Wall Street Journal
By Patrick O’Connor, Janet Hook, Beth Reinhard
January 15, 2016
A clash between businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that has played out on the campaign trail in the past week boiled over Thursday night in the sixth Republican presidential debate.
The two leading contenders for the GOP nomination engaged in a heated back-and-forth about Mr. Cruz’s eligibility to run for president, the depth of Mr. Trump’s conservatism and their relative standing in the polls heading into the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.
The long shadow of the Trump-Cruz rivalry was a measure of how much the GOP race has evolved since the first debate in August, when many Republicans viewed Mr. Trump as a short-lived sensation and Mr. Cruz as a longshot.
Now they are the front-runners in a presidential contest that has left party officials and establishment candidates flummoxed over how to respond to the populist anti-Washington anger they have mobilized. Messrs. Trump and Cruz are first and second nationally as the preferred pick of 33% and 20% of Republican primary voters, respectively, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Bitter rivalries among the seven Republicans on stage also were laid bare as each scrambles to shape voters’ opinions in the run-up to the Iowa balloting.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, third in the WSJ poll, reprised his increasingly personal feud with Mr. Cruz in the closing minutes of the debate over immigration and national security. Mr. Cruz ridiculed Mr. Rubio for supporting an immigration overhaul that created a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
Mr. Rubio responded by pointing out issues on which the Texas senator has switched positions, including crop insurance, ethanol subsidies, new trade rules for the president and surveillance laws. “That is not consistent conservatism, that is political calculation,” Mr. Rubio said.
The dispute between Messrs. Cruz and Trump shattered, once and for all, the fragile détente between the two political outsiders. In the night’s highest-profile exchange, Mr. Trump charged that his rival could drag the party into a legal fight with Democrats because he was born outside the U.S. “There’s a big overhang, there is a big question mark on your head,” Mr. Trump said. “You can’t do that to the party.”
A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Cruz said the law regarding his eligibility was clear, adding, “I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.” He noted that his rival saw no problem with his Canadian birth just a few months ago. “The constitution has not changed…. But the poll numbers have,” Mr. Cruz said. “I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa.”
In a later exchange, Mr. Cruz elaborated on his slight about Mr. Trump representing so-called “New York values” by raising doubts about his conservative convictions. “I think most people know exactly what New York values are,” Mr. Cruz said. “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal.”
Mr. Trump responded by citing the resilience of New Yorkers in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “When the World Trade Center came down I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely,” he said. “That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”
Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who briefly led the race last fall, continued his fade, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush largely sought to push their messages of electability and job creation.
Mr. Kasich highlighted his record as governor that has him in the mix in New Hampshire. “Our wages are growing faster than the national average. We’re running surpluses,” he said. “We can take that message and that formula to Washington to lift every single American to a better life.”
The audience at times appeared to grow impatient with Mr. Trump for attacking fellow Republicans. He received a round of boos for suggesting Mr. Bush was “weak.” “Come on, man,” Mr. Bush replied.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Mr. Rubio got into an edgy exchange over Mr. Rubio’s attempts to paint Mr. Christie as a liberal ill-suited to become the party’s presidential nominee.
Mr. Rubio criticized the New Jersey governor for gun-control measures, his past donations to Planned Parenthood and his support for the educations standards known as Common Core. “Our next president and our Republican nominee cannot be someone who supports those positions,” he said.
Mr. Christie hit back, recalling that in a previous debate Mr. Rubio had accused Mr. Bush of criticizing him only because someone had suggested it would be politically advantageous to him.
“It appears the same someone has been whispering in old Marco’s ear, too,” Mr. Christie said. He contrasted his experience as a governor with Mr. Rubio’s time in the Senate, where “you talk so much that nobody can ever keep up with whether what you’re saying is accurate or not.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush, the onetime front-runner, also reprised their fight over the former’s controversial proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. as an antiterror measure. Asked if the widespread criticism of the proposal had given him second thoughts, Mr. Trump said, “No. We have to stop with political correctness.”
Mr. Bush argued the policy would send an anti-Muslim message that would undermine U.S. efforts to build alliances with Arab countries. “Sending that signal makes it impossible for us to be serious about taking out ISIS and restoring democracy in Syria,” Mr. Bush said. “All Muslims? Seriously?”
Mr. Cruz also came under fire early when the moderators asked him to address his failure to report a six-figure loan from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to help finance his 2012 Senate bid. The Texas senator dismissed the question, first reported in the New York Times, as an overblown attack by a newspaper he considers biased. He cast the omission as a trivial oversight that he plans to correct.
“I made a paperwork error,” he said. If that is the worst that could be leveled at him, he said, “they better go back to the well.”
The dust-up took a lighthearted turn when Mr. Trump said he considered adding the Texas senator to his ticket in the fall. Asked why he was raising questions about Mr. Cruz’s eligibility now, Mr. Trump said bluntly, “Now, he’s doing a little bit better. He never had a chance. He’s got probably a 4 or 5% chance.”
Mr. Rubio interrupted the fireworks to criticize President Barack Obama. “I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV,” he said, to a round of applause. “We elected a president that doesn’t believe in the Constitution—he undermines it,” he said. “This election has to be about reversing all of that damage.”
The back-and-forth is a high-stakes gamble for both because they risk alienating the other’s supporters as the voting nears. Mr. Trump, in particular, has avoided direct confrontations with his top rivals in previous debate, often picking on lower-tier candidates instead.
During the sixth Republican primary debate the GOP presidential contenders discussed Donald Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. and shared their ideas about how to deal with refugees. Photo: Getty Images
The debate began with Democrats as the prime focus of the conversation. Mr. Cruz opened an attack on Mr. Obama for his foreign policy. Sidestepping a question on the economy, Mr. Cruz criticized the detention of U.S. sailors by the Iranian government, saying, “It was heartbreaking but the good news is the next commander-in-chief is standing on this stage.”
Mr. Christie derided the economic picture Mr. Obama presented in his State of the Union speech, calling it “story time with Barack Obama.”
“You cannot give Hillary Clinton a third term of Barack Obama’s leadership,” Mr. Christie said. Mr. Rubio also attacked Mrs. Clinton, calling her “disqualified” for the role. “Someone who cannot handle intelligence information appropriately cannot be commander in chief,” he said, referring to criticism of her handling of classified information over email as secretary of state.
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