On the eve of the tenth GOP debate, the last one before Super Tuesday, four out of five GOP hopefuls took part in a special forum in Houston hosted by FOX News. The Wednesday night special hosted by Megyn Kelly featured Senator Ted Cruz, Governor John Kasich, Senator Marco Rubio and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Donald Trump didn’t take part in the two-hour special, citing conflicting campaign event, but promised to appear in next weeks FOX News GOP debate held in Detroit, Michigan.
Coming out of the Nevada caucuses with Trump obtaining his third consecutive victory, all four candidates made the case as to why they should be the last man standing against the front runner path to the GOP nomination.
The first hopeful to take the stage was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was asked off the bat if “is history our guide here or isn’t,” where no candidate who has won New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries has ever lost the Republican nomination.
“There has never been a candidate like Donald Trump,” Cruz said to laughter from the audience. “And so I think some of the rules historically go out the window. But fairly speaking, there are three major candidates in this field- Donald, Marco and me.”
Cruz added that Trump has momentum but his campaign can beat the front-runner according to results in winning the Iowa caucuses. “But what I think those results show is that the only campaign that can beat Donald and the only campaign that has beaten Donald is my campaign,” Cruz stated. “If you look nationally, 65% or 70% of Republicans don’t think Donald is the right nominee for us to nominate against Hillary Clinton.”
When pressed on why he lost handily the evangelicals and libertarian votes in South Carolina and Nevada to Trump, Cruz said people are “ticked off” and “furious with Washington and his support are a manifestation of their anger. He also added that Trump can’t beat Hillary, while bashing his nomination as one not to trust. “The question right now is how do we prevent nominating a candidate who loses the general for that matter, if Donald wins the nomination, who the heck knows what he would do as president, Cruz said. “We need a president that we can trust.”
On whether he will change “tactics” to stop focusing his attacks on Rubio and to go after the right guy, Cruz said his focus is on the American people. “The right guy to be focused on are the American people,” Cruz said before Kelly stated, “he has been doing that.” “That is my focus, talking about how we fix this problem, talking about repealing Obamacare, adopting a similar flat tax and abolishing the IRS.”
When asked about women in combat by a woman veteran who wanted to know why he “thinks young woman are less capable or owe less of a debt to this country than our young men.” Cruz responded that when it comes to the military, “we shouldn’t be governed by political correctness.”
He pointed to how Rubio flip-flopped on the issue of women being drafted into combat. “We had a debate a couple of weeks ago where three of the candidates, including Marco came out in favor of drafting women,” Cruz said. “The next week, Marco joined Mike Lee and me in legislation of women prohibited from being forced into the draft. So he backs away from that position right after taking it.”
Kelly followed up asking Cruz why “doesn’t make sense” to draft women in combat. “It risks putting women in an unsafe situation,” Cruz said. “If you are dealing with a 200 pound jihadist, the idea that we would be forcibly take our daughters and put them in the position of close combat doesn’t make sense. The job of our war fighters is to defeat the enemy not to be a cauldron for social experiments or political correctness.”
In his home state of Texas, a grand jury brought charges against David Daleiden, the person behind the Planned Parenthood undercover videos that showed the clinic was selling body parts. Cruz said if elected he would pardon Daleiden if he faced federal charges. “I was deeply dismayed and disappointed to see the Harrison county district attorney bringing criminal charges against someone who went undercover to expose vast criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood,” Cruz said. “I think [Daleiden] performed an incredible public service and as president on the very first day, I intend to instruct the DOJ to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood and to prosecute any criminal conduct by that organization.”
Joining after Cruz from satellite was Governor John Kasich, who was asked to explain his remarks of “being president may not be my purpose,” he made on the campaign trail the night before. “My purpose is to be president,” Kasich responded. “And those who are wondering about Donald Trump, if I go head to head with him in Ohio, I beat him by 18 points. I intend to go all the way, I intend to be the nominee, and I intend to beat Hillary Clinton by more than 11 points.”
Kelly pressed on to question Kasich’s candidacy asking if he “stealing votes from candidates” that have a better chance of beating Trump. “I’m not sure who those people are but people counted me out, they said, you know, he will never get to New Hampshire and we went to New Hampshire and we finished second,” Kasich said. “The people that are calling for me to get out are people inside the beltway.”
A former Rand Paul supporter asked the Ohio Governor why libertarians should vote for him, Kasich responded with his beliefs in “smaller government, balancing the federal budget, and transferring money, power and influence out of Washington to the state.”
On the issue of privacy, an issue Rand Paul focused his campaign on, Kasich stated he believes in a balance between government and citizens. “I’m pleased that now we have inserted a judge in terms of the ability of the government to collect data,” he said. “In the battle between Apple and the government, the president should get them together as a leader and say the government needs some information in regards to this one particular situation… but it is critical that business work with our folks in the intelligence community to get the information they need when it relates to terrorism.”
Following Kasich was Senator Marco Rubio, who also joined via satellite. Kelly wasted no time in pointing out that Rubio has yet “won a single race” while asking what he is planning to “change to get a different result” against Trump.
“I’ll admit that he is the front runner and that I’m certainly an underdog,” Rubio responded. “But I have been an underdog my entire life. We are not going to let the conservative movement be defined by a nominee who isn’t a conservative. And we certainly need to elect someone who is prepared to be president in a thoughtful and serious and important way given the threats this country faces.”
When questioned about how would he solve the issue of prison reform, Rubio said the issue is misunderstood with his answer clarifying his support for mandatory minimum. “The growth in incarceration has been largely about mandatory minimums for violent offenders,” Rubio responded. “I believe in minimum mandatory sentences for people that are violent and dangerous criminals and drug deals, I support mandatory minimum sentences because it has reduced crime rates over the past twenty years.”
Rubio continued to add when it comes to low-level offenders, he believes putting one in the system leads to criminalization. “I am open to saying let’s divert people out of the system if they are first-time offenders and they are not a danger to society.”
On Trump’s rhetoric of this campaign season, particularly in calling for a ban of Muslims from entering this country, Rubio was asked if this has increased in Islamophobia. “No one should be discriminated in America against their religion or faith,” Rubio responded. “Bottom line is there are millions of patriotic Muslim Americans. Our issue is not with patriotic Muslim Americans, it is with radical Islam.”
Kelly would follow up to ask Rubio to clarify what does he think of the rhetoric used by Trump. “When you are President of the United States, you have an enormous megaphone where you get to set the agenda and tone of the country,” Rubio said. “We already have a President that is incredibly divisive. We should not pitting and dividing Americans against each other.”
The final question was about the recent closure of the Guantanamo Bay facility and as President would he do the same thing. “Gitmo is not just a prison for radical terrorists, it’s an important naval facility and we are keeping it,” Rubio responded to loud cheers and applause from the audience. “When I am president, we are going to put terrorists there not take them out. They are enemy combatants in a war against America.”
The last candidate on stage was former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who appeared in person to take the stage. Pressed to defend the legitimacy of his campaign, Carson insisted he is staying in the race. “Everybody wants to call the game after the first inning,” Carson said. “We have got a long way to go yet.”
Kelly mentioned a recent National Review article that urges Carson to admit defeat and leave the race, Carson stated the pundits “think they are in control,” and he staying in the race “because we are in the process of losing our country” and no one will do anything about it.
On his recent remarks of President Obama being “raised white,” Carson said “that’s hogwash” in regards to the criticism of the remarks. “I said that his experience in growing up is vastly different from most African Americans and I don’t know who could really argue with that,” Carson said explaining his remarks. “ [Obama] was raised by his white grandparents in Hawaii, in a very affluent area and in his formidable years was spent in Indonesia with his white mother.”
“For anyone to tell me that’s a typical black experience,” Carson continued to add that led to the audience bursting out in laughter. “It’s basically the media doing what they always do, take a simple statement…and go on and on with their ridiculous analysis is only for one purpose – to ridicule me and drive wedges.”
When asked how Republicans can appeal to the youth voters, Carson said “there should be room for them” and that is one of the reasons why he joined this race is concern for the youth welfare. “We look at how the fiscal policy is affecting the young, we are talking about $19 trillion,” Carson said. “That is what young people need to understand and when people like Bernie Sanders come along and say free college for everyone, we need to understand what is he talking about. This is just going to accelerate our fall off the cliff and young people need to recognize… looking at people who are gonna be looking for ways to ameliorate that financial deterioration.”
On Republicans appealing to win over the black votes, Carson stated he “doesn’t change his message” to different groups. “Our policies that our government has been extremely detrimental to the African-American community in terms of destroying families,” Carson said to applause. “Our faith and our families are the two strong pillars that got us through slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and racism. As those pillars are broken down, it becomes problematic.”
Carson went on to mention how “73% of African-American babies are born out of wedlock” where they are 4 times as likely to grow up in poverty and Republicans should be creating support to “break the cycle of poverty.”