SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The four Republican presidential candidates who didn’t make the cut for the 11-person prime-time GOP debate met Wednesday for an undercard event at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, each searching for a breakout moment.
George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal sought the kind of performance that former technology executive Carly Fiorina put on at the first GOP debate last month, which helped propel her onto Wednesday night’s main stage.
Absent from both debates was former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, the lone Republican who did not register high enough in national polls to make the cut for either debate.
Key takeaways from the first of Wednesday’s two debates:
Three of the four candidates eagerly took the bait offered by the debate moderators to attack GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who was the subject of the first several questions.
Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, hurled the sharpest verbal jabs, saying Trump shouldn’t be treated as a Republican or a conservative. “He’s a narcissist who only believes in himself,” he said. Pataki, the former chief executive in New York, chimed in to call Trump “unfit to be president of the United States or the party’s nominee.”
Santorum held his tongue, the former senator from Pennsylvania saying such personal attacks “just please one person, Hillary Clinton.”
Graham made the wrong impression during the undercard debate last month, as the South Carolina senator came across as the saddest candidate in the room. At one point, he gloomily noted that he is unmarried and doesn’t have any children.
This time, Graham let his quirky personality and his foreign policy knowledge shine. The approach took an odd tone at times, as he repeatedly called for more military action in places such as Syria, but did so while delivering cheeky one-liners.
Shortly after declaring, “We’re at war, folks,” Graham said: “First thing I’m going to do as president? We’re going to drink more.”
PROXY PARTY FIGHT ON IMMIGRATION
Graham and Santorum rumbled on immigration policy, an exchange representative of the dispute inside the Republican Party over how to approach an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
Santorum, who finished second to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, said Americans are hurt by immigration and he accused much of the GOP field as being for “amnesty.”
Graham and Pataki said it’s impractical to deport all estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally. Graham also argued that Hispanic voters are an untapped source of voters for Republicans.
“We need to win fighting for Americans. We need to win fighting for the workers in this country who are hurting,” Santorum said, leading Graham to rebuke him: “Hispanics are Americans”
A PROGRESSIVE PATAKI?
Along with his comments on immigration, Pataki sounded like a Democrat in one other way: He forcefully said that Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, should have lost her job.
“If she worked for me, I would have fired her,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd at the debate. “When you’re an elected official and you take an oath of office to uphold the law, all the laws, you cannot pick and choose or you no longer have a society that depends on the rule of law.”
He closed by arguing that he is a pragmatist who can get elected in a general election and work in a bipartisan way.
Jindal allowed that he had one thing in common with Trump: They both dislike Washington “insiders.”
“It’s time to fire all of them,” he said. He later gave credit to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for fighting for what they believe in, something he said Republican leaders in Washington no longer do.
In his closing remarks, Jindal tried to emphasize his “outsider” credentials. He said he’d “take on the D.C. permanent governing class.” It was a nod to Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who have never held political office and stand atop the latest GOP preference polls.