GOP frontrunner Donald Trump may not have been present during the first of two debates in Cleveland on Thursday, but his rival Republican presidential hopefuls wasted no time going for his jugular.
Asked about “the elephant that isn’t in the room” by Fox moderator Martha MacCallum, former Texas Governor Rick Perry insisted that he had more experience than Trump and had actually run a government while the real estate mogul is just a talker without a plan.
“We need a president that doesn’t just talk a good game,” Perry said.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina conceded that Trump has connected with voters who are frustrated with the Washington gridlock, but then quickly went on the attack.
“I didn’t get a call from Bill Clinton before the campaign,” Fiorina said, referring to a reported phone call in which the former president encouraged Trump to consider his presidential bid.
“Have any of you gotten a phone call?” she asked the rest of the panel. Fiorina also touched on Trump’s history of policy changes. “Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, ‘What are the principles on which he will govern?'”
Perry and Fiorina were joined by former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Santorum also joined in on the Trump frenzy, taking a hard line on the business mogul’s No. 1 topic: illegal immigration. Santorum said he didn’t mind breaking up immigrant families, if some of their members had come to the U.S. illegally, saying his own father had to wait in Italy while his grandfather worked in the U.S.
“I said, ‘Didn’t you resent America for not letting you be with their father?'” Santorum said. “You know what he said to me? ‘America is worth the wait.'”
The 5 p.m. face-off was dubbed the “happy hour” debate since it precedes the primetime debate among the top 10 polling Republican presidential candidates.