With just five days before another all-decisive Super Tuesday primaries, the four remaining Republican candidates for president hit the debate stage in Miami – without insulting each other!
The usual slugfests that record audiences on cable TV had become accustomed to, gave way to serious, almost sober policy discussions about issues as entertaining as trade, education and social security.
The candidates avoided shouting, interrupting and talking over each other – a strange situation that prompted frontrunner Donald Trump at one point to remark: “I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.”
Surprisingly, the first big issue where the contenders locked horns was international trade and whether trade agreements are good or bad for American workers.
Trump defended his practice of having his name-brand clothing line manufactured in China and other foreign countries, saying it doesn’t mean he won’t keep his promise to block American companies from shifting operations overseas at the expense of US jobs.
“Nobody knows the system better than me,” Trump said. That did not prevent him, again, from
accusing China and Mexico of ripping off the United States.
Ohio Governor John Kasich argued that free trade was important, so long as America cracks down on foreign countries who cheat.
“We don’t want to lock the doors and pull the blinds and leave the world, because frankly if we do that, prices will go up, people will buy less, other people will be out of work,” he said.
The candidates also sparred about immigration, social security, Cuba, Iran, education and climate change.
At one point, when the discussion turned to the Israeli-Arab conflict, Florida senator Marco Rubio and Texas senator Ted Cruz, who have been fierce adversaries for months, teamed up against Trump.
They were particularly hard on him over Israel, challenging Trump over his comments that he would be a “neutral guy” in negotiating the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
While Cruz spoke fiercely on Israel’s behalf, perhaps mindful of the many Jewish Republican voters in Florida, Rubio was more polite toward Trump, suggesting that perhaps he misunderstood that being neutral could undercut Israel’s interests and security.
Trump insisted that Israel would be an “absolute priority” in a Trump administration but that his focus would be to broker a historic peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians and to be an arbiter at the negotiating table.
“I would like to give it a shot,” Mr. Trump said about a possible peace deal. “Very, very pro-Israel, nobody is more pro-Israel, but I would like to give it a shot.”
The debate came as Trump’s opponents are trying to break his march to the Republican nomination just five days before crucial primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
Most important are the winner-take-all contests in the home states of Rubio (Florida) and Kasich (Ohio). Each must win his home state to have any chance of staying in the race and ultimately becoming the Republican nominee.
Texas senator Ted Cruz, who has the second-most delegates, has attacked Trump as too rash and volatile to lead the country. He has argued that he provides the most vivid contrast to Trump’s idiosyncratic mix of policies and that Republicans eager to preserve the party’s conservative core should rally around him.