GOP Debate Focuses on Policy, Not Insults

By Anika Smith Published on March 11, 2016

Thursday night’s GOP debate in Miami, Fla., put the tight race ahead for Marco Rubio against Donald Trump into focus, as the candidates delivered substantive policy messages on issues ranging from international trade and Social Security reform to America’s relationship with Israel to the question whether or not we have Muslim friends in other countries.

Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz called the party to unite, each claiming to be The One Who Can Beat Hillary.

“Millions and millions of people are going out to the polls and they’re voting,” Trump said. “They’re voting out of enthusiasm. They’re voting out of love. We’re taking people from the Democrat Party. We’re taking people as independents, and they’re all coming out and the whole world is talking about it. It’s very exciting. I think, frankly, the Republican establishment, or whatever you want to call it, should embrace what’s happening.”

Cruz made his pitch explicitly to the anti-Trump voters and touted his recent endorsement from former GOP candidate Carly Fiorina.

“If you’re one of the 65, 70 percent of Republicans who recognizes that if we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins — that’s why the media wants him to be the nominee so much — if you recognize that, then I want to invite you if you’ve supported other candidates, come and join us,” Cruz urged. “We are seeing candidates coming together and uniting. It’s why Carly Fiorina endorsed me yesterday.”

Rubio and Cruz Defend Free Trade Against Trump

When international trade first came up, Cruz sounded a Trump-ish note, saying “We’re getting killed in international trade right now. And we’re getting killed because we have an administration that’s doesn’t look out for American workers and jobs are going overseas. We’re driving jobs overseas.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump why voters should trust him on trade deals, since as a businessman he has brought in foreign workers instead of hiring Americans. Trump responded by saying, “I will take advantage of it; they’re the laws. But I’m the one that knows how to change it.”

Rubio offered a robust defense of free trade. “We’re 5 percent of the world’s population. If all we do is sell things to each other, we can only sell to 5 percent of the people on earth. We have to have access to the hundreds of millions of people in the world today who can afford to buy things.”

“The problem is we’re a low-tariff country,” Rubio explained. To import something into the United States is not very expensive, but many of these countries we can’t export to because their tariffs are too high. And so I am in favor of deals that allow us to bring down those tariffs so that America can sell things to all these people around the world.”

Trade came up again when Tapper asked Trump what he’d change about the Republican party. “I am different in one primary respect, and that’s trade. … And I think that’s why there has been such an outpouring of love to what I’m saying.”

Cruz jumped in with a firm response, saying Trump is “right about the problems, but his solutions don’t work.”

“So, for example, his solution on international trade, he proposed earlier a 45 percent tariff on foreign goods,” Cruz continued. “And the effect of a 45 percent tariff would be when you go to the store, when you go to Walmart, when you are shopping for your kids, the prices you pay go up 45 percent. But not only that, when you put those in place, because a tariff is a tax on you, the American people, but the response of that is that the countries we trade with put in their own tariffs.”

“It’s why we’ve got to get beyond rhetoric of ‘China: bad,’ and actually get to how do you solve the problem. Because this solution would hurt jobs and hurt hard-working taxpayers in America,” Cruz concluded.

Of Muslims and Missionaries

The other candidates didn’t go after Trump, so Jake Tapper tried again, pressing Trump on his comments on Wednesday that “Islam hates us.”

“Did you mean all 1.6 billion Muslims?” Tapper asked. “I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them,” Trump maintained.

Rubio pushed back, sharing a story from meeting a missionary couple who work in Bangladesh. “Their safety and security very much relies upon friendly Muslims that live along side them, that may not convert, but protect them and certainly look out for them. And their mission field really are Muslims that are looking to convert to Christianity as well. And they tell me that today they have a very hostile environment in which to operate in because the news is coming out that in America, leading political figures are saying that America doesn’t like Muslims. So this is a real impact.”

“The problem is, presidents can’t just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world,” Rubio said, also pointing to the Muslims serving in the U.S. military.

“Marco talks about consequences. Well, we’ve had a lot of consequences, including airplanes flying into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and could have been the White House. There have been a lot of problems,” Trump argued back. “Now you can say what you want, and you can be politically correct if you want. I don’t want to be so politically correct. I like to solve problems. We have a serious, serious problem of hate.”

Rubio’s rejoinder was one of his strongest lines of the debate: “I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m interested in being correct.”

Social Security… at a Debate in Florida

All three non-Trump candidates came out in favor of reforming the entitlement program. Trump, meanwhile, said, “It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is.”

CNN’s Dana Bash pointed out that the numbers for Social Security don’t add up. “How would you find that other $147 million?”

Trump responded by claiming that America is policing the world for “virtually nothing,” but “we are going to be in a different world.” Perhaps one where no one lives past the age of 65 and requires retirement?

“The numbers don’t add up,” Rubio argued. “You know, when I ran for the Senate in 2010, I came out and said we’re going to have to make changes to Social Security, and everyone said that’s the end of your campaign. In Florida, you can’t talk about that, but people know that it’s the truth here in Florida.”

On Cuba and the Castro Regime

Dana Bash pointed out that Trump is on the record as agreeing with Obama that America should “reengage diplomatically with Cuba,” then asked Rubio why Trump was wrong.

“I would love the relationship between Cuba and the United States to change. But it will require Cuba to change, at least its government.”

“There has not been a single democratic opening; not a single change on the island in human rights,” Rubio continued. “In fact, things are worse than they were before this opening. The only thing that’s changed as a result of this opening is that now the Cuban government has more sources of money from which to build out their repressive apparatus and maintain themselves there permanently.”

Trump protested that he doesn’t really agree with Obama, but he does agree that “something should take place.”

“After 50 years, it’s enough time, folks,” Trump said, before promising that a good deal would be had by all were he president.

This set one of the two Cuban-American senators off. “Here’s a good deal,” Rubio declared: “Cuba has free elections, Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out, Cuba has freedom of the press, Cuba kicks out the Russians from Lourdes and kicks out the Chinese listening station in Berupal, Cuba stops helping North Korea evade U.N. sanctions, Cuba takes all of those fugitives of America justice, including that cop killer from New Jersey, and send her back to the United States and to jail where she belongs,” Rubio said, to audience applause. “And you know what? Then we can have a relationship with Cuba. That’s a good deal.”

Trump’s Education Policy

Donald Trump used a question on education policy to say that he was just discussing education today with Ben Carson “who is endorsing me, by the way, tomorrow morning.”

“I’m going to have Ben very involved with education, something that’s an expertise of his,” Trump said, hinting at a possible position for the brain surgeon within a Trump administration.

Trump Campaign’s History of Violence

Trump’s campaign has been in the news for violent attacks at his rallies, including a female reporter who was physically assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager Tuesday, and a protester who was sucker-punched Wednesday.

After Trump said he did not condone or endorse violence, Jake Tapper read Trump’s own words back to him. “February 23rd, ‘I’d like to punch him in the face,’ referring to a protesters. February 27th, ‘in the good ol’ days, they’d have ripped him out of that seat so fast.’ February 1st, ‘knock the crap out of him, would, you? Seriously, OK, just knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise, I promise.’”

Trump’s response? “We have some protesters who are bad dudes, they have done bad things.”

Trump is also under fire for his new practice of asking rally-goers to raise their right hands to pledge their support. He tried laughing it off and blaming the story on the media.

Cruz responded with one of the best lines of the night, telling the crowd, “We are here to pledge to you, not the other way around.”

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