Republican debate: Sparks fly as Trump comes under attack

Former HP chief Carly Fiorina shines brightest, dismisses Trump remarks on her looks

Republican front-runner Donald Trump spars with former business executive Carly Fiorina during a televised presidential debate. Video: CNN


Republican frontrunner Donald Trump drew fire from rivals during the party’s second presidential debate over his campaign insults with Carly Fiorina, the only female contender, landing the heaviest punch.

Candidates lagging the brash billionaire used the CNN-hosted debate at the Ronald Reagan’s presidential library in California to make a mark in the campaign and recover ground on the leader in the polls.

Mr Trump, whose outspoken, anti-establishment stance has sent him soaring to the front of a field of 15 candidates, faced attacks on his knowledge of foreign policy, his temperament and his business record.

Ms Fiorina, the former chief executive of computer maker Hewlett Packard, shone brightest in the debate, dismissing Mr Trump’s remarks about her looks. He was quoted in a recent Rolling Stone magazine article as saying: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” He later clarified that he said he was talking about her “persona.”

During the three-hour debate, when she was asked about his comments, Ms Fiorina said: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said.”

Her succinct, cutting response drew thundering applause, the loudest response from the audience on the night.

“She has got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” said Mr Trump, trying to salvage something from the exchange.

He refused an invitation from former Florida governor Jeb Bush to apologise to his Mexican wife for remarks he made during the summer that the former governor was weak on illegal immigration because he had “a soft spot for people from Mexico” because of his spouse.

“To subject my wife into the middle of a raucous political conversation was completely inappropriate and I hope you apologise for that,” said Mr Bush.

“I won’t do that because I said nothing wrong,” replied Mr Trump who has also called Mexicans criminals, rapists and drug dealers.

Mr Bush, the son of one president and brother of another, defended his older sibling George W Bush when Mr Trump blamed him for creating “such a disaster” that Barack Obama was elected afterwards

“As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure - he kept us safe,” said the former governor to loud applause from the partisan Republican audience in Simi Valley near Los Angeles.

Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who has slipped from a strong position in the polls, jumped in blaming Mr Obama, not George W Bush, to loud applause after Mr Trump said that he did not feel safe.

Mr Walker challenged Mr Trump’s experience saying that the reality television star of The Apprentice was not prepared for the White House given how he had run up debt at his casino business.

“We don’t need an apprentice in the White House - we have one right now,” said the governor, who has slipped to ninth in the polls from a leading position in March, in digs at Mr Trump and Mr Obama.

“We don’t know who you are or where you’re going. We need someone who can actually get the job done.”

Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a libertarian opposed to sending US troops into the Middle East to fight Islamic State militants, said that Mr Trump behaved like he was in “junior high” by commenting on the appearance of his rivals and saying he was very concerned having him as commander-in-chief in charge of nuclear weapons.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr Trump but I am worried,” said Paul.

“I never attack him on his look,” Mr Trump shot back, “and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

The businessman described his temperament as “very good, very calm.”

“What I am far and away greater than an entertainer is a businessman, and that’s the kind of mindset this country needs to bring it back,” he said in reply to attacks on his seriousness as a candidate.

Despite repeated jibes from Mr Trump, the younger Bush attempted to show a more relaxed, human side during the debate, admitting to smoking marijuana when he was a student.

“Forty years ago I smoked marijuana and I admit it, I’m sure other people might have done it and don’t want to admit it. My mom’s not happy that I just did,” said Mr Bush, who later tweeted: “Sorry Mom.”

Ms Fiorina made an emotional contribution on the drugs issue, saying that she had personal experience of fighting addiction having lost a daughter to substance abuse.

“We can’t tell children smoking marijuana is like having a beer - it isn’t,” she said, while poking fun at Mr Bush saying that drugs had changed since he tried them.

In a lighter question about what their Secret Service codename would be, Mr Bush said: “EverReady - it’s high energy, Donald” - a reference to Mr Trump’s oft-repeated campaign trail put-down that he is low energy. The name drew a high five from a smiling Mr Trump.

The businessman responded that his codename would be “humble” - playing on the property tycoon’s pugnacious style of campaigning.

In another quick-fire question at the end, Mr Bush said that former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher should be on the $10 bill.

Mr Trump was much less of a dominating force than during the first debate on Fox News in August when the other candidates were more reluctant to attack him.

In a debate that was more of a test of endurance, Mr Trump receded during last night’s long proceedings as the night wore on and the discussion turned to more substantive discussions around policies.

Marco Rubio, the freshman Florida senator who is in fifth position in the polls, and Ms Fiorina performed strongly on foreign policy and other issues with well-prepared answers and confident responses.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, another outsider who is running second in the polls behind Mr Trump, had a subdued night. He said he was the only candidate not backing amnesty for illegal immigrants and that he would not “lick the boots of billionaires” like politicians.

At one point, Mr Trump, standing next to him, instigated a high five with Dr Carson when talking about their opposition to the war in Iraq.

The businessman and Ms Fiorina sparred over their business records - Mr Trump criticised her for stewardship at Hewlett Packard, while she lashed him over his casino business filing for bankruptcy.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who gave an energetic performance, chastised the two non-politicians for arguing about their careers, saying that the focus should be on middle-class Americans.

“We don’t want to hear about your careers,” he said. “Stop this childish back and forth.”

The other candidates involved in last night’s main debate were Texas senator Ted Cruz, Ohio governor John Kasich and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Four other candidates - South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former New York governor George Pataki - participated in a separate “under-card” debate earlier in the evening as all 15 candidates could not be accommodated on the stage at one time.

The Republican Party is holding 12 debates in total - double the number the Democrats are hosting - before the parties pick their final candidates in July 2016 before the November presidential election.

Next up on the campaign calendar is the first Democratic president debate which takes place on October 13th.