There was considerable sparring among the top seven candidates participating in the FOX Business Network’s presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C. Thursday, but most of their ire was focused on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
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Front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz had a lengthy back and forth over whether the Canadian-born Cruz is even eligible to run for president, for instance. But the candidates (for the most part) attacked eight years Obama’s economic and foreign policies and repeatedly described Clinton as unfit to hold the office.
Contrasting their views against the optimistic depiction offered Tuesday by Obama in his State of the Union address, the candidates conveyed a starkly different vision of where America stands economically at home and its stature with allies and enemies alike overseas -- and it wasn’t pretty.
All the candidates agreed Obama has failed to raise the standard of living for most Americans, has hurt business through high taxes and over-regulation, he has failed to control illegal immigration, failed to fight terrorism abroad and at home and has been weak on China, allowing the world’s second largest economy to use anti-competitive practices to undermine U.S. businesses.
“Our next president has to be someone who will fix the damage done to America by Obama,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chimed in a short time later, “Hillary Clinton cannot be the next president.”
Cruz, a senator from Texas, said the president “tried to paint a rosy picture.” And while “millionaires and billionaires are doing great under Obama,” especially politicians and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., “the working men and women of this country” have been left behind, according to Cruz, in large part due to stagnant wages.
Trump, the polarizing billionaire businessman who has confounded GOP establishment figures by dominating the polls heading into the primaries, said Obama is downplaying the threat to America by terrorists from abroad and within the U.S.
He said his comments disparaging many immigrants and his pledge to ban Muslim immigrants are not intended to spread fear and terror, as Obama and others have suggested. “It’s not fear and terror, it’s reality,” Trump said. Then he ticked off a laundry list of terrorist attacks in recent months – notably in Paris and San Bernadino -- that have left scores of innocent victims dead.
“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly,” Trump added, saying he would repeal Obama’s signature healthcare reform bill and replace it. “I’m angry because our country is a mess.”
Banning Muslims from entering the U.S. could keep out “people who could bring great destruction,” Trump said. Under questioning from debate moderator Neil Cavuto, Trump doubled down on his promise to “temporarily” ban Muslims from entering the country.
Rubio said Obama is “undermining the constitutional basis of our government,” notably with his recent executive order that would make it harder to buy and sell guns in the U.S.
“Our next president has to be someone who will fix the damage done to America by Obama,” Rubio said. In 2008 “we elected a president who doesn’t want to fix America, he wants to change America.”
Rubio said he would repeal “every single one of his unconstitutional executive orders,” and also Obama’s signature health reform bill. Obamacare is a “certified job killer,” Rubio said.
“Barack Obama does not believe America is a great global power. He believes it is an arrogant global power. He doesn’t believe ISIS is a threat. We are going to win the war against ISIS.
They are going to get a one way ticket to Guantanamo and we are going to find out everything they know.”
Christie joked that he had listened to “story time with Barack Obama” on Tuesday. “I gotta tell you, it sounded like everything in the world is going amazing,” Christie said.
But Christie quickly segued to Clinton, who is still favored to win the Democratic nomination despite losing ground recently in polls in the early primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa.
Christie warned that a Clinton administration would be a third-term for the Obama administration and that GOP candidates had to unite to prevent that from happening. Clinton, as Obama’s secretary of state, mishandled the Syria crisis well before ISIS emerged as an additional threat in the Middle East, said Christie.
“Hillary Clinton cannot be the next president, it will lead to great wars in the world,” he said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an early front runner whose campaign has failed to gain traction, ran with that theme. “Every person (on this stage) is better than Hillary Clinton,” Bush said. “At the end of the day we need to unite against Hillary Clinton because she would be a disaster.”
“Obama doesn’t realize that we now live in the 21st century and that war is very different than it was before,” said retired surgeon Ben Carson, whose standing in the polls has slipped considerably in recent weeks.
But GOP candidates, despite their difference in opinions in policy, have to stick together, “We’ve got to look at the big picture,” Carson said. “Unite around one another, our strength is in are unity.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Obama’s policies have over-regulated small businesses, making it harder for them to hire and kept wages low. He called for fewer regulations – “common sense regulations”-- tax cuts and reform of the tax system, fiscal discipline in Washington and increased education to retrain workers for better jobs.
“Tax cuts send a message to jobs creators that things are headed in the right way,” he said.