Watch the best moments from the CNN GOP debate as Republican presidential candidates trade blows.
Terrorism and national security took center stage in Las Vegas on Tuesday along with Donald Trump and a dozen other Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for president.
Facing off for the fifth time in five months, but for the first time since terrorist attacks in Paris and California, the candidates sought to convince the CNN television audience that they have commander-in-chief credentials to fight the looming threat.
From the start, the terrorist threat dominated the debates.
“America is at war,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “Our enemy is not violent extremism. It is not some unnamed benevolent force. It is radical Islamic terrorism.”
The recent attacks gave the Republicans hoping to replace President Obama the chance to sound tougher than each other on terrorism, and most seized the opportunity. There were calls for thousands of U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Syria, for blocking Syrian refugees at the border and for infiltrating mosques inside the United States.
During more than four hours of crosstalk, what emerged was a sense among Republicans that America is at war, the homeland is at risk and peace will not come without sacrifice. Where Ronald Reagan was his party’s voice of optimism, these Republicans painted a much gloomier picture of the nation’s future.
Several topics caused divisions among the candidates: whether to send thousands of ground troops into Iraq and Syria, whether to topple or support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and how to infiltrate the terrorist network on both sides of the Atlantic.
The focus was again on Trump, leading by a wide margin in national polls, but also on two 44-year-old Cuban-American senators from the South who seek to replace him as the favorite among Republican voters: Cruz and Florida’s Marco Rubio.
While Trump was repeatedly attacked for his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Cruz — suddenly leading in Iowa, where the voting begins Feb. 1 — also was put on the defensive for opposing government surveillance programs and several defense budgets. And Rubio was criticized for supporting a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
While mostly ignoring Trump, Rubio and Cruz clashed over government surveillance powers and the best way to attack Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq. Cruz said he would “carpet bomb where ISIS is — not a city, but the location of the troops.”
Rubio responded: “You can’t carpet bomb ISIS if you don’t have planes and bombs to attack them with,” accusing Cruz of voting against the military budget in the Senate.
As he has in past debates, Trump spoke more in generalities. “We’re not respected as a nation anymore,” he said. “Our country is out of control.” But Trump was specific on one key issue — he said he will not run as an independent. “I am totally committed to the Republican Party.”
Trump took heat from former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom criticized the proposed ban on Muslims and restricting the Internet to block terrorist communications.
“Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people,” Bush said, calling Trump a “chaos candidate.”
Also trying to edge into the top tier were retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Far behind in the polls and relegated to an earlier debate were former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York governor George Pataki
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