NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The Republican presidential debate on Thursday featured the fewest candidates to date — but the most rollicking action yet. With just over two weeks until the voters begin making their choices in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, here are a few key takeaways from the night.
THE TRUMP-CRUZ DYNAMIC
Ted Cruz and Donald Trump – the two candidates atop the preference polls in first-to-vote Iowa – repeatedly went toe to toe, starting with Trump’s questioning of whether Cruz, born in Canada to a U.S. citizen, is eligible to serve as president.
Asked about the issue by a debate moderator, Cruz reminded the audience that Trump had once said Cruz’s citizenship was a non-issue. And the Texas senator was ready with a zinger, too: “Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.”
The businessman fired back that Cruz misrepresented the level of Trump’s support, but didn’t dispute that he’s brought up the issue because Cruz “is doing a little better. It’s true.”
The two tangled again over Cruz’s recent comments about Trump’s “New York values.” Said Cruz, “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal … focused around money and the media.” And in a nod to Trump’s home in midtown Manhattan, Cruz said: “I can frame it another way: Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I’m just saying.”
And just as Cruz was ready to talk about his citizenship, Trump was ready to defend New York. The billionaire real-estate mogul said he found that kind of talk “insulting” and talked about how New Yorkers had come together after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Everybody in the world watched, and everyone in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. … That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”
BUSH STANDS ALONE
Pressed on whether he regretted his call to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., Trump had a one-word answer: “No.” And when asked whether they supported Trump’s proposal, the candidates sharing the stage with him demurred, talking instead about immigration and security problems
All except Jeb Bush.
The former Florida governor has made taking on Trump the cornerstone of his struggling campaign, and he slammed the proposal as one that would make it impossible for the U.S. to build the necessary bridges with Arab nations to defeat the Islamic State.
“All Muslims? Seriously? What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?” Bush said. “What we need to do is destroy ISIS. The other Arab countries have a role to play in this. Sending that signal makes it impossible for us to be serious about taking out ISIS and restoring democracy in Syria.”
Reminded that he…