Thursday night’s GOP debate in Detroit, Michigan, saw rivals Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), former Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) unite to accuse their frontrunning rival Donald Trump of pandering to conservatives to get their votes at any expense.
Despite the tension, each candidate vowed to ultimately back the winner who ends up representing the Republican Party in the November presidential election.
Once the pledges were made, however, sparks flew in Motown as the billionaire’s competition and the moderator of the debate questioned him for his past inconsistencies — but Trump always kept his defenses up. When the leading candidate was asked about flip-flopping his stance — from welcoming refugees from the war-torn Middle East to arguing that America should reject them — he was quick to justify his wavering.
“I changed my tune,” Trump conceded, insisting that he saw things differently after learning new information on the matter, according to Fox News. “I have a very strong core. I have never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible.”
Rubio didn’t share Trump’s take, arguing that his 69-year-old rival’s “flexibility” is not a strength — but a weakness.
“There’s a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do [as he’s] trying to con people,” the former Florida senator alleged.
Trying a more subtle approach to call Trump’s credibility into question, Kasich took another jab.
“[Americans are tired of politicians telling them] what they want to hear [and just getting empty promises],”
Rubio joined the fray against Trump again with personal attacks on his integrity.
“He has spent a career convincing Americans he’s something that he’s not in exchange for their money," the 44-year-old contender argued, noting that with Trump’s business tactics, he is not presidential material.
But Trump took the challenge against his character personally in the wake of his seven Super Tuesday victories — all the other candidates combined won four — arguing that Rubio had no experience or know-how in the business world.
“This little guy has lied so much about my record,” the business mogul snapped back. “You haven’t employed in your life one person. I’ve employed tens of thousands of people.”
Both Cruz and Rubio proceeded to resurrect Trump’s former take on immigration by challenging him to release his thoughts on the matter that were recorded during his exchange with the editorial board of the New York Times. After conceding that his take on the issue is “softening” and “changing” concerning giving visas to highly skilled immigrants, he then noted the firmness of his stance on erecting wall between the United States and Mexico.
Not buying in to Trump’s explanation, Cruz said the whole situation is “troubling” at best — before accusing his rival of “lying” to the public about his true sentiments.
“You can resolve this issue very quickly by simply releasing the New York Times tape,” the senator from Texas posed.
Trump was quick to retaliate by returning the accusation.
“You’re the liar,” Trump darted back. “I’ve given my answer, Lyin’ Ted.”
The exchange between the two soon shifted, with Trump’s allegation that Cruz is Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ main supporter. Cruz denied the accusation and then repeatedly told Trump to “breathe” when he tried to interject.
Adding a bit of comic relief to the squabble, Rubio addressed Cruz and Trump’s back-and-forth.
“When they’re done with the yoga …” the third-place finisher on Super Tuesday chimed in. “Well, [Trump is] very flexible, so you never know.”
Raising the shield again …
As the debate deflected onto other topics, the legitimacy of the former Trump University was questioned, in lieu of the recent headlines indicating that one of its professors had little more credentials for the job than previous service at a fast-food chain — Rubios. Trump said he could settle the charges brought against him in what he referred to as a “minor civil case.”
Moving on, Cruz then brought up monetary donations Trump made to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 bid for the presidency in the form of four checks.
“Why did you write checks to Hillary Clinton to be president in 2008?” Cruz questioned his key rival. “It wasn’t for business.”
Trump was quick to try and justify his campaign donations.
“It was for business,” the billionaire retorted back. “We’re doing many, many deals outside of the United States.”
Trump followed up by pointing out that he also gave donations to Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid in the 1980s, along with campaign contributions to other Republican candidates. Bringing up Clinton again, Trump insisted that he is the “last person” she wants to face in November’s fight for the White House.
Attacks from outside and inside the ring
Before the debate in Detroit took off, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — who recently announced his support for Rubio — also took a shot at Trump, calling him a “phony” who would drive America deep into recession.
In an attempt to marginalize Romney’s attack, Trump tossed out an insult of his own.
“[Romney’s an] embarrassment [who’s just trying to get] back in the game,” Trump countered. “He was a failed candidate.”
Trump went on to dig up the former Massachusetts governor’s latest defeat to President Barack Obama in November 2012.
“He should have beaten President Obama very easily,” the current Republican frontrunner contended. “I guess he wants to be relevant.”
When Rubio addressed why he has been targeting Trump’s character of late, he generally gave the old saying “what goes around comes around.”
“Donald Trump has basically mocked everybody with personal attacks,” the Floridian explained before indicating that he was willing to hit the key debate topics again. “If there’s anyone who’s ever deserved to be attacked that way, it’s Donald Trump.”
For the first time on Thursday night, GOP presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was not present at a Republican debate, conceding that he saw little hope for a nomination — without officially throwing in the towel.
Even though the numbers are stacked against Rubio — who has won just one state (Minnesota) — and the winless Kasich, both Republican candidates are counting on presidential primaries in their home states of Florida and Ohio, respectively, on March 15 to bounce back into the race. Kasich assured voters that he will rebound soon and earn general election “crossover” votes.
Cruz emerged on Super Tuesday with wins in three states (Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska) to claim the number two spot behind Trump and his seven wins Tuesday in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.
As the current runner-up to Trump, Cruz has put the pressure on Rubio and Kasich to bow out of the race for the Oval Office, contending that he is the only candidate left who can beat Trump in the remaining primaries.