We're just one week away from the South Carolina primary and tonight the remaining six presidential candidates took the debate stage in Greenville to make a final push. Debate moderator John Dickerson opened the night with a moment of silence dedicated to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier today after serving for three decades on the high court.
The debate, hosted by CBS News, was certainly the most entertaining of the cycle with candidates repeatedly going after each other with an audience that loudly booed throughout the night.
For the first time ever, a #GOPDebate audience booed more than they cheered.— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) February 14, 2016
This isn't just insane, this is suicidal. This is pathetic.
Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio - While there was no clear winner for tonight's debate, the high-stakes cage match can be called a tie between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who had a lengthy sparring match over illegal immigration. One of the most memorable moments of the night between the candidates came when Cruz accused Rubio of going on Univision and promising amnesty to a Spanish speaking audience. Rubio responded by saying, "I don't know how Cruz knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish." To which Cruz responded, in Spanish, "We can do this in Spanish, if you want." Cruz was also able to land a punch on Rubio when he called the Gang of 8 legislation Cruz calls the Gang of 8 the "Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan."
The audience is a hockey match, the stage is a boxing match with gloves off #GOPDebate— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) February 14, 2016
After stumbling badly in New Hampshire and being pummeled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the last debate (who has since dropped out of the race), Rubio needed a solid performance tonight and he delivered. Cruz did well to keep his composure after a number of solid rounds with Donald Trump, the moderator and even the audience while taking incoming accusations of being a "liar" from all directions.
Cruz's weakest moment of the night came when he was pushed by Trump on his support for Chief Justice John Roberts during his nomination process in 2005. Cruz said on the stage he would not have appointed him, but was in fact a strong advocate for Roberts 10 years ago and wrote he should be a "quick confirm."
Governor Jeb Bush - South Carolina is friendly to the Bush family with a network of strong support. Bush had a good showing tonight, but not enough to get him ahead of Cruz or Rubio on election day. It was clear from the beginning the debate live audience was favorable to him, which was helpful, especially when he defended his brother George W. Bush and answered questions on the topic of foreign policy. Bush also got a boost from Rubio who said during the debate, "I thank God it was George W Bush in the White House on 9/11, not Al Gore." It should also be noted this was one of the most applauded lines of the night.
Governor John Kasich - John Kasich was the adult in the room tonight and even called the discourse on the stage "crazy" at one point. However, his downfall came when he openly defending his expansion of Medicaid in Ohio under Obamacare, which has been a long held criticism of the Governor by conservatives.
Donald Trump - Coming off his New Hampshire primary win, businessman Donald Trump couldn't stand the heat on the South Carolina stage. He came off as unhinged, angry and liberal. There were three major moments from him that stood out.
1) Trump called President George W. Bush a liar and claimed he knew there weren't weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before invading in 2003. This is an unfair, untrue liberal attack line that has been used against President Bush and Republicans for years. Not only did President Bush have the support of his cabinet and intelligence from the CIA when he made the decision in invade Iraq two years after 9/11, he had the support of the UN and dozens of coalition countries before going into the country. Trump also accused Bush of not keeping the country safe before 9/11 and essentially blamed the former President for the worst terror attack in American history.
2) Trump said Planned Parenthood does "many wonderful things for women's health" while trying at the same time to dismiss abortion. Keep in mind Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards makes this same argument in order to keep $500 million in taxpayer funding each year. The abortion giant repeatedly claims it only uses taxpayer money for women's health, not for abortion, ignoring the fact that money is fungible. Trump made that argument for Planned Parenthood tonight from the Republican, pro-life debate stage. There's also this:
Planned Parenthood covers up for sex traffickers. Donald Trump says they do wonderful things.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) February 14, 2016
3) Trump said if elected he will work with Congress to impose a tax on companies who manufacture products in Mexico and China and then import them into the United States for sale. Will he then impose a mandatory tax on his Trump brand? Or will he ask for a special exception? After all, his company ties and suits are made in Mexico and China.
Dr. Ben Carson - Last week Dr. Ben Carson's campaign significantly downsized it's staff, indicating an end to his 2016 presidential run will be coming soon. Tonight reinforced that prospect. Not only did Carson struggle, again, on the issue of foreign policy, he failed to properly combat the issue of medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which is supposed to be his strong suit.
The next Republican presidential debate is Thursday, February 24 on CNN and will be co-sponsored by Salem Communications in Houston.