Taking place only hours after news had broken of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, it was not surprising that the matter of his replacement began the most recent GOP debate in South Carolina. Given that the Republican Debate began with this matter, it was also not surprising that the candidates actually managed a few moments of agreement with one another, since virtually all of them, on the heels of controversial comments made by Mitch McConnell, maintained that Obama should abstain from replacing Scalia for the remainder of his presidential term. Of course, the fact that Scalia should be replaced with a conservative justice was perhaps the only point at which the candidates did not come to blows with one another.
Indeed, the latest GOP Debate in South Carolina was one of the most dramatic and impassioned so far. As usual, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump became engaged in more than a few heated exchanges, with perhaps the most surprising occurring when Trump decided to go after Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush. What began as Trump’s fairly predictable criticism of George Bush’s role in the Iraq War swiftly became an elaborate exchange of fire between Bush and Trump. The argument reached an unpleasant peak when Trump remarked, “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that.”
This and other similar comments made by Trump regarding George W. Bush elicited significant booing from the audience, and just before that particular exchange ended, Marco Rubio responded by remarking, “I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore.”
Interestingly, Marco Rubio became embroiled in a heated disagreement of his own with Ted Cruz, due to differences on immigration reform. Specifically, their disagreement had to do with which of the two was more opposed to granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, with Cruz maintaining, “the lines are very, very clear. Marco right now supports citizenship for 12 million people here illegally. I oppose citizenship.”
Rubio sponsored an immigration overhaul measure in 2013 that aimed to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and although Cruz purportedly opposed the measure, Rubio maintained that Cruz had formerly been an advocate of some measures of legalization, and that “he either wasn’t telling the truth then or he isn’t telling the truth now.”
Eliciting a mix of applause and booing, Cruz also noted, “Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office. I have promised to rescind every single illegal executive action, including that one.”
Humorously, Rubio responded to this by stating, “First of all, I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn’t speak Spanish,” to which Cruz immediately responded by angrily speaking to him in Spanish.
Of course, Cruz also clearly had a few scores to settle with Donald Trump. The formerly friendly candidates exploded into conflict when Cruz suggested that Trump had supported government funding for Planned Parenthood, and that “[f]or most of his life his policies have been very, very liberal.”
Trump responded to these suggestions by referring to Cruz as “the single biggest liar,” and by criticizing Cruz for purportedly gaining voters in the Iowa caucuses, at the expense of Ben Carson, through dirty political moves on the part of his staffers. “This
guy lied about Ben Carson when he took votes away from [him] in Iowa and he just continues,” Trump said.
The February 13th GOP debate clearly proved to be one of the most vocal and impassioned thus far, and it seems likely that the debates may become even more heated as the gap closes between now and the end of the 2016 election process.
-Austin Wash ’16, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor