Republican rivals attack Donald Trump in presidential debate
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Republican front-runner Donald Trump came under heavy attack from his rivals in a contentious US presidential debate on Wednesday, with former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina leading the charge.
Presidential candidate Trump, who weathered a continued group attack from his rivals in the three-hour debate, introduced himself by reminding Americans that he has “made billions and billions of dollars”.
Clearly enjoying the spotlight, Trump fired off insults declaring that former New York Governor George Pataki "couldn't get elected dogcatcher".
Reuters/Ipsos opinion polling before the debate showed Trump leading the 2016 race among Republicans with 32 percent. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was second at 15 percent. Bush was in third place at 9 percent as his campaign struggled to take off.
Unsurprisingly, immigration dominated the highly-anticipated debate. Trump argued that children born in the country should not automatically be given citizenship, pointing out that the US is one of few countries which uses what he described as a “dumb” birth right system, and would end it if he were elected.
Fiorina dismissed the suggestion, saying: "You can't just wave your hands and say the 14th Amendment is going to go away."
Marijuana and climate change
Bush called on Trump to apologise for attacking his wife’s roots after the billionaire suggested that Bush is sympathetic to immigrants because of his marriage to Mexican-born Columba Bush. Trump cracked back that he’d heard “phenomenal things” about Columba Bush but refused to apologise.
Debating same-sex marriage and religious liberty, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee championed Kentucky county clerk Kim Davies who was jailed in early September for defying the Supreme Court's decision legalising gay marriage. Bush walked the line on the issue, stating that another employee in the clerk’s office should sign the same-sex marriage licenses since the Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land.
The issues of climate change and drug reform were quickly wrapped up, but not before Bush admitted to smoking marijuana when he was a teenager.
The controversial Affordable Care Act, the universal healthcare programme known as Obamacare that provides healthcare to millions of previously uninsured Americans, was dismissed across the board as a “socialist” scheme that needed to be repealed.
Shaky foreign ground
Most of the participants argued fiercely for an immediate reversal of the controversial Iran nuclear deal. However, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said it would be "absurd" to cut up the agreement and Bush said a better strategy would be to strengthen ties with Israel.
On diplomacy, Trump said that as president he would get along better with world leaders, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, arguing that the Russian leader has "absolutely no respect for President Obama".
But Florida Senator Marco Rubio suggested that Americans would be taking a risk by electing foreign policy novice like Trump, citing “extraordinarily dangerous times”. Trump vowed to improve his foreign policy familiarity if he were elected.
Many of the candidates spoke in favour of massively bolstering the US military. “We need to have the largest military on the planet and everyone has to know it,” Fiorina said. Huckabee backed this view, arguing, “People wouldn’t bully us anymore.”
Senator for Texas Ted Cruz vowed simply to “kill the terrorists”.
Bringing up the B word
Bringing up Bush’s family history, Trump said that Obama’s two-term presidency was the direct result of the “disastrous” final months of Bush’s brother, former president George W. Bush, which he said turned the country Democrat.
Bush, who is often careful to avoid mentioning of his brother – even his campaign name is “Jeb,” rather than “Bush” – shot back by arguing that “He [George W. Bush] kept us safe,” inciting hollers from the audience.
The debate was oftentimes entertaining, when candidates exchanged seemingly pre-rehearsed insults.
"We don't need an apprentice in the White House. We have one right now,” Scott Walker told Trump, referring to the long-running TV series in which young entrepreneurs compete to impress Trump with their business endeavours.
Speaking about Kentucky’s Paul, Trump said: "I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there's plenty of substance right there."
On Twitter, the most popular moment of the night came when Fiorina rebuked Trump for a recent comment he made to Rolling Stone magazine when he said that nobody would vote for her because of her looks.
“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said,” Fiorina said, drawing applause from the audience. Trump replied: “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman.”
Twitter later reported that Fiorina's response to Trump on her looks was the most tweeted moment of the debate. Facebook also registered the exchange as its top social moment, and said Trump and Fiorina were the top candidates discussed on Facebook during the debate.
At one point, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, renowned for his sometimes brusque and bullying style, derided the "childish back-and-forth" and called on the candidates to be more substantive.
Trump ‘no real threat’
Earlier in the night, four low-polling Republican presidential candidates held a shorter, “undercard” debate ahead of the main event. Speaking on similar issues, the rivals’ focus returned repeatedly to Trump – despite his absence – who Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former New York Governor George Pataki attempted to debase as a fake conservative who was not a real threat.
“Let’s stop treating Donald Trump like a Republican,” Jindal said in response to a question about his criticism of the Republican front-runner. “He’s not a Republican. He believes in Donald Trump.”
Pataki dismissed Trump’s popularity as short-lived. “He is not going to be the Republican nominee, period. I guarantee you that,” he said.