GOP Debate: Sparks fly over immigration, ISIS as rivals fight for spotlight

By Steve Musal

MILWAUKEE — In the historic Milwaukee Theatre, where President Theodore Roosevelt famously delivered a 90-minute speech after being shot, the eight Republican candidates on the stage for the Fox Business GOP debate Tuesday night struggled for their moment in history.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former tech CEO Carly Fiorina, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced off with billionaire developer Donald Trump, who dominated the discussion on immigration during the first 30 minutes of exchanges.

“We are a country of laws,” Trump said during the fourth prime-time debate. “We need borders. We will have a wall, the wall will be built, the wall will be successful, and if you think walls don’t work, all you have to do is ask Israel.”

Eventually, Kasich and Bush were able to respond, calling Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants unfeasible and un-American.

“They’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign when they hear this,” Bush said. “It will tear families apart.”

Kasich called the plan absurd. “We all know you can’t pick (11 million people) up and ship them across, back across the border. It’s a silly argument. It is not an adult argument. It makes no sense.”

“We will have a wall, the wall will be built, the wall will be successful, and if you think walls don’t work, all you have to do is ask Israel.”

— Donald Trump

Cruz, however, said the Democratic laughter was at the possibility of Republicans joining Democrats in supporting amnesty.

“Every sovereign nation secures its borders,” said the three-year senator from Texas. “It is not compassionate to say we’re not going to enforce the laws and we’re going to drive down the wages for millions of hardworking men and women.”

Donald Trump speaks to Fox Business host and debate moderator Neil Cavuto after the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. (Steve Musal/Medill)
Donald Trump speaks to Fox Business host and debate moderator Neil Cavuto after the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. (Steve Musal/Medill)

The debate was moderated by Fox Business Network hosts Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo and Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker. The moderators emphasized repeatedly that the debate was about the people on stage, not the moderators — the only direct reference to the previous CNBC-hosted debate.

On taxes, all candidates apparently agreed that fixing the economy was the primary goal of any administration — and the plan for this was invariably tax cuts. FairTax, flat tax, Rand Paul’s tax plan — all involved lower taxes and more reliance on the free market.

“I want a government really, really small — so small you can barely see it,” Paul said. This, most candidates claimed, would improve the lives of many people.

Carson said, “There will be a lot more opportunities for poor people not to be poor people.”

During the debate, hundreds of activists rallied peacefully outside the theater for a variety of causes, including a living wage, immigrant rights and civil rights.

Like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the undercard debate, Bush stuck to the same themes as the rest of the candidates, but seemed more interested in attacking Democrats than Trump or Carson.

“Growing the economy is the first job if we’re going to be serious about dealing with the deficit and debt,” Bush said. “Hillary Clinton’s approach is more top-down…and it will destroy our economy.”

“There will be a lot more opportunities for poor people not to be poor people.”

— Ben Carson

Though all said they wanted to cut bloated government spending, only Paul delved into military spending.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul speaks to press following the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. Paul differed from the other seven candidates mainly in his desire to cut military spending excesses rather than expand military spending.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul speaks to press following the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. Paul differed from the other seven candidates mainly in his desire to cut military spending excesses rather than expand military spending. (Steve Musal/Medill)

“I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt,” Paul said. “You cannot be a conservative if you keep promoting programs you’re not willing to pay for.”

The other candidates, Trump the loudest, said our military isn’t big enough and must be bigger — regardless of the cost — but that America can grow the military while spending less.

As for deploying special ops forces to Syria and leaving troops in Afghanistan, candidates showed a united front against Islamist terrorism, specifically ISIS. However, they were split on foreign policy.

“You have to continue to face them,” Carson said, “Because our goal is not to contain them but to destroy them before they destroy us.”

Trump went one step further, saying if Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to “knock the Hell out of” ISIS, he’s all in favor of it, despite how much he despises Putin.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to reporters following the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. (Steve Musal/Medill)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to reporters following the Fox Business GOP prime-time debate Tuesday. (Steve Musal/Medill)

Others, like Bush, disagreed with Trump’s position.

“Donald’s wrong on this. He is absolutely wrong on this,” said Bush, struggling with low poll numbers. We’re not going to be the world’s policeman, but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader.”

Hewlett-Packard’s former CEO, Fiorina, said the United States is currently speaking with the Russian leader from “the position of weakness brought on by [the Barack Obama] administration.”

Calling Vladimir Putin a “gangster,” Rubio said, “Every time he has acted anywhere in the world, whether it’s in Ukraine or Georgia before that, or now in the Middle East, it’s because he is trusting in weakness.”

However, all candidates said Obama is handling the situation in the Middle East poorly — seven of them for being too weak and not supporting Israel enough, and Paul for being too involved.

“We have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the ayatollah in Iran,” Rubio said.

Photo at top: Fox Business GOP primetime debate moderator Neil Cavuto prepares to question the eight candidates on stage during the main event Tuesday. (Steve Musal/Medill)