GREENVILLE, S.C. — Insults were flowing and positivity was lacking as businessman Donald Trump’s brash remarks reached perhaps their peak during Saturday's Republican presidential debate.
The candidates made pitches to South Carolina voters in anticipation of the state’s primary on Feb. 20. The second debate in eight days brought fewer candidates, more attacks and little newfound discussion.
Even with only six candidates participating, the fewest yet, Trump still stole the show with attacks on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former President George W. Bush.
Trump, fresh off a dominating victory in the New Hampshire primary and a rather subdued debate performance a week ago, went after the Bush family early and often, especially on immigration and national security issues.
Trump called Bush the weakest person on the stage with regard to illegal immigration. He also cited the fact that 9/11 occurred during George W. Bush’s tenure. He added Jeb Bush took five days to say the Iraq War was a bad decision.
“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake,” Trump said. “We spent $2 trillion, thousands of deaths, we have nothing. … We should’ve never been in Iraq.
“[The Bush administration] lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”
Bush, seeking a spark after a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, called Trump’s comments “ridiculous,” saying “this is a guy who gets his foreign policy from the shows. This is a man who’s insulting his way to the nomination.”
“I’m sick and tired of him going after my family,” Bush said. “While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe.”
The attacks left Ohio Gov. John Kasich frustrated about the lack of substantive discussion. Kasich, who is surging after finishing second in New Hampshire, said “this is crazy” and asked for more positivity.
Brash remarks weren’t limited to Trump and Bush, though. Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) fought over immigration, too, primarily toward Rubio’s past history of supporting amnesty.
Rubio explained he has never supported amnesty.
“I’ve never supported that," Rubio said. "I don’t support that. There has to be consequences for violating our immigration laws.”
“The lines are very clear," Cruz responded. "Marco, right now, supports citizenship for 12 million people born here illegally. I don’t. Marco has a long record of amnesty."
Longshot Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, once again faded behind the slew of attacks handed out by his opponents. He pushed his website with nearly every answer, and was thrilled to be asked two questions before the first commercial break.
One of the more notable moments occurred before the debate even began as a moment of silence was taken for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier Saturday in Texas.
With Scalia's death in mind and an open seat available on the Supreme Court, the candidates said President Barack Obama should hold off on appointing a new justice. Instead, the decision for replacing Scalia should be made by the presidential candidate elected in November.
Obama said prior to the debate he will try to appoint someone but will face strong opposition with a Republican majority in the Senate.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, Barack Obama won’t have a consensus pick when he submits it to the Senate,” Bush said.
Trump said if he were in Obama’s position, he’d try to appoint someone before his tenure was over. But that’s not what he wants Obama to do.
“It’s up to (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell to stop it,” Trump said. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
In addressing Obama’s potential appointment, Cruz suggested that there as been “80 years of precedent in not appointing justices in election years.”
Moderator John Dickerson challenged Cruz's statement, asking whether he meant appointing or confirming.
“I just want to get the facts straight for the audience,” Dickerson said as boos erupted from the crowd.
As the race for the Republican Party nomination continues, the remaining candidates will prepare for their next debate on Feb. 25 in Houston.