2016 Republican Presidential Candidates Come Out Strong in First Debate

Republican presidential debate
Republican 2016 presidential candidates, from left, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

With 10 candidates, including the country's most bombastic real estate mogul, vying for attention, Thursday night's main Republican presidential debate offered plenty of memorable soundbites. Participants—who followed a 5 p.m. debate among seven second-tier candidates—include real estate mogul and television personality Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Other than the added name recognition of the primary candidate group—the Top 10 were chosen by their performance in a series of recent polls—the biggest difference between the two debates is venue. Both were held in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, but the second-tier debate took place without an audience, which can make all the difference in determing who wins and loses the night. The candidates in the main debate received one minute each for answers, and 30 seconds for follow-ups. 

10:56 p.m. Closing statements. Paul says he is "a different kind of Republican." Rubio says he will "make of this century a new American century." Cruz says his first day in office will be dominated by rescinding "every illegal unconstitutional action taken by Barack Obama" and prosecuting Planned Parenthood. Carson says he's "the only one [onstage] to separate Siamese twins" before adding that he's "fighting for the next generation." Huckabee says "America is in trouble, but it's not beyond repair." Walker says "it's not too late for America." Bush says we "can grow economically and restore America's leadership in the world." And last but not least, Trump, who promises to "make our country great again." 

10:55 p.m. The candidates are asked about racial issues. "The skin doesn't make them who they are, the hair doesn't make them who they are," Carson says of his work with patients as a surgeon. "Our strength as a nation comes from being the United States of America, not the divided States of America." 

10:50 p.m. Kelly asks the candidates whether any of them have gotten direct guidance from God on the campaign. "Nothing's more important to me than my faith, my family and my friends," Kasich says. "I think God has blessed us," Rubio adds. "He's blessed the Republican party with some very good candidates; the Democrats can't even find one." 

10:42 p.m. As the conversation turns to military culture and size, Huckabee is asked about how, as Commander in Chief, he would deal with transgender soldiers. "The military is not a social experiment," he responds. "The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things." On military prowess, Christie says the first thing we need to do to "make American stronger is to strengthen our military," going on to outline increases he would make to the number of soldiers on active duty and in the Navy and air force. His comments just after Paul comes down on foreign aid. "Out of your surplus you can help your allies," Paul says. "We cannot give away money we don't have. We do not project power from bankruptcy court."

10:36 p.m. The debate turns to foreign policy, and Trump declines to call Barack Obama incompetent "because that's not nice." "What's happening in Iran is a disgrace," Trump adds, "and it's going to lead to destruction." Cruz is asked whether Russia and China have committed acts of cyberwar and what he would do about it. "Over the last six years, we've seen the consequences of the Obama foreign policy," he replies. "Leading from behind is a disaster." 

10:29 p.m. The conversation turns to same-sex marriage, as Kelly asks candidates how they would respond to a son or daughter who was gay. "The court has ruled...and I will accept it," says Kasich of the Supreme Court's recent decision, adding that he recently went to a same-sex wedding. "If one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them," he says. Asked a similar question, Paul says "I don't want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington. When the government tries to invade the church...that's when it's time to resist."

10:27 p.m. Kelly asks Trump about his record on abortion, and when he became a Republican. "I've evolved on many issues over the years," Trump responds. "You know who else has? Ronald Reagan." He adds that he changed his stance on abortion after friends of his almost aborted a baby, who grew up to be "a superstar." 

10:23 p.m. Bush is asked about his donations to Planned Parenthood through the Bloomberg Foundation. "My record as a pro-life governor is not in dispute," he responds, saying he was not involved in a line-by-line approval of the Bloomberg Foundation's budget. The abortion conversation turns to Rubio, who says he has "advocated that we pass a law in this country that says all life" is worthy of protection, and adds that other countries will someday "call us barbarians" for murdering babies.

10:15 p.m. The earlier second-tier debate is mentioned for the first time, as candidates are asked about the Iran deal and Perry's quip that he'd rather Carly Fiorina go to Tehran than entrust Secretary of State John Kerry with negotiations. "Terminate the [Iran] deal on day one," Walker says of his approach on Iran. "Go to Congress and put more crippling sanctions in place, and then you convince our allies to do the same." Paul is a little more measured. "I don't immediately discount negotiations," he says. "If there's going to be a negotiation, you have to believe somehow that Iranians are going to comply." Paul adds that he never would have lifted sanctions unless there was evidence of Iran's compliance. 

10:14 p.m. Asked about measures he would take to improve the economy for small businesses, Rubio says he would repeal Dodd-Frank, a financial regulation bill. "It is eviscerating small businesses and small banks."

10:10 p.m. Trump is asked about his companies' past bankruptcies and past admissions that he's taken advantage of the laws of the country to right ailing ventures. "I have never gone bankrupt," Trump says, referring to himself personally. "Hundreds and hundreds of deals," he adds, "and four times I've taken advantage of the laws." He goes on to note that he made lots of money in Atlantic City, and got out before things really cratered. 

10:06 p.m. Christie and Huckabee face off on entitlement reform. "I'm the only guy on this stage who's put out a detailed 12-point plan on entitlement reform," Christie says, referencing a plan that includes raising the retirement age by two years over the next 25 years and reassessing Social Security. Huckabee says a fair tax on consumption would solve entitlement issues, noting that "nobody on this country is on Social Security because they made the decision when they started working at 14 that they wanted to trust the government with their money." Huckabee calls entitlement programs "lying to the people and stealing from them" and says he would get rid of the retirement program for Congress. "We can't fix the problem just by ending Congress's retirement," Christie counters. "This sytem is broken; we've been lied to." The exchange illustrates how dangerous the entitlement question is for Republicans, especially as an issue that has helped Democrats in the past. 

10:02 p.m. The economy—let's talk about it. Bush, when pressed him on how few jobs his brother and father created while in office, responds that his tactic would be to "change every aspect of regulations that are job killers. ...You get rid of Obamacare. You embrace the energy revolution in this country." Walker echoes those sentiments, adding that "people like Hillary Clinton think that you grow the economy by growing Washington."

9:59 p.m. It's mini-round time, in which smaller groupings of candidates are asked questions. Mini-Round No. 1 kicks off with Kasich, who is asked how he would take on likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. "She will come in a narrow way; the nominee of this party, if they're going to win, has got to come at it in a big way," he says. Carson is asked the same question. "She is the epitome of the secular progressive momenet," he responds. "She counts on ...taking advantage of useful idiots." 

9:52 p.m. Bush talks about education and Common Core, saying the creation of a curriculum and education content is "clearly a state responsibility." Rubio says "we do need curriculum reform, and it should happen at the state and local level." 

9:48 p.m. The candidates are asked about the size of federal government, and specifically what they'd do with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Education. (Rick Perry is, fortunately, not around to get intimidated by the mention of this particular trio.) Huckabee says certain powers need to be shifted back to the states—he adds that the IRS could be eliminated if the fair tax was passed—and Carson seconds the call for a new taxation system, citing the tithe system ("God's a pretty fair guy.")  

9:46 p.m. Trump is asked about Obamacare. "What I'd like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state," he says, adding that a single-payer system would might been appropriate in the past. Paul tells Trump he's in the wrong party; Trump responds, "I don't think you heard me. You're having a hard time tonight." 

9:44 p.m. Carson is asked about waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques. "What we do in order to get the information we need is our business," he says. "We've gotten into this mindset of fighting politically correct wars. There is no such thing as a politically correct war." (A minute later, Trump uses a separate response time to note that he is the only candidate on the stage who has opposed the Iraq War since 2004.) 

9:42 p.m. Bush is asked about Iraq, an issue on which he has been called out for differing answers in the past. "Knowing what we know now...[the war in Iraq] was a mistake," he says, but adds that no soldiers died in vain. This won't be the last time Iraq comes up—who "lost" that war is going to be a big issue in 2016. The GOP line that Iraq was peaceful until Obama blew it there is one the Democrats have yet to really push back against.

9:40 p.m. Cruz is asked what he would do to destroy ISIS in 90 days. "We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorists so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words 'radical Islamic terrorist,' he says. "What we need is a Commander in Chief who makes clear: If you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant." 

9:36 p.m. Christie is asked about wiretapping. "I've prosecuted and jailed terrorists after 9/11," he responds, reaffirming his support of electronic surveillance. "We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to protect national security." His statement draws the ire of Paul, who says, "I want to collect more records on terrorists but less records from American citizens." Christie calls Paul's stance "ridiculous." "You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights," Paul replies. 

9:33 p.m. Cruz is asked about Kate's Law, which would require undocumented immigrants who are deported and return to the U.S. to serve a five-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. Cruz, who supports the law, says, "A majority of candidates on this stage have supported amnesty; I have never supported amnesty." 

9:30 p.m. After a short commercial break, Kasich is asked about Trump's suggestion that the U.S. is being duped by a savvy Mexican government. "Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country. ...For people who just wanna tune him out, they're making a mistake," Kasich responds diplomatically. "He's got his solutions; some of us have other solutions." Rubio takes issue with Trump's assertion that Mexico is the biggest culprit when it comes to illegal immigration, but seconds the call for a border wall. "The problem is, if El Chapo builds a tunnel under the fence you have to deal with that, too," he says. On the same question, Walker outlines his border-control plan: "Secure the border. Enforce the law. No amnesty. And go forward with a legal immigration system that gives priority to American working families."

9:23 p.m. The debate turns to immigration, a topic about which many of the candidates have been vocal. "I believe that the great majority of people coming here illegally had no other option," Bush says. "But we need to protect our border. There should be a path to legal status for those who are here. Not amnesty." Bush has been the voice in the race for what's called comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, Trump's success shows how limited the audience is for that moderate view in the party. When asked to share proof for past assertions that the Mexican government is intentionally sending people to the U.S. illegally, Trump doubles down on his call for a border wall, adding that the wall could have a "big beautiful door" for people to come to the country legally. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration," he tells moderator Chris Wallace. 

9:21 p.m. Kasich talks Medicaid, reminding the audience that Ronald Reagan expanded Medicaid at least three times. "Ten thousand [mentally ill people] sit in our prisons" Kasich says. "Everybody across this country knows that the tsunami of drugs is threatening their very families." Kasich's accepting Obamacare Medicaid money puts him at odds with Walker, Christie and most Republicans. Likewise, it's one of the things that makes Kasich potentially formidable in a general election.

9:19 p.m. In his first question of the night, Paul argues against arming U.S. allies in the Middle East. "ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of American humvees," he says. "The only way we stop them is by not funding them and not arming them. We didn't create ISIS; ISIS created themselves." 

9:16 p.m. Walker and Huckabee are asked about their respective positions on social issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage. "I defunded Planned Parenthood more than four years ago, long before these videos came out," Walker says, going on to call out Hillary Clinton's "radical" support of the organization. "I think the next president ought to invoke the 5th and 14th amendments of the Constitution, now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother's womb is a real person within five weeks of inception," Huckabee says. Both candidates tout their records defunding Planned Parenthood. 

9:15 p.m. Christie is asked about his record with respect to New Jersey's economy, which has seen numerous crises in recent years. "If you think it's bad now, you should have seen it when I got there," Christie responds. "In the eight years before I became governor, taxes and fees were raised eight times, spending increased 56 percent and there was zero net private-sector job growth in the state of New Jersey." Christie goes on to say he's "darn proud" of how far his state has come. His answer underscores a reality for many governors: If you're elected in the economic hell of 2009, you're going to have a better situation in 2015. Whether that's because of what you did—or because of national trends—is hard to parse. 

Donald trump Republican 2016 presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, take their places at their podiums. Brian Snyder/Reuters

9:11 p.m. Kelly calls Trump out on his treatment of women, both in person and on his Twitter account, saying he often insults women's looks and has in the past called them cows and fat pigs. "Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump quips. "The biggest problem this country has is being politically correct....I don't frankly have time for political correctness," Trump says. "This country is in big trouble. We don't win anymore. We lose to China, we lose to Mexico. What I say is what I say." 

9:08 p.m. "If this election is going to be a résumé competition, then Hillary Clinton is definitely going to be president," Rubio says when asked why he's better qualified for the nomination than Bush. "If I'm our nominee, we will be the party of the future," he adds. In response, Bush says he's been responsible for so many vetos that he earned the nickname "Veto Corleone." 

9:07 p.m. Megyn Kelly starts by asking Carson about his level of experience, citing previous gaffes he's made an topics like NATO. "The thing that is probably most important is having a brain," Carson counters. 

9:05 p.m. The night starts with moderators asking whether there's a possibility that any candidate on the stage will not back the eventual winner of the GOP nomination. Only Donald Trump raises his hand. "I fully understand," he says when asked for confirmation. "Maybe he supports Clinton and maybe he runs as independent," Rand Paul responds. "He's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians."

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Ohio Gov. John Kasich as the former governor.