The knives were out as Republican presidential hopefuls squared off in their final debate ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary and the first since the Iowa caucuses.
The candidates were at each other’s throats, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accusing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio of delivering canned responses, Rubio proving him right as he delivered canned responses, and Donald Trump being on the receiving end of a whole lot of booing.
After skipping the last Fox News debate over his ongoing dispute with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Trump tried to regain his frontrunner status, as he was joined by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Christie and Rubio. Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore, who remain in the race, did not qualify under the rules set by debate organizers.
The debate, held at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College, was hosted by ABC News in conjunction with its New Hampshire affiliate WMUR and the Independent Journal Review. The event was moderated by ABC’s David Muir and Martha Raddatz, with WMUR’s Josh McElveen and conservative writer Mary Kathrine Ham contributing questions.
Here were the 9 breakout moments
1. Debate introduction is a hot mess
The debate got off to a rocky start. As the candidates were introduced, Christie stormed the stage. Second announced was Carson, who instead of taking his place at the podium, lingered awkwardly just off stage. Carson stayed there for what seemed like an eternity without moving. A producer tried to tell him to get on stage but for some reason he wouldn’t move.
Adding insult to injury, the moderators then forgot to introduce Kasich. It wasn’t until Christie reminded them that they brought out the Ohio governor.
Watch the awkward moment here:
2. Cruz apologizes to Carson for Iowa “mistake”
Early on, Carson was asked about the Cruz campaign’s shenanigans just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, falsely telling voters that Carson was planning to withdraw from the race. “I’m not going to savage the reputation of Ted Cruz… I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me,” he said. “To think that I would just walk away 10 minutes before the caucus and just say, ‘Forget about you guys.’ Who would do something like that?”
He called it “a good example of Washington ethics.”
Cruz said it was an honest mistake by his campaign, and apologized — and then blamed the media. “When this transpired, I apologized to him then, and I do so now. Ben, I’m sorry,” Cruz says.”My political team saw CNN’s report, breaking news, and they forwarded this report to volunteers… I knew nothing about this.”
3. Rubio and Christie draw blood
Marco Rubio and Chris Christie got into it over the first-term senator’s level of experience. Christie slammed Rubio for delivering what he called “a memorized 25-second speech” every time he’s asked a question.
Asked about his recent endorsement by former candidate Rick Santorum, where the former Pennsylvania senator was unable to name any of Rubio’s accomplishments, Rubio said he was “proud of my service in the Senate and in the Florida state legislature before that.”
Christie went on the attack again, saying, “When you’re president of the United States, when you’re governor of a state, the memorized 25-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person.”
The two then sparred about Christie’s decision to return to New Jersey during a major snowstorm earlier this week, with Rubio delivering a final blow: “You didn’t even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back.”
Boos could be heard throughout the hall.
4. Rubio stuck on repeat
Rubio may have proven Christie right, repeating what appeared to be the same rehearsed line over and over again in the course of a few minutes.
It didn’t take long before someone posted it on YouTube:
5. Christie slams Rubio over immigration
After Rubio was asked about his role in the “Gang of 8” immigration bill, providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Rubio gave his default answer: His legislation didn’t work.
“He didn’t answer the question,” Christie shot back, to thunderous applause. “The question was, Did he fight for his legislation? It’s abundantly clear that he didn’t,” Christie said. “The fact of the matter is, a leader has to fight, not to handicap it and say if I can’t handle it, I’ll run.”
Christie then delivered one of his zingers: “That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.”
6. Trump gets booed… a lot
Asked about eminent domain, the seizure of private property for the public good, Trump called the practice an “absolute necessity” and added, “When eminent domain is used on somebody’s property, that person gets a fortune… without eminent domain, you don’t have roads, highways, schools, hospitals — none of it.”
But Bush interjected, noting that there’s a difference between eminent domain for public usage and private profit, and noted Trump’s efforts to use eminent domain in New Jersey. “What Donald Trump did was try to take the property of an elderly woman in Atlantic City to turn it into a limousine parking lot for his casino,” he said, referring to Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to take over private property to build a parking lot for his Plaza Hotel in the early ’90s.
The crowd was clearly on Bush’s side.
“Jeb wants to be a tough guy. He wants to be a tough guy. I didn’t take the property,” Trump said, in his defense. “He wants to be a tough guy. Let me talk. Quiet.”
The crowd booed loudly. This is not a good moment for Trump, who went on to complain that he didn’t get tickets to the debate. “We needed tickets. You can’t get them,” he said. You know who has the tickets? Donors, special interests.”
More boos. A lot of them.
7. Trump would bring back advanced interrogation that’s “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”
After asked whether waterboarding constitutes torture, Cruz says it is not, calling it “enhanced interrogation” instead. But Cruz insisted he would not bring it back “in any sort of widespread use.”
Trump disagreed. “In the Middle East, we have people chopping the head off Christians… we have never seen before what’s happening right now. … I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
That got a cheer from at least one person in the crowd, who yelled, “Yeah!”
8. Kasich: It’s gonna be a bumpy ride
After talking about what he would do in his first 100 days in office, Kasich delivered one of the better lines of the night (in what was generally a strong performance for him, once he actually got on stage).
“If I get elected tomorrow, go out tomorrow and buy a seatbelt, because there’s going to be so much happening, it’ll make your head spin!”
The line got loud cheers from the audience.
9. Trump sneaks in one last shot at Cruz
After Cruz gave his closing comments — noting that Iowans “put country above cronyism” when they awarded him the win during its caucuses on Monday instead of presumed frontrunner Trump — it was the real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star’s turn. And he used it for one final dig at Cruz.
“That’s because he got Ben Carson’s votes, by the way, but we won’t say that.”