A smaller cast of Republican presidential candidates took the main debate stage Thursday night, with time dwindling to sway voters before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.
Sparks flew when front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz went head-to-head over the matter of Cruz’s eligibility to be president.
Moderators asked Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father, to respond to Trump’s suggestion that he’s not eligible to be president because he was not born on American soil.
The senator from Texas said that Trump previously said he didn’t think Cruz has a problem. Cruz said that in September, “my friend Donald had had his lawyers look at this from every which way … and there was nothing to this birther issue.”
Cruz said, “Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have.”
Trump said Democrats would challenge Cruz in court should he become the Republican nominee: “There’s a big question mark on your head and you can’t do that to the party.”
Cruz cited the widely accepted legal principle that anyone born to an American parent is a natural-born citizen, regardless of where the child is born. He said Trump was basically claiming that a natural-born citizen would have to be born in the United States to two parents who were also born in the United States.
That standard, Cruz says, would disqualify several candidates. Among them: Trump, whose mother was born in Europe.
Also at the debate, Cruz was asked about failing to disclose a $1 million loan to his 2012 Senate campaign; he dismissed it as a “paperwork error.” The New York Times reported Wednesday that Cruz failed to properly disclose the loan from Citibank and Goldman Sachs, where his wife works.
Cruz said, “I made a paperwork error disclosing it on one piece of paper but not another.”
▪ Just as the feisty fight between Trump and Cruz reached its peak, Marco Rubio saw his way in, saying, “I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV.” The Florida senator steered the conversation back to defeating a Democrat: “I think we have to get back to what this election is about.”
▪ It took the moderators more than 15 minutes to get around to asking Ben Carson a question; he answered by thanking them for waking him up. The retired neurosurgeon said President Barack Obama “doesn’t realize we now live in the 21st century.” He said the president needs to be on alert for stateless terrorists and the threat of dirty bombs.
▪ Jeb Bush attacked Democrat Hillary Clinton over the FBI investigation of her private email server. The former Florida governor said Clinton would be a “national security disaster” who might be shuttling “between the White House and the courthouse.”
▪ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cast the president’s State of the Union address as “story time with Barack Obama.” Christie said Obama’s speech “sounded like everything in the world was going amazing.”
▪ On the economy, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said it’s important to cut corporate income taxes. Regulations, he said, are “smothering people.”
▪ Earlier, the undercard debate featured Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. One candidate, Rand Paul, skipped the forum after being barred from the prime-time debate.