DENVER (CN) – Tempers flared at the Republican candidates debate Wednesday, during which Marco Rubio brushed off a direct attack from his former mentor Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump commented, “They don’t like each other. They don’t.”
On stage at the University of Colorado Boulder Coors Event Center, named for the major Republican donor beer family, the candidates threw punches at tried and true targets such as federal taxes, the liberal media – including the moderators – and the expected Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump responded to an early question from CNBC moderator John Harwood, about his proposed 15 percent flat rate tax plan, and about whether Trump was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign.”
Trump responded, “It’s not a very nicely asked question, the way you say that,” and stood by his tax plan, saying the CNBC host Larry Kudlow “loved” it.
It was the first of many questions the candidates called “nasty” Wednesday night.
In response to a question to Jeb Bush about whether fantasy sports betting should be regulated as gambling, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – not Bush–replied: “We have $19 trillion in debt … We have ISIS and Al-Qaeda attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football?”
The audience seemed to have it in for the moderators at times as well, booing a question to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, about whether the thought candidate Trump could lead and unify the country.
“I’m wearing a Trump tie tonight. Get over that one,” Huckabee responded. “Donald Trump would be a better president every day of the week and twice on Sunday than Hillary.”
“Such a nasty question,” Trump interjected, “but thank you, governor.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz slammed the moderators for turning the event into a “cage match.”
“Let me say something … The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “‘Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?’ How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?”
Trump reiterated his plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to stop illegal immigration.
“We’re gonna build a wall,” he said. “We’re gonna let people in, but they’re gonna come in legally.
“We’re gonna have a big, fat beautiful door. People can come in. I love the Mexican people, but their leaders are smart – more cunning than our leaders.”
Other candidates spent most of the night addressing tax and Medicare reform, Carly Fiorina expressing frustration with congressional inaction on it.
“How long have we been talking about tax reform in Washington, D.C.?” Fiorina asked. “Every election we talk about Medicare and Social Security reform. This is more than replacing a D with an R. We need a leader who will take our government back.”
NBC moderator Carlos Quintanilla found it difficult to swallow Fiorina’s tax plan, which she says would reduce the U.S. tax code from more than 70,000 pages to 3.
“You want to bring 73,000 pages to three?” Quintanilla asked. “Is that using really small type?”
“Only if it’s about 3 pages are you leveling the playing field between the wealthy and the well-connected who can hire lawyers,” Fiorina responded. “Three pages is about the maximum that a single business owner or a farm can understand without hiring somebody.”
The candidates also touched upon what might become of Obamacare once President Obama leaves office. Surprise frontrunner Ben Carson said his system of family savings accounts could cover medical expenses.
“How do we use our intellect to live healthier lives?” Carson asked. “It was never intended for the government to be in every aspect of our lives.”
Bush described his similar approach to Medicare as a “simple” method.
“Make sure the wealthiest don’t have the same benefits as the lower income,” he said. “[And] incentivize private savings.”
Trump said Medicare could be “saved” by re-energizing the economy.
“We’re going to make a really dynamic economy from what we have right now, which is not at all dynamic,” Trump said. “We’re going to bring jobs back from Japan, China, Mexico. We’re going to bring jobs and manufacturing back, we’re going to cut costs. We’re going to save Medicare.”
Fiorina retold her story of rising from office secretary to CEO of Hewlett-Packard, after “Squawk Box” host Becky Quick asked about her checkered record at the tech firm, where she laid off 30,000 workers after a disastrous merger with Comcast, and eventually was fired.
“One of those things that I think people don’t always understand is how accountable a CEO actually is,” Fiorina said. “I had to report results every 90 days in excruciating detail. I had to answer every single question to every single result. … If I misrepresented those results or those projections in any way, I was held criminally liable. Imagine if a politician were held to that standard of account.”
This was greeted with applause from the crowd.
Looking ahead a year, Fiorina attacked Hillary Clinton, saying her policies are “demonstrably bad for women.”
“Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term, belonged to women,” Fiorina said. “Three million women have fallen into poverty under this administration.”
Carson, calm and composed throughout the event, used a question about his opposition to homosexuality to criticize what he called “P.C. culture,” which is said is “destroying this nation.”
“I believe that our Constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation,” Carson said. “I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. There is no reason that you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community.
“Homophobe – this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society. This is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. That’s what the P.C. culture is all about and it’s destroying this nation.
“We the American people are not each other’s enemies. It’s the people trying to divide us that are the enemies.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got a good audience response by slamming the “mainstream media” in response to a question from Quintanilla about the southern Florida newspaper Sun-Sentinel, which criticized him in an editorial for failing to attend votes in the Senate.
Rubio said he read the editorial “with great amusement.”
“It’s evidence of bias that exists in the American media. In 2008 Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes and the same newspaper endorsed him again. This is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative media.”
The audience erupted in applause. Then came what probably will be remembered as the signal exchange of the night, as Bush, a former two-term Florida governor, addressed Rubio directly.
“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term,” Bush said. “And you should be showing up for work.
“I mean, literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French work week? You get like three days where you have to show up?”
Rubio seemed unconcerned, and said the attack did not sound like the Jeb Bush – that a member of Bush’s campaign staff must have suggested it. Which brought the response from Trump, who said, as is well known now, that the former Florida colleagues no longer get along.
Only Trump addressed gun control, and his dislike of “gun-free zones,” and turned it into an attack on the Obama administration’s policy in Syria.
Trump has said that the Oct. 1 massacre of nine people at an Oregon community college was made easy for the killer because the school prohibited weapons.
“Gun free zones, they’re target practice for sickos,” Trump said. “A catastrophe, a feeding frenzy for sick people,
“I have a permit. I like to be unpredictable, unlike our country, where we’re totally predictable, and the enemy, whether it’s ISIS or anybody else, knows what we’re doing because we have the wrong leadership.”
The next Republican debate is set for Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.
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