With the race accelerating and the stakes rising, three Republican rivals worked furiously in a raucous debate Thursday to stop front-runner Donald Trump’s march toward the nomination.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump shows off the size of his hands as Fox News Channel moderators Brett Baier (L) and Megyn Kelly (R) look on at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016. Marco Rubio spent the first part of the evening leveling personal attacks against Trump.
In advance of the debate, Trump pronounced himself ready for his rivals to bring it on, batting away any suggestion of standing above the fray.
“Nobody has ever hit my hands”, Trump said as the raucous crowd laughed and booed. “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud”, said Mr Romney, 68, who did not endorse any candidate. “He should have beaten President Obama”, Trump said, noting that Romney wants to still be relevant. The audience reacted with a few boos, but it seemed telling that Trump hit Romney at a debate in MI, where the Romney name is the gold standard, without a more forceful negative reaction.
Both Rubio and Cruz pounced.
The exchange at the debate began after Rubio justified his attacks on Trump by saying the billionaire businessman had “basically mocked everybody” in the past year. He has done so to people that are sitting on the stage today. He has done so with people disabled. He has done it about every candidate in this race.
Mr Rubio excused his own attacks by essentially saying it was Mr Trump who first opened the flood gates.
“Oh, give me a break“, Trump shot back. “Are they small hands?” he asked, holding up his hands.
“Donald Trump has been perhaps the most vulgar – no I don’t think perhaps – the most vulgar person to ever aspire to the presidency in terms of how he’s carried out his candidacy”, the Florida senator told host Alisyn Camerota.
Kasich argued that while the media wrote him off despite his second place finish in New Hampshire, he has placed well and won delegates in a handful of states.
Trump, with 10 state victories, leads the field with 329 delegates. “We’re heading up north to my turf, and let me just tell you this: I will win OH”.
Pressed on policy matters, Trump signalled a willingness to deal on any number of issues.
He added that military leaders would not refuse orders under his command. He noted he’s not the only one, when asked about adopting a strategy that depends upon a contested convention in July to win: “We’re all really there”, he said.
He repeatedly belittled “Little Marco” and “Liar Ted”. “Don’t worry about it Little Marco, I will”.
Yet his inconsistencies on various issues were highlighted time and time again throughout the night.
Candidates stood by their pledge to support whomever becomes the party’s nominee. “I guarantee you”, Trump responded, an allusion to his manhood.
Trump has 316 delegates so far, Texas Sen.
RUBIO: I will support the Republican nominee.
“When you’re in the arena you enter a special circle and you want to respect the people that you’re in the arena with”, he said.
“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished”, Romney said in a speech in Utah.