The top nine candidates faced-off on the main stage Tuesday night for the final Republican presidential debate of 2015. With concerns over terrorism on the homeland and abroad the GOP contenders fielded questions on national security and combating terrorism.
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At the start of the CNN debate in Las Vegas, a majority of the presidential hopefuls used their opening statements to focus on the recent attacks by the Islamic state in Paris and San Bernardino.
“America is at war. Our enemy is not violent extremism. It is not some unnamed malevolent force. It is radical Islamic terrorist,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Dr. Ben Carson who recently dropped in the polls, asked for a moment of silence for San Bernardino victims while Jeb Bush focused on the need to rebuild the U.S. military to “destroy ISIS before it destroys us.” Senator Rand Paul suggested the way to defeat terrorism comes in the form of “Arab boots on the ground.” Chris Christie said a Republican must be in the White House to take on threats, “We will fight terrorists and win again and America will be safe.”
GOP Frontrunner Donald Trump took credit for zeroing in on the importance of strengthening borders and his proposals, “Radical Islamic terrorism came into effect even more so than it has been in the past. People like what I say. People respect what I say. And we've opened up a very big discussion that needed to be opened up.”
Jeb Bush sounded off the first attack of the night targeting Donald Trump when responding to a question about Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims entering the U.S.
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“This is not a serious proposal. In fact, it will push the Muslim world, the Arab world away from us at a time when we need to reengage with them to be able to create a strategy to destroy ISIS,” said Bush.
“Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners, but he's a chaos candidate. And he'd be a chaos president. He would not be the commander in chief we need to keep our country safe.”
Trump stayed firm on the travel ban and proposal to “close” parts of the internet to prevent ISIS online recruitment.
“ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet. What I wanted to do is I wanted to get our brilliant people from Silicon Valley and other places and figure out a way that ISIS cannot do what they're doing,” said Trump. “And then on second, we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS.”
Later on, Jeb came after Trump again: “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency - Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people. Leadership is about creating a serious strategy, to deal with the threat of our time.”
The battle between Jeb and the Donald wasn’t the only one taking center stage. Freshman Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz also went head to head on their voting records in Congress. Rubio attacked Cruz for voting for the USA Freedom Act, which he says made it more difficult for the government to monitor and gather personal data that could interfere with preventing future attacks.
“Here's the world we live in. This is a radical jihadist group that is increasingly sophisticated, we are at a time when we need more tools, not less tools," said Rubio. “I promise you, the next time there is an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know: Why didn’t we know about it? And why didn’t we stop it?”
Cruz denied that claim and said the law "strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement” to go after the terrorists. The Texas senator turned the tables on Rubio for his bi-partisan work on legislation for immigration reform.
"He was fighting to grant amnesty and not to secure the border. I was fighting to secure the border," Cruz said. “When you are letting people in, when the FBI can't vet them, it puts American citizens at risk.”
The FOX Business Network will host the next GOP presidential debate in South Carolina on January 14th, 2016.