The top eleven Republican presidential hopefuls met Wednesday night for the second GOP primary debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Library and hosted by CNN. Donald Trump made waves early, Carly Fiorina was as poised on the big stage as she was in the undercard debate in early August, and a genuine policy dispute erupted over the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump Congratulates Himself for Not Insulting Rand Paul’s Looks (Then Insults Rand Paul’s Looks)
Early in the debate, Trump attacked Rand Paul's poll numbers, saying the Kentucky senator shouldn't even be on the stage.
Paul responded by accusing Trump of "junior high" insults about people's appearances, to which the real estate magnate responded with characteristic self-congratulation:
"There’s no denying that his tics and manners—his constant stream of lavish self-praise, his gesticulations and mugging to the camera, his exaggerated New York dialect ('yuge'), and, without question, his singular approach to coiffing—all make make him comical," Jeet Heer wrote last week. "But there is more to Trump’s humor than his outsized personality. He excels at the fundamentals of comedy: disrupting cultural norms with his outrageous insults and generally unruly behavior."
Trump and Bush Have Their First True Fight
Asked by moderator Jake Tapper about Trump’s accusation that he is a "puppet" to donors, Bush reminded the audience about the time Trump himself donated money to Bush—allegedly because Trump wanted to build a casino in Florida. When Bush took office he blocked Trump’s casino, but Trump interrupted to say that this never happened: “I promise, if I wanted it, I would have gotten it.”
“Jeb made the mistake of bringing a knife to a gun-fight,” Jeet Heer wrote.
A Disagreement Over Something of Substance, for Once
Tapper questioned Ted Cruz about John Kasich’s claims that anyone who has said they would rip up the Iran deal, as Cruz has, is “inexperienced.” Instead of backtracking, Cruz affirmed his stance. “You better believe it. If I am elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.” Cruz’s understanding of the deal came under fire on Twitter.
Kasich fired back with his belief in cooperation. “If they cheat, we slap the sanctions back on … if we find out that they may be developing a nuclear weapon, then the military option is on the table,” he said. “Just doing it on our own, I don’t think is the right policy.”
Fiorina Takes the High Road on Trump’s Face Comments
Asked about Trump’s comment about her in Rolling Stone—"Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"—and whether Trump was misinterpreted, Fiorina said, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Donald Trump said."
Then Trump did something extremely rare for him: He blushed, then backpedaled. He called Fiorina a “beautiful woman” with a "beautiful face."
As Rebecca Leber wrote recently in the New Republic, "From the start, Fiorina’s pitch has been that she is the antidote to Clinton’s 'playing the gender card.' But all along, Fiorina has played it subtly herself, gladly exploiting some of the GOP’s image problems among women voters while denying that those problems actually exist. She's touted her advantages as the only woman running for president, while obliquely discussing the challenges Republican nominees have faced in the past with women voters. ... But her gender-talk has grown sharper and more overt, thanks in part to Trump."
Rand Paul Checks Jeb Bush’s Privilege
After a question about whether candidates would enforce federal marijuana laws, Rand Paul argued in favor of respecting the rights of states to regulate marijuana.
He said privileged kids like Jeb Bush don’t go to jail for using drugs. Instead, those incarcerated for drugs are disproportionately poor and black.
Bush brushed it off with an admission that he smoked pot in high school (and an apology to his mom).
How Many Women Can The Candidates Name?
In a section of “light-hearted questions,” Jake Tapper asked the candidates which woman they would put on the new $10 bill. Here’s how the responses broke down: three named a family member, two named foreigners, and six named actual women in American history.
So who wants which woman?
Rand Paul: Susan B. Anthony
Mike Huckabee: his wife
Marco Rubio: Rosa Parks
Ted Cruz: Rosa Parks, but he wants her on the $20
Ben Carson: his mother
Donald Trump: his daughter Ivanka, or Rosa Parks
Jeb Bush: Margaret Thatcher
Scott Walker: Clara Barton
Carly Fiorina: doesn’t want to change the bill at all because “women are not a special interest group.”
John Kasich: Mother Theresa
Chris Christie: Abigail Adams
Highlights from the Undercard Debate
The bottom four Republican candidates for president—Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki—gathered Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Library for their intimate second primary debate. For the undercards, this may be the last chance to prove they deserve to sit at the big kids' table, especially after the reality check that was Rick Perry’s drop-out.
Here are the night’s key moments—and for all of the highlights, visit our live blog.
Santorum vs. Graham on Immigration
After some waffling from the other candidates on whether they would support amnesty, birthright citizenship, or a good old-fashioned closing of the border, Santorum and Graham got into a testy back-and-forth about who actually has a plan.
Graham accused Santorum of never having had a plan; Santorum said he did. Graham said no one supported the plan so it doesn’t even count, Santorum said that’s because the president at the time was more pro-immigration. Graham said the president then was George W. Bush (mic drop).
Next, they bickered about whether Hispanics are the great immigration evil or American citizens who need to be won over as voters.
But Jeet Heer points out on our live blog that it's a good thing to have these divisions aired in the debate. "We're seeing genuine divisions in the Republican party on fundamental issues. Pataki versus Santorum on Kim Davis, Graham versus Santorum on immigration. These are real divides and it's good to have them aired."
Pataki Says Kim Davis Should Have Been Fired
Pataki said he would have fired Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, for failing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Santorum rebutted with a freedom-of-conscience defense and called on the president to stand up to the Supreme Court, especially when the body goes against “God’s law.” Santorum likened Davis to a Columbine student who expressed her faith in the face of the attack—a story that may not be true.
In defending Davis's religious freedom, Santorum brought Martin Luther King into the discussion, saying the civil rights leader did not accept unjust laws.
Pataki didn't buy this reference. "I am a great admirer of Martin Luther King. And he was prepared to break the law. But it wasn't in an office of political power," Pataki said. "It was civil disobedience, where what he was willing to do is voluntarily go to jail with his followers to send a message to the elected representatives that these laws were wrong and had to be changed. And because of his courage, we didn't ignore the courts, we changed the laws and made America a better place. That's the way to do it."