After getting stomped in Iowa, Donald Trump is returning to the debate stage to battle the new front-runner Sen. Ted Cruz. In partnership with the Republican National Committee, ABC News is hosting the final Republican debate in Manchester, N.H. the state's primary on Feb. 9. The GOP contenders are expected to spar—as usual—over Cruz's unexpected Iowa win, a potential missile crisis in North Korea, national security, and a host of other issues.
While the Democratic field has slimmed to two candidates, the Republican field is still booming. The billionaire businessman is leading the polls by double digits in N.H., according to Real Clear Politics. Tonight, Trump and Cruz will be joined by Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, and Gov. John Kasich. This is the last chance these candidates have to sell themselves and their platforms before voters weigh in, so expect difficult questions from World News Tonight anchor David Muir and Chief Global Affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.
It's already starting off rocky. Trump had to be welcomed to the stage three times. His diva-ish antics continue.
Immediately, the moderator asks Trump a question about Cruz. The fire's going to rage soon. The first question is "do you have the temperament to be president?" Yes, is Trump's short answer. He refers to his record as a businessman as well as the controversial statements he's made about immigration to prove that he will be a firm president.
"I'll build the military stronger, bigger, and better, and nobody will mess with us," Trump said.
In response, Cruz attacked President Obama by saying "he won't use the words radical jihadist terrorist." However, he refused to address Trump, saying that the temperament of candidates is an "assessment that the voters will make." However, since "the world is getting much more dangerous" Cruz thinks "we need a president with the judgment and resolve to keep our country safe." Clearly, he doesn't think Trump is that candidate.
Trump wasn't letting that go. The sparring continues. Of course, he expresses his bravado. "Our country doesn't win anymore. People back down with Trump," he said.
Next, the moderators kept it on the personal level. The next question went to Carson about Cruz's campaign's emails about him dropping out of the race.
"Today is the 105th birthday of Ronald Reagan. His 11th commandment was not to speak ill of another Republican," Carson said. "I will not ravage the reputation of Sen. Cruz. I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me..."
The candidates played nice in this moment.
In response, Cruz apologized. "Ben is a good and honorable man. Ben and Candy have become friends," he said. "When this transpired, I apologized to him and I will apologize to him now." After an apology, the Texas senator offered a timeline of what happened.
Next, Rubio is asked about how his congressional accomplishments prepare him for the presidency. If experience is all it takes, Rubio thinks "we should all rally around Joe Biden. He's been around for 1,000 years." The junior senator then pivoted to the current commander-in-chief. "Barack Obama is undergoing a systematic effort to change America," he said. "We're going to embrace American values" instead.
That's when the fight started.
"You have not been involved in a consequential decisions where you've had to be held responsible. You just haven’t,” Christie retorted. “We don’t need to make the same mistake we made eight years ago.”
Then came the final blow: "He simply doesn’t have the experience to be president."
Rubio didn't back down. "The experience is not just what you did. It’s how it worked out." Rubio attacked Christie on New Jersey's dropping credit rating. The two candidates dominated the debate for a few minutes, arguing over inexperience vs. Hurricane Sandy. Wow.
Jeb Bush weighed in on Rubio's lack of experience as well. "I fought for my beliefs. We had eight hurricanes and 16 tropical storms" in several months. You learn "leadership" by doing it," Bush said. "Marco Rubio is a gifted politician and he may have the skills to be President of the United States."
Foreign policy is a hot topic, especially with news that North Korea is launching a missile. The first question is directed to Cruz, since he's been staunch about how he'd handle issues in the Middle East.
When asked about how to handle North Korea, Cruz said, "It is a failure of the first Clinton administration." He also said that America should put missile interceptors in South Korea."
The moderator pressed Cruz on if he would pre-emptively strike North Korea to prevent the missile's launch.
"At this point, I'm not going to speculate on [what I would do] without getting intelligence information that all POTUS get," Cruz said. "I haven’t gotten the intelligence briefing tonight. It is qualitatively different when you’re dealing with a county that has a nuclear weapon. It’s why the Iranian deal is.." horrid.
Rubio jumped in to note that " it is the standard procedure, if in fact those missiles throw down a threat, to shoot them down in mid-strike."
When Kasick was finally given time to speak, he said that America's "got to step up the pressure. We have to intercept their ships and their aircrafts."
Bush also hopped in the convo to say that North Korea's issues are an indictment of the Obama administration. "The next president needs to get the U.S. back in the game. And if a pre-emptive strike is what it will take, we should do it," he said.
Trump agrees. "I think we have a president, as a president, is totally incompetent," he said. "I think he has no idea what he's doing. And this country is going to hell."
He also said that it's important to go through China to get to North Korea. "China has tremendous control over North Korea," Trump said, citing his business relationships with China. "They have total, absolute, control over North Korea. I would get on with China and let them take care of that problem. They would do it quickly and surgically."
Rubio also directed his ire to President Obama, saying that the commander-in-chief "views America as a country that’s been too powerful. That's why he betrayed Israel."
The debate then shifted to the American college student currently held hostage in North Korea. Bush and Christie weighed in on this topic with radically-different approaches.
The former Florida governor thinks that negotiating with North Korea "sends a signal of weakness around the world." Additionally, the next POTUS "can’t send signals of weakness" because "we need to use every resource available to get this college student back."
Christie disagreed, based on his experience as a former federal prosecutor. "You never pay ransom to the criminals," he said. "What you need to do is engage in … toughness and strength." He then said President Obama is "weak."
Immigration is an important topic that's been broached in previous debates. It's also discussed in one.
When it comes to immigration, Kasich said that "we have to have practical solutions."
"The situation here is we need to finish the border and we can have a guest worker program," he said. He also that those who are here illegally should pay a fine and then be put on a path to legalization. Kasich then said he will put forth a bill to finish the border in his first 100 days in office.
In response, Cruz said that he's laid out of the most comprehensive immigration bill, which includes building a wall, making e-verify a requirement for all jobs, and tripling the border police. When Trump snickered, Cruz said he has "somebody in mind to build it." Oooh burn! Also, Cruz said that America must enforce the law, which requires those here illegally to be deported.
This is when chaos ensued between Rubio and Christie ... again. The laser focused in on Rubio for his work on the comprehensive immigration bill. Christie and Rubio battled over what leadership is.
Healthcare is next on the agenda.
"We are going to repeal Obamacare," Trump said. "We're going to replace Obamacare with something that's so much better." Trump hasn't said what we will replace the Affordable Care Act with.
"The insurance companies are getting rich on Obamacare," he explained. "We're going to end that. We're going to get rid of artificial boundaries. In addition to that, we have the healthcare savings plan. We're going to take care of people who are dying on the street."
Cruz has a different plan. "What should we do? We will repeal every word of Obamacare. And once we do that, we'll adopt common sense reforms."
Finally, Carson is brought in to speak, since he has medical expertise.
"You have to replace [Obamacare] with something that makes sense," he said. He said he doesn't like Obamacare because it's the federal government telling Americans what to do. He proposes a healthcare plan that people keep through their lives and put money in.
So far, the debate over imminent domain has been the most entertaining part of this whole shebang. When asked about imminent domain, Trump said it's a necessity in every county, including ours. "Without it, we wouldn’t have streets, schools bridges ... or the Keystone pipeline," he said.
That's when Bush when on the attack.
"What Donald Trump did is use imminent domain to take property from an elderly woman in Atlantic City, to turn it into a limousine parking lot for his casinos is not use for public domain," Bush said to much applause.
Oh, apparently, Bush "wants to be a tough guy." Trump responded ... and got booed.
So, what does it mean to be a conservative? The candidates grappled with this question.
Kasich answered it first. "I've cut taxes more than anybody in the country this year," he said. "I've balanced the Ohio budget. We have a $2 million surplus and are up 600,000 jobs. It's not about budgets. It's about jobs." Conservatism is all about "economic growth."
Trump agrees. "I view the word conservative as derivative as the word ‘conserve.’ We want to conserve our money. We want to conserve our wealth.” We want to conserve our country. We want to save our country."
Rubio said conservatism is about three things, but he only offered one, which is limited government.
Taxes are up next. No Republicans support increasing taxes. No surprising there. Bush has an interesting solution: Creating more millionaires.
Christie also said that it's class warfare to raise taxes on wealthy Americans.
As war rages in the Middle East, the Republican candidates discussed how the American government should solve terrorism as it relates to ISIS.
Sen. Cruz thinks that destroying ISIS stars with a "clear objective." Additionally, using "overwhelming air power" to target ISIS' command centers. Additionally, Texas' junior senator said that America must stop nation-building. Instead, we should "kill the enemy" and get out.
Sen. Rubio agrees, noting that ISIS "will not go away on their own." He proposes employing Sunni Arabs on the ground and using air strikes to defeat ISIS.
Trump is committed to a position he took four years ago, which is "bombing the oil and taking the oil" so ISIS no longer has funding.
When asked about how to handle Libya, in particular, Bush said that American must collaborate with our allies, especially those in Europe. "Leading from behind is not an effective strategy," Bush said.
Finally, Carson fielded a question about foreign policy. That was pleasing to him since he's not there "just to add beauty to the stage." For Carson, the United States must employ a "pro-active foreign policy strategy."
The conversation then shifted to enhanced interrogation tactics, like waterboarding. When Cruz was asked about torture, he said that "waterboarding is not torture." Instead, he believes waterboarding is enhanced and vigorous interrogation.
However, Cruz said he would not bring back waterboarding in "widespread use." He also explained that he joined with Sen. McCain in legislation that prohibits line officers from using waterboarding. However, as a potential commander-in-chief, Cruz said he's committed to keeping the country safe, and he'd be OK with using waterboarding to achieve that goal.
Trump, taking the hard line, said he'd bring back waterboarding and a "hell of a lot worse." Bush isn't as extreme. Instead, he said he wouldn't re-institute waterboarding, but he would support expanding America's intelligence capabilities. Rubio agrees, noting that anti-terrorism is all about getting the information needed to prevent future attacks.
Each candidate has a political agenda. All of the candidates discussed what their agendas would be while in office. Cruz wants to rescind everything Obama has done that he considers unconstitutional and abolish the IRS. Bush is committed to giving more power to the states. Kasich also wants to reduce state taxes and taxes on corporations while also fixing social security.
Heroin is sweeping through America, which is a problem Cruz "understands firsthand." He told a story about his half-sister who suffered with a heroin and alcohol addiction before dying an overdose. Cruz thinks we need leadership to solve this issue, and that includes strengthening the borders to keep the Mexican cartel from smuggling heroine into this country.
Christie offered the solution he's instituted in New Jersey, which is forcing low-level drug offenders into in-patient drug treatment programs. Christie thinks drug addiction is a "disease," not a "moral failing." Also, helping drug addicts is part of being pro-life, according to Christie.
When asked about running against Hillary Clinton, Trump said he's the "last person she wants to run against." Rubio said "she’s unqualified to be president" because she lied about Benghazi and put classified documents on her computer.
The conversation then shifted to race in America, a tenuous topic in the time of #BlackLivesMatter. When asked about how to strengthen bonds between the police and communities, Trump said "the police are absolute mistreated and misunderstood." He also claimed minorities respect the police.
While disagreeing, Kasich said it can be a "win-win" by bridging the gap between police officers and community leaders, as he's done in Ohio.
The conversation then moved to Pres. Obama's recent visit to a mosque, which Rubio said he would also do. He then said he's bothered by Obama's notion that there is "large systemic discrimination against Muslims. That's just untrue." Christie said that "we can't mix jihadist radicals with normal, everyday Muslims. They need our understanding."
The Zika Virus is causing a global panic, so of course it comes up in the debate.
Christie said he would quarantine people coming back from the 2016 summer Olympics "based upon the symptoms."
As a doctor, Carson said it's not a simple issue. So, he said the Zika Virus is a "big deal," and he agrees with quarantining people that are in danger of spreading the virus. He wants America to use rapid response to get ahead of the virus and prevent it from spreading.
Then, Rubio is asked about if women should sign up for selective service. He said that people of male and the female gender should be allowed to participate in combat. However, the shrinking of the military is a bigger issue, according to Rubio. He said that when he's president, he will rebuild the military.
The question is then directed to Bush, who thinks women should sign up for combat, if they can meet the minimum requirements. Also, the military should not be a pawn in politics, according to Bush. He, however, is not suggesting that the draft is restated.
Christie, as a father of two daughters, says that if a woman wants to fight for her country, she should be able to do that.
Our veterans are suffering, so a moderator asked Bush about what we should do to enhance care for vets. He said that vets need care and it’s outrageous that they don’t get it. He thinks all vets should have an ID that allows them to go into any hospital in the country for quick and efficient care.
Kasich agrees with Bush. Vets should be treated better after coming back from war. He also thinks the Pentagon should work with families and vets to make access to jobs easier.
Rubio brought up a story about his brother who lost his teeth in war as the reason why he wants to make medical access easier for veterans.
Pivoting back to hostages, the moderator asked Cruz if families should be able to raise money for ransom. He doesn’t think this is a good idea because negotiating with terrorists encourages the behavior.
Trump agrees with Cruz that America shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists because it will create “more James Foley’s.”
The debate then shifted to social issues’—like abortion and same-sex marriage—impact on appealing to younger voters. Rubio doubled-down on his position on marriage as “between one man and one woman” as well as reproductive rights. He also went on a rampage against Hillary Clinton for being completely pro-choice and seeing abortion as a fundamental right.
Gov. Bush is then challenged about his stance on pro-life. He went down a list of ways Florida “protects life,” but also said that he supports women having access to abortions for specific exceptions. Rubio retorted by saying that he’ll sign a bill with exceptions, but he’d “rather lose an election than be on the wrong side of life.”
With his chest poked out with pride, Gov. Christie explained how New Jersey has removed state funding from Planned Parenthood for “systematic murder of children in the womb.” He, then, however, said that he supports abortion for women who’ve been raped.
Last, but not least, the candidates were asked about their Super Bowl choices. It seems split with some candidates choosing the Carolina Panthers while others chose the Denver Broncos. Kasich had a great suggestion though: Choose neither team.