It took only minutes for the GOP candidates in the second-tier debate on Wednesday to go after two targets who weren’t even on stage: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal came out swinging at both, mocking the Democratic presidential frontrunner for losing ground to a “socialist.”
“You can’t make that up,” Jindal said before quickly shifting his attack to his own party’s frontrunner, saying Trump will “implode in a general election,” adding that if he “God forbid” won the general election, no one knows what he would do.
“He’s not going to be the nominee,” former New York Gov. George Pataki said, calling Trump “unfit” to be commander-in-chief.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said he didn’t “think it helps when Republicans attack fellow Republicans personally.”
The CNN Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., is largely seen as a make-or-break moment for all four candidates. Taking the stage at 6 p.m. ET, each hopes to gain some traction to stay in the race, at least for a little while longer.
The field has already diminished since former Texas Gov. Rick Perry suspended his campaign last week.
The candidates disagreed on immigration as well as the case of a Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis, jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Pataki and Graham said Davis should not have been allowed to deny same-sex marriage licenses. The other two candidates, Jindal and Santorum, disagreed, claiming Davis should have been allowed to follow her conscience as a Christian.
“If she’d worked for me, I would have fired her,” Pataki said. “There’s a place where religion supersedes the rules of law: It’s called Iran.”
Earlier in the debate, Graham asked Santorum about his call to clamp down on immigration.
“I like Rick. I don’t remember the Santorum Plan when I was in the Senate,” Graham said.
When Santorum responded that he in fact did file a bill laying out a plan, Graham shot back, “How many Democrats did you have on your bill? … I can tell you: none.”
The four low-tier candidates were also quick to invoke the name of Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, whose presidential library is the site of the debate.
“When I think of Ronald Reagan, I think of his tremendous smile. A smile that reflected his optimism, and his unending belief and faith in America and Americans,” Pataki said.
CNN is expecting ratings to skyrocket during the main debate on Wednesday; last month’s first GOP debate on Fox News drew a record 24 million viewers.
The cable news network hiked up prices roughly 4,000 percent above its normal rate for commercial time, charging as much as $200,000 for a 30-second spot, according to reports.
That’s the equivalent of buying commercials during broadcast primetime series.