Six memorable moments from the Republican debate | Washington Week

Washington Week

Award-winning reporting and analysis

Six memorable moments from the Republican debate

Seven Republican presidential candidates met Thursday in Charleston for their first debate of 2016.  Here are six memorable moments:

Trump and Cruz spar on Cruz's citizenship

As Ted Cruz's poll numbers have risen in Iowa, Donald Trump has started to question Cruz's eligibility to be president because he was born in Canada to an America mother.  Trump contends that Cruz will face a lawsuit from Democrats challenging his eligibility. 

"Back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there. There was nothing to this birther issue," Cruz said. "Now, since September, the Constitution hasn't changed. But the poll numbers have."

Trump seemed to admit his change of heart is driven by polling. "He never had a chance. Now, he's doing better," Trump said.

Trump responds to Haley's criticisms

In her Republican response to President Obama's final State of the Union address, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley warned Republicans against following the "siren call" of the angriest voices.  She later confirmed that Donald Trump was among those voices she was warning against.

At the GOP debate, Trump responded calling Haley, who was sitting in the debate audience in Charleston, a "friend." 

"She did say there was anger," Trump said. "I'm very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger."

Cruz and Trump debate New York values

As he continues to fan the birther flames, Donald Trump has started to play "Born in the USA" at his rallies -- a direct reference to Ted Cruz being born in Canada.  Cruz has recently responding by criticizing Trump's "New York values."  Asked to clarify tonight, Cruz stood by his comments.

"I think most people know exactly what New York values are," Cruz said. "Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I'm just saying."

Trump responded by pointing to New York's response to the September 11 attacks as an example of New York values.

"New York is a great place. It's got great people, it's got loving people, wonderful people," Trump said. "I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made."

The debate about radical Islamic terrorism and Muslim immigrants

Donald Trump made headlines last month for calling for a shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States, and tonight he defended his proposal by calling for an end to "political correctness."

Jeb Bush urged Trump to reconsider his proposal because it make it "impossible to build the coalition necessary to take out ISIS."

Several of the other candidates on stage supported a halt to Syrian refugees, but none would go so far to support Trump's ban on all Muslims.

Rubio questions Cruz's conservative record

As they have in previous debates, the two Latino candidates -- Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz -- once again argued over their differences on immigration.  Cruz called Rubio pro-amnesty while Rubio accused Cruz of switching his position. 

"That is not consistent conservatism, that is political calculation," Rubio said after listing several of Cruz's changing positions.

Christie interupts the senators to discuss entitlement reform

When Marco Rubio sidestepped a question on entitlement reform to talk about his tax plan, Chris Christie used the opportunity to distinguish his role as New Jersey's chief executive. 

"I'd like to interrupt this debate on the floor of the Senate to actually answer the question you asked," Christie said. 

When Rubio offered to answer the original question, Christie responded, "You already had your chance, Marco, and you blew it."