After months of insults and criticizing the front-runner Donald Trump, his rivals decided to try another tactic to derail his status- nothing.
The 12th GOP debate hosted by CNN is a crucial debate where the stakes are all on the line with two major winner-take-all key contests in Florida and Ohio on Tuesday. For Florida Senator Marco Rubio, its do or die. After a disappointing performance during Super Tuesday 2, coming out with no delegates and with pressure to drop out, Rubio switched his tactics to attack Trump on issues over his character (or manhood). Texas Senator Ted Cruz did the same, using the debate to showcase a two-man show over four. Ohio Governor John Kasich kept with the same positive routine he has done in previous debates.
As for Trump, there were no insults, no name-calling, and no arguing. For the first time, the front-runner remained cool, calm and collective, showcase to the audience a presidential demeanor all while reminding everyone it is time to unite the party.
“So far, I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” Trump said, pointing out how none of his opponents were attacking him.
Throughout the 2-hour debate inside the University of Miami in Florida, all four candidates remained focused on a wide range of issues that include the economy, social security, trade deal, ISIS, the Middle East, and immigration. While the name-calling and shouting was put to the side, the candidates still criticized each other on positions to highlight their own views.
The debate opened up with the issue of trade deals with the first question going to Kasich to respond to recent criticism of the governor favoring trade deals over the American middle class. “My position has always been we want to have free trade, but fair trade,” Kasich responded. “When countries cheat and take advantage of us, we need to blow the whistle and begin to stand up for the American worker. If we leave the world, prices will go up, people will buy less, and other people will be out work.”
Rubio stated he supports free trade deals that are fair for competition against anyone in the world. “The problem is we are a low-tariff country,” Rubio said. “I’m in favor of deals that allow us to bring down those tariffs so that America can sell things to all these people around the world. If given access to foreign markets, our workers are the most productive in the world and our people are the most innovative on this planet.”
Cruz linked trade and immigration to argue how the Obama Administration is hurting this country by driving jobs overseas. “This Obama Administration is negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement, another treaty that will allow services to come in and take jobs from Americans,” Cruz said. “Trade and immigration are interwoven and they are hurting the working men and women of this country. We need to negotiate trade deals protecting American workers first not corporate board rooms, lift the regulations on American businesses here so we see jobs coming back, and a tax plan that will tax imports and will bring millions of high-paying jobs to America.”
On the issue of immigration, Trump defended his usage of H1B visas that allow legal immigrant to work for lower wages. “I know the H1B very well and it something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it,” Trump said. “It’s very bad for business in terms of bad for our workers and it’s unfair to our workers.” When asked how long would he pause green cards issued to foreign workers, Trump replied, “For a period of a year to two years.”
Rubio said he would be open for a pause on green card but added that outsourcing is the problem. “They are outsourcing the entire tech division to a consulting company,” Rubio said. “They are making the argument that we didn’t replace you. We just replaced the whole unit by hiring a company to do it instead and that company that they’re hiring is bringing their workers from abroad.”
Cruz gave his answer detailing an immigration plan due to a system he pointed out that is broken that allows millions of illegals coming here. “We need to redefine our legal immigration system so that it meets the needs of the American economy,” Cruz said. “Right now, we’re bringing in far too many low skilled workers that is driving down the wages of hard-working Americans. Our system isn’t working. And then on top of that, we’ve got a system that’s allowing in millions of people to be here illegally.”
He added, “I have laid out a very, very detailed immigration plan on my website. We’re going to build a wall, triple the border patrol. We’re going to end sanctuary cities. And we’re going to cut off federal taxpayer funds to any city that defies federal immigration laws.”
On the topic of Social Security, Rubio explained how he wants to raise the age for the future generation, but against changing it for current seniors. “I’m against any changes to Social Security that are bad for my mother,” Rubio said. “But anyone who tells you that Social Security can stay the way it is lying. Social Security will go bankrupt and it will bankrupt the country with it. So what it will require is people younger… I’m talking about people like myself and Ted who are 45 years old. We’re years away from retirement. For people that are on it now, we don’t have to change it at all. If we don’t do anything, we will have a debt crisis.”
Trump, meanwhile, stated he doesn’t want to touch Social Security, but to cut waste and fraud. “I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security,” Trump said. “You have 22 years, you have a long time to go, leave it the way it is; to make this country rich again; to bring back our jobs; to get rid of deficits; to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is rampant in this country.”
Rubio said the numbers don’t add up, by pointing out wiping out fraud isn’t enough to make up for the billions of dollars of deficit. “Fraud is not enough, it won’t add up,” Rubio said. “We can’t just continue to tip-toe around this and throw out things like I’m going to get at fraud and abuse. But you still have hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit that you’re going to have to make up.”
Cruz agreeing with Rubio stated he doesn’t want to touch Social Security for senior but the need for change for younger generation to have it in the future. “As president, what I will do for seniors, for anyone at or near retirement, there will be no changes,” Cruz said. “But for younger workers, we need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation.”
Noting that government is the problem, Cruz went on to add the problem is Washington and he would eliminate certain agencies that are killing jobs. “The less government, the more freedom. The fewer bureaucrats, the more prosperity,” Cruz said. “I’ve laid out a very, very specific spend and cut plan, $500 billion. I’ve specified five major agencies that I would eliminate, 25 programs… If we’re going to stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids, you’ve got to be willing to take on the lobbyists, which means not just some fanciful waste, fraud and abuse, but specifying these are the programs I’ll eliminate so that we can take care of the hard working taxpayer.”
Before the debate, Trump told CNN “Islam hates Americans” and was asked if he meant all 1.6 billion Muslims. “I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them,” Trump said. “I will stick with exactly what I said to Anderson Cooper.” Rubio criticized the front-runner assertion to point out his remarks have consequences. “I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says cause he says what people wish they could say,” Rubio said. The problem is, presidents can’t just say anything they want, and it has consequences.”
Trump rebuttal Rubio claim of consequences, saying he “doesn’t want to be so politically correct.” Rubio expanded on Trump’s statement, saying he is “not interested in being politically correct” only in being correct. “In order to be correct on this issue, we are going to have to work together with other Muslims,” Rubio said. “I think you can be correct without meaning to be politically correct. We are going to have to work with people of the Muslim faith, even as Islam itself faces a serious crisis within it of radicalization.”
Kasich was asked if he thinks Islam hate America. “No, I don’t,” Kasich, responded. “I think there is a sect of radical Islam that is really, really serious, and poses the greatest threat to us today. At the end of the day, we’ve got to bring the world together, the civilized world.”
Cruz criticized Trump in his most forceful attack of the night; saying Trump’s comments are controversial without substantive. “The answer is not simply to yell, “China bad, Muslims bad.” You’ve got to understand the nature of the threats we’re facing and how you deal with them,” Cruz said. “One concern I have with Donald is that although his language is quite incendiary, when you look at his substantive policies on Iran, he has said he would not rip up this Iranian nuclear deal. I think that’s a mistake.”
The criticism continued when the issue of Cuba was brought up, an important issue in Florida. Trump declared he is “somewhere in the middle” when agreeing with President Obama to reengage diplomatic ties with Cuba, but added he wants a better deal. “I don’t really agree with President Obama. I think I’m somewhere in the middle,” Trump responded. “I want a much better deal to be made because right now, Cuba is making… As an example, I heard recently where the threat was made that they want reparations for years of abuse by the United States, and nobody’s talking about it and they’ll end up signing a deal and then we’ll get sued for $400 billion or $1 trillion.” When asked to clarify if he would continue the diplomatic relations or reverse it, Trump said he would “probably have the embassy closed until such time as a really good deal was made and struck by the United States.”
Rubio launched to Trump response, “First of all, the embassy is the former consulate. It’s the same building. So it could just go back to being called a consulate. We don’t have to close it that way. Second of all, I don’t know where Cuba is going to use, but if they sue us in a court in Miami, they’re going to lose.” Rubio went on to explain what he thinks of a “good deal” for a relationship with Cuba. “Here’s a good deal – Cuba has free elections, Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out, Cuba has freedom of the press, Cuba takes all of those fugitives of American justice, including that cop killer from New Jersey, and send her back to the United States and to jail where she belongs,” Rubio said.
Cruz said he would reverse course to break diplomatic relations with Cuba as president while pointing out deals negotiated by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry is supported by Trump. “When it comes to foreign policy, do you want to continue on the same basic trajectory as the last seven years of the Obama foreign policy?” Cruz asked. “When it comes to these deals, Cuba and Iran, they were negotiated by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and Donald supported Hillary and Kerry. And what he said right now is that he agrees in principle with what they’re doing. The only thing he thinks is that they should negotiate a little bit better deals.”
When asked about a brokered convention, both Trump and Cruz agreed that their other two rivals should consider leaving the race based on their deficit in the delegate count. “There’s two of us up here that can and there are two of us that cannot at this moment,” Trump said. “I think that whoever gets the most delegates should win.” Cruz agreed with Trump answer, that only him and Trump have a path to win the nomination.
As for Rubio and Kasich, both who are facing a must-win in their home state on Tuesday, gave their final pitch of what could be their final debate. Shifting from the personal assault on the front-runner, an approach that led to a poor showing in the March Madness contests, Rubio acknowledged he regret acting like a bully and returned to his more subdued optimistic message that emphasized on policy. Trailing Trump in many polls in his home state of Florida, Rubio told the crowd he is “going to work tirelessly every single day” until Tuesday, but didn’t respond to how he could win the nomination without there being a contested convention.
Kasich, on the other hand, continued to run a positive campaign, refusing to stoop low to the attacks and insults. This approach has set him apart in previous debate, but still remain the underdog in the race. With Thursday’s debate shifting to a serious tone for all the candidates, Kasich performance didn’t set him apart from his rivals, but may have helped him secure a win his home state in Ohio. When asked about a brokered convention, Kasich said, “half the delegates” are still up for grabs and it all depends on what happens going forward.
“What’s going to be a very interesting thing to see how it all turns out as we move forward over the next couple of weeks,” Kasich said.