET. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques.
The first debate between contenders for the Republican presidential nomination took place in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. Hosted by FOX News and the Republican National Committee, it was hosted by Chris Wallace, Brett Baier, and Megyn Kelly. The contest was between the top ten Republican candidates, as determined by an average of five polls. Such Republican juggernauts as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz made the cut, but it was Donald Trump's presence that truly excited many, and speculations ran rampant on how the notorious (and highly controversial) firebrand candidate would behave.
It's worth noting that Trump went into this debate having said that he hoped it would be civil, but he didn't disappoint those expecting a biting, unapologetic, undiplomatic attitude. Right from the beginning, Trump made sure everyone knew how he felt. When Brett Baier chose to preface the entire debate by asking those assembled whether anyone would refuse to unconditionally pledge support to whomever the eventual Republican nominee might be, not one soul raised his hand – except the Donald.
Trump will not necessarily pledge support to eventual GOP nominee (2m 11s)
Of course, the debate wasn't just an opportunity for Trump to entertain with his unique personality, and he was asked just as many difficult questions as the other candidates. Naturally, his controversial comments concerning Mexico sending criminals to the United States were challenged, with moderators unwilling to let the matter go giving Trump an extra 30 seconds specifically to back his claims with evidence. Trump cited conversations with border patrol agents who he said had told him they had seen the lawbreakers sent by a Mexican government eager to offload them on the United States rather than deal with them at home.
Trump had pointed comments for his fellow debaters, too. When Rand Paul, reacting to Trump's presented views on healthcare reform, accused him of supporting a single-payer medical system, Trump shot back, stating clearly to Paul: “I don't think you heard me. You're having a hard time tonight.” Indeed, even the moderators were not safe from the wrath of Trump, who at one point accused Chris Wallace of “living in a fantasy world” for assuming that money-lenders were nice people. But, in the interests of assigning credit where it is due, Trump preserved tact on a single point. He specifically declared his refusal to call President Barack Obama incompetent, with the heavily tongue-in-cheek explanation that it was “because that's not nice.”
But while Trump may be regarded as the most entertaining figure on stage that night, it would be a mistake to say he stole the show, and much of substance was discussed by the other candidates. As is often the case at Republican debates, the late President Ronald Reagan's name was well-invoked by speakers eager to compare themselves favorably to him or excuse their own comments and actions by holding them up to the legendary conservative icon. John Kasich was first to bring up Reagan, pointing out when asked about his previous support for Medicaid increases that the Republican President of the 80's had bolstered that program three times. Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee also mentioned Reagan, and yes, even Donald Trump got into the act.
One of the tough questions with which Republican heavyweight Jeb Bush had to contend was about “dynastic politics”, as moderators challenged him over whether the American people would support a third Bush presidency – especially in light of the fact that the Democrats were likely to run a candidate whose husband had already been President, in the person of Hillary Clinton. Bush responded by saying that he was proud of his father and his brother (both of whom have occupied the White House), but that he had his own policies and ideas that were not derived from his family. He did admit that perhaps the bar was a bit higher for him because of his last name, but that if so, he was fine with that.
Bush understands concern about dynastic politics (1m 24s)
One particularly heated exchange erupted between Rand Paul, who branded himself “a different kind of Republican,” and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Remarking on the National Security Agency's warrantless collection of American citizens' bulk phone records, Paul delivered an impassioned speech on personal liberty and admonished that he would require the NSA to go through proper legal channels as defined by the constitution before reaping information on anyone. Christie strongly disagreed on the grounds that people's lives were at stake in the fight against terrorism, and jabbed that it was easy for Paul to speak as he did when it was the Governor who had personally seen the consequences of failure to act. Paul countered that Christie was free to give President Obama “another hug”, and Christie retorted that he better remembers the hugs he has given the families of dead Americans.
Christie versus Paul on NSA record collection (3m 33s)
Moderators also had the candidates respond on a number of general issues. Virtually all those on stage were tough on immigration, with most stating support for the building of a border fence. They spoke of the need for military preparedness and proper funding, too, and critcized President Obama's foreign policy – especially as it relates to the administration's nuclear arms deal with Iran. Other topics covered included the threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS, addressing tax issues, the “Common Core” educational initiative, and responding to Hillary Clinton's inevitable accusations against the Republican nominee of sexism and favoring the rich over the middle class.
The debate drew down with candidates speaking about God and addressing the question of whether they had received advice or guidance directly from him, and finally concluded with closing statements from each. The speakers used their final seconds to raise the issues facing the nation, list their own qualifications, and take their best shot at delivering uplifting, inspirational messages for the consumption of the public.
The "Happy Hour" Debate
Affectionately dubbed the “Happy Hour Debate”, the contest between those seven Republican candidates who did not poll strongly enough to square off at 9 PM was held first, starting at 5. Including the likes of Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki, it was easy for these contenders to feel dispirited and even offended, but most of them took what's widely been called a “snub” in stride. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, even admitted to the press that most people don't know who she is. Lindsey Graham was a little less understanding: he called the rules relegating him and others to the lower bracket “dumb”.
That didn't stop him from being firm and to-the-point in the debate, however. Leaving no room for ambiguity, he tackled the issue of the ISIL (also variously known as ISIS or simply IS) terrorist group, declaring categorically that anyone who does not understand the need to deploy American ground forces in Syria to destroy the Islamic State is not qualified to be Commander in Chief, and moreover, isn't even serious. The jovially self-deprecating Fiorina, meanwhile, spoke on cyber-security issues, accusing China and Russia of using the Internet to attack the United States, just as ISIL uses it as a recruitment tool. She called for the need for laws mandating increased cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector, while specifying that it was not necessary for Americans to surrender their privacy. Other questions asked of the candidates, interpreted by some as insulting, included queries on why they were in the bottom seven, and what they thought of fellow GOP contender Donald Trump.
There's been wide speculation that whoever ended up participating in this secondary debate was effectively sunk in terms of their hopes of securing the GOP nomination, but none of those who appeared here seemed to be letting it get them down. With all guns blazing, they're not about to give up yet.
Candidates invited to take part in the "Happy Hour" debate as follows (in alphabetical order) :
The forum was presented live at 5 PM/ET from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and moderated by America’s Newsroom co-anchors, Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum.