Republican presidential candidates battled Saturday night in the last television debate before New Hampshire’s primary election. Senator Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie, Governor John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson faced-off in one of the GOP’s most contentious primary debate so far this election cycle.
Before questions were even asked, the debate, which was hosted by ABC News, was mired in confusion after Dr. Ben Carson missed his cue to walk onstage. Moments after he finally took to his lectern, debate moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz apparently forgot to introduce Governor Kasich.
In one of the first questions of the night, Senator Cruz was questioned on his campaign’s decision to call voters immediately before the Iowa caucuses to tell them that Dr. Carson would be suspending his campaign. Invoking the memory of President Ronald Reagan, Dr. Carson refused to “savage the reputation of Senator Cruz,” but continued on to say that he was dismayed by the actions of Senator Cruz’s staffers, which he characterized as “Washington ethics.”
Governor Christie and Senator Rubio, both of whom are battling for the support of the GOP’s establishment, butted heads several times throughout the night, most notably in the first few minutes of the debate. Governor Christie scathingly criticized Senator Rubio’s support for the failed 2013 Senate immigration bill—commonly referred to as the “Gang of Eight” bill. During their first exchange, Senator Rubio repeated almost verbatim an attack on President Obama only to be rebuffed by Governor Christie, who accused him of being calculated and inexperience. Senator Rubio, who has enjoyed renewed favorability following a strong third place finish in Iowa, struggled to counter Governor Christie’s charges. This exchange may prove to be a low point in an otherwise successful week for the freshman senator’s campaign.
Former Governor Bush, who has managed to raise more money than any of his competitors, is still struggling to turn that money into support. He expressed increased confidence in Saturday’s debate, especially during a heated exchange with Donald Trump over the issue of eminent domain, which is the process by which the government seizes private property for public use. Former Governor Bush went into Saturday’s debate with the hopes that a strong performance could bolster his campaign ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
The next Republican debate—scheduled to air on CBS this upcoming Saturday—will likely feature less candidates as the GOP field continues to narrow, so the candidates are struggling to appeal to New Hampshire voters. Current polling suggests that Donald Trump will go into Tuesday with a lead over his competition. Before Saturday’s debate, Senator Rubio was polling second to Trump. Candidates like Governor Kasich, former Governor Bush, Dr. Carson, Governor Christie and Carly Fiorina, who did not qualify for Saturday’s debate, need to show strong in Tuesday’s primary or risk losing the momentum needed to continue into the South Carolina primary and Nevada caucuses.
Students who were able to catch the Saturday night debate enjoyed the discussion between the candidates. “Rubio had a rough night, so I think that may give other candidates a chance to close in on him in New Hampshire,” said senior Blake Brooks. “The debate moderators asked great question and kept the candidates on their feet,” said junior Samantha Baselice.