Live Blog: Donald Trump Faces GOP Rivals in CBS News Debate

Live Blog: Donald Trump Faces GOP
Courtesy of CNBC

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia undoubtedly will change the content and perhaps even the tone of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, sponsored by CBS News.

Expect the candidates to praise Scalia and his legacy, but also expect moderator John Dickerson to perhaps ask them about their criteria for picking a high court nominee. It took only a couple of hours for Senate leaders to issue statements on whether a successor to Scalia should be confirmed or even come to a vote before the end of President Obama’s term. The divisive politics of DC are about to get even worse.

Just minutes before the debate was to start, Obama said that he intends to nominate a successor, and that “there’s plenty of time for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.”

Scalia’s death also could change the atmosphere of the debate — perhaps more subdued — although the stakes are high for the candidates. Donald Trump is seeking to build on his momentum following his victory in New Hampshire, while Ted Cruz will be hoping to capitalize on South Carolina’s large evangelical vote. Marco Rubio is trying to recover from his stumble in the debate a week ago, while Jeb Bush and John Kasich try to gain traction in the state as an establishment alternatives.

Follow updates below:

9:01 pm ET: Moment of silence. Dickerson starts with a moment of silence for Scalia before going to a commercial break.

9:08 pm ET: A successor? Marco Rubio calls Scalia one of the greatest justices in history, saying that the loss of Scalia is “tremendous.” He even cites Scalia’s dissent in the Obergefell case, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country.

On the question of whether a nominee should be confirmed this year, or after the election, the candidates each express a variation on delay. Ted Cruz says that it has been 80 years since a high court nominee has been confirmed in an election year. But Dickerson interjects, to Cruz’s annoyance, that Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, by a Democratic Senate. “I just want to make sure the audience has the fact,” Dickerson says, to audience boos.

Trump acknowledges that Obama will nominate someone, but that the Senate should “delay, delay, delay.”

Cruz’s annoyance may have to do with the fact that he was a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Kasich, too, believes that a confirmation should be stopped, but he also says that it’s too early after Scalia’s death to be launching into a divisive political situation.

9:23 pm ET: ‘Jeb is so wrong.’ The first major confrontation of the debate is between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush over how to fight ISIS. Trump says that “Jeb is so wrong” in suggesting that Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian Leader Vladimir Putin, should be removed from power and a Sunni led coalition takes on ISIS. “You have to knock em out. You have to knock em off strong. You can’t fight two wars at one time,” Trump says, before attacking a Middle East policy that started in the Bush era where “we have spent $5 trillion all over” the region.

Bush responds by calling Trump “a man who insults his way to the nomination.”

Their confrontation escalates a few minutes later, when Trump becomes even more withering in his criticism of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. “There were no weapons of mass destruction and they knew there were none,” Trump says.

Bush responds by saying that he is “sick and tired of [Trump] going after my family.”

“While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe,” Bush says.

Trump even challenges the idea that George W. Bush “kept us safe.” He cites 9/11. “That is not safe,” he says.

Rubio interjects that President Bill Clinton didn’t take out Osama bin Laden when he could, but Trump does not go for it. “George Bush did not listen to the advice of his CIA,” he says, a reference to warnings that the agency gave to the White House in the summer of 2001.

Trump was agitated not just by Bush’s challenge of his foreign policy depth, but of the boos that he was getting in the audience. But he was sharper than he has ever been in blaming George W. Bush for the chaos in the Middle East and perhaps for 9/11 too. That is something that would have been unthinkable among any of the major GOP contenders in 2008 and 2012.

Bush said that Trump would be disinvited from a campaign event he has planned for Monday with his brother George.

9:48 pm ET: ‘Magic pixie dust’ Ted Cruz attacks Trump’s tax proposals by saying that jobs won’t be created by “magic pixie dust.” Cruz is proposing a business flat tax, and his dig is meant to dismiss Trump’s frequent pledge that he would be the greatest “jobs president.” The Tax Foundation, a conservative policy group, says that Trump’s tax plan would reduce tax revenues by over $10 trillion over the next decade.

9:54 pm ET: Bush vs. Kasich. Bush takes on Kasich over over his decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. “Obamacare expansion is creating more debt,” he says. Kasich notes that Ronald Reagan also expanded Medicaid, and that his expansion does not mean that he supports the Affordable Care Act. The exchange is indicative of the battle that the two are having in trying to become to alternative to Trump or Cruz, especially in ultra-conservative South Carolina, a much different political landscape than New Hampshire.

10:02 pm ET: Twitter data. Trump has gotten several moments of boos from the audience, but he is leading Twitter conversation. According to Twitter, he is garnering 42% of the conversation, followed by 23% for Bush and 12% for Rubio.

10:06 pm ET: ‘The donor class’ Both Cruz and Trump have gotten boos from an audience that seems bent on making their cheers and jeers known. The two candidates have dismissed the boos, with Trump suggesting that the audience is filled with special-interest Bush backers, and Cruz calls the Rubio supporters the “donor class.”

10:10 pm ET: Cruz vs. Rubio. Cruz and Rubio engage (again) over immigration. Cruz has slammed Rubio for supporting a path to citizenship in 2013 legislation that was eventually abandoned, and cites an interview that Rubio gave on Univision. In one of the stranger moments, Rubio says, “How does (Cruz) know what I said on Univision? He doesn’t speak Spanish.” Then Cruz starts speaking Spanish.

10:15 ET: More Trump vs. Jeb. As if they needed more confrontation, Trump declares that Bush is “the weakest person on this stage by far on illegal immigration.” Bush then slams Trump for statements he has made about women, Hispanics and John McCain. Apparently since the talk is about boorishness, Trump brings up a joke that Bush made about mooning the crowd. Now this debate is getting really weird. Kasich tries to act as the voice of reason by saying that all of the arguing  will only help the Democrats win in the fall.

10:33 pm ‘We are in danger of driving this in to the dirt.’ Dickerson is trying to get some control over the bitter confrontation between Trump and Cruz, and then Trump and Bush. Trump is coming across as angry and petulant, but he also has a knack for not letting rivals get a critical statement out without talking over them. Cruz says that Trump supports “partial birth abortions,” to which Trump calls him “the single biggest liar. You are probably worse than Jeb Bush.” But Cruz is unswayed, and continues to characterize Trump as more liberal than he says he is.

10:42 pm ET Proud and profane. Trump seems to admit that he’s used some bad language, but pledges to watch it. “Not using profanity is very easy,” he says. Does it matter? On Twitter, his performance tonight is being described as a “meltdown.” Four other candidates are on stage, but this debate has really been a battle between Trump and Bush. Bush accuses Trump of going bankrupt four times and using eminent domain to remove and old woman so he can build a limousine parking lot. Trump accuses Bush of basically ruining Florida when he was governor.

10:53 pm ET The End. An evening that started with reflections on the death of Scalia ended with the tone of “The Maury Povich Show.” Twitter commentators are right: Trump was aggressive and harsh, too much on defense, and showed too much thin skin — which is to say, don’t be surprised if he rises in the polls. Up against Cruz, he is trying to corner the market on anger at the GOP establishment. Kasich and Carson were the only two candidates to come away unscathed from the brawl. Bush talked about ending dysfunction in Washington. Viewers were apt to wonder about the discord on stage on Saturday.

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  1. Connie says:

    The voters, NOT the GOP, get to pick the next President. I’m a lifelong Republican, who by the way is college educated, and plans to vote for Trump because despite all of their rhetoric, the Washington Republicans have failed miserably on behalf of the American people over the past 20 years. What a whiney collection of spoiled losers who are all about who’s turn it is to be President within in their own little corrupt club. If they interfere with this election, I am changing my party affiliation to Independent and I will NEVER contribute to the GOP state or national again much less vote for an establishment Republican.

  2. Cynthia Workman says:

    Our voting process is dysfunctional. 1) We have Hillary Clinton running for the highest office in the USA, when she’s under investigation for serious breach of security and other irregularities. This would not happen in “big business”, you would not be allowed to apply for a promotion when your under investigation for your current or past role. Lives were lost under her watch. Her lies are documented over and over again. DEM’s, where is your integrity?

    2) We have President Obama announcing the death of Justice Scalia and in his second breath, he talks about moving forward with a replacement nomination. This was not the appropriate time to introduce this controversial decision.

    3) We have commentators not asking hard, important questions but those which cause adverse reactions by the candidates and the crowd. These debates are a part of the candidates opportunities to get out their message not about defending their beliefs. Let them speak and let the voters decide.

    4) Crowd control – we should not have an overabundant amount of heckling in the crowd – where’s the control.

    Is this office as important as the US Citizens think it is, or, are we just kidding ourselves in our participation in the process.

    The list goes on….

  3. Asok Smith says:

    Clearly the GOPe stacked the audience with establishment shills not at all reflective of Trump’s massive popularity amongst the GOP rank-and-file who are fed up with the GOPe’s failure to represent them or even act like an opposition party.

    Here’s an idea (if there IS to be an audience at all): each candidate is given the number of available tickets proportionate to their standings in the polls used by the debatemeisters to determine eligibility and podium order.

  4. berlon says:

    Guys, that’s it, he lost me totally. till now I was a strong supporter and a volunteer for Mr Trump and his campaign, getting pulled with the excitement and noise from taking an outsider… anti establishment movement…, but with this debate he got me – and all of my friends watching him live – total…. , HE LOST MY VOTE!

  5. Of course, any idiot could see that the audience was a set up to favor Bush. Dirty Republican tricks.

  6. Donna Brown says:

    The financial supporters are biased and should be disallowed (NOT ALLOWED) to boo or make comments.

    The American people are sick of rigged and biased commentary.

    Shame on CBS for not making rules for the crowd in respect for the American people, so we could decide issues without comments/influence from the bullying peanut gallery.

  7. S durkin says:

    >requiring bilingual applicants need only apply

  8. Linda Roy says:

    What are the rules or protocol of debating?
    Can someone please tell Trump to shut up and stop interrupting other candidates when they are speaking and let him speak to his defense during his time on the clock?

  9. S durkin says:

    I live in fl now n when bush was gov n he ruined the economy, education, n healthcare we are still trying to dig out of….only cared about keeping his thieving wife out of jail. No one ever ask him what kind of jobs he says he created here: service jobs on less than poverty level requiring no-months applicants need only apply. No more Pac politicians…trump or no one here in FL

  10. Bob sawdon says:

    This debate is fast becoming a embarrassing sideshow. I am a Republican but am concerned about the tenor and spectacle that is happening. There is more laughing in the audience which indicates they are there for the entertainment value as opposed to serious issues. This is very serious business that has been drug to new lows.

  11. Big D says:

    Nothing like letting a little thing like facts get in the way of a GOP debate. Lol!

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