MILWAUKEE (CN) – Abundant interruptions and boos from the audience defined the fourth Republican primary debate, though many agreed it was a vast improvement over the third debate.
Fox Business Network hosted the two-part debate Tuesday along with The Wall Street Journal and the Republican National Committee, featuring a total of 12 Republican presidential candidates.
The main debate, which focused as promised on the economy and foreign policy, kicked off at 8 p.m. and featured the eight top-polling Republican candidates: Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Rand Paul. The debate was moderated by Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto of Fox Business News and The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker.
While Carson faded into the background on most questions, Fiorina, Paul and Trump repeatedly elbowed their way in by answering and arguing on other candidates’ questions. Kasich’s attempts to do the same rarely succeeded, while Rubio and Cruz stuck mostly to the questions they were asked directly.
Trump was out in force against his fellow candidates, once criticizing Fiorina for “interrupting everybody,” and later by dismissing Kasich’s criticism of his deportation-focused immigration plan with a flip reference to his success and wealth.
“I don’t have to hear from this man, believe me,” he said.
Cruz got in his own jab during the immigration question, inspiring boos when he said that if lawyers, doctors and journalists were coming to the United States and “driving down wages” in those professions, tough immigration policy would be more popular.
Bush and Kasich took a more socially liberal approach, agreeing that “law-abiding” immigrants should be allowed to stay and pay a fine.
“For the 11 million people, come on, folks,” Kasich said. “We all know you can’t pick them up at their homes and ship them across the border.”
Fiorina and Trump traded name-drops of Vladimir Putin, both claiming to have met him, while discussing strategy in the Middle East. The candidates were sharply divided on whether to support Russia or Syrian rebels. Rubio took a different tack on the question.
“I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he’s a gangster,” he said. “He understands only geopolitical strength.”
Paul said that more military spending is not conservatism, and that arming the enemies of our enemies is what created the Islamic State in the first place.
Fiorina did not shy away from criticizing the establishment, often referring to actions of “Republicans and Democrats alike,” and saying the United States is sinking into socialism.
The few points upon which every candidate agreed were an end to nonspecific overregulation that hurts small businesses, a simplified tax code and repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – and, of course, “StopHillary,” which doubled as the access code for the debate’s official wireless Internet network.
In fact, moderator Bartiromo delivered the most booed statement of the evening when she said that Clinton had an “impressive resume.”
An early debate featuring the lowest-polling candidates – Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum – kicked off at 6 p.m. CST.
Protestors gathered outside the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena downtown, chanting “Dump Trump” and holding signs demanding clean energy, cessation of aid to Israel and reform of marijuana laws.
A lone Trump supporter in a Captain America costume offered free selfies before the debate.
After the debate, protesters on Kilbourn Avenue and Fourth Street quickly faded away, leaving only police, a hot dog vendor and a saxophone player, who switched from pop tunes to the national anthem when dozens of passersby applauded but dropped little money.
“That’s how I feel about Republicans,” he said. “They don’t really want to help nobody.”
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