Republicans have first debate of 2016 cycle


Presidential candidate Donald Trump is interviewed at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames on Saturday, July 18. 

Alex Hanson

Republicans descended on Cleveland Thursday night to duke it out at the first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, talking everything from current events like the Iran deal and Planned Parenthood, to long-term goals on national security and immigration policy.

The first debate of the cycle — hosted by FOX News and Facebook — featured the top 10 candidates as determined by five recent national polls. FOX anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace moderated, and each candidate was given one minute to answer questions along with 30-second rebuttals if their name was brought up in another candidate’s answer.

Center stage for the prime time debate was front-runner Donald Trump, whose poll numbers have surged following a number of controversial statements. Also on stage were Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich.

All eyes were on Trump following his bombastic style since announcing his campaign earlier in the summer. The first question posed to candidates was if any of them would not commit to supporting the eventual nominee and not running as a third-party candidate, and Trump was the only candidate not to rule those out. Paul was the first to go after Trump, accusing him of being close to the Clintons.

“He is already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians,” Paul said.


Bush was asked about comments he made last year regarding immigration: “They broke the law, but it’s not a felony, it’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.” He stood by his comments calling for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

Trump was asked about his comments that made headlines from his announcement speech, calling illegal immigrants “rapists” and “drug dealers.”

“If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be talking bout illegal immigration, Chris [Wallace]. “The reporters, they’re very dishonest, they didn’t cover my statement [correctly].”

Trump stood by his call for “building a wall” along the Mexican border and called American politicians in charge of current immigration policy “stupid.”

Kasich said Trump is “hitting a nerve,” while Rubio said he and other candidates agree that there should be increased border security when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration.

Walker was asked about changing his position that called for a pathway to citizenship at one point to a more hard line stance on the issue.

“People across America want a leader who is going to listen to them,” Walker said.


A rather fiery exchange came between Christie and Paul over mass collection of phone records through the National Security Agency. Christie stood by his comments saying Paul should be brought in front of Congress to answer for a terrorist attack because of his opposition to the Patriot Act.

In his response, Paul said he wants to collect more records, but just from terrorists and not everyday Americans. Christie fired back by asking how he would know who is a terrorist.

“That’s a completely ridiculous answer,” Christie said.

That led to Paul yelling across stage, “Use the Fourth Amendment … get a warrant!”

Christie said he is the only candidate to use the Patriot Act to prosecute terrorists.

Things got personal when Paul responded, “I don’t trust President Obama [with records]. I know you gave him a big hug,” referring to him embracing President Obama’s visit to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy.

Christie fired back, saying he remembers hugging families of victims of terrorism and that it is easy for Paul to come out against the Patriot Act and fundraise off his actions in the Senate.


Trump has been under fire in recent weeks for positions he has taken in the past, including support for universal, single-payer healthcare.

Trump defended his past position, saying, “It works in Canada. It works incredibly well in [some countries],” but said he is now in favor of a “private system” and wants to eliminate “artificial lines” between states when it comes to rules on buying healthcare.

Paul jumped in following Trump’s remarks, saying Trump is on the wrong side and that the Republican Party has been fighting against single-payer health care for a decade. Trump brushed off criticism by saying Paul did not listen to his position tonight.


Walker said one of the first things he would do as president is terminate the deal between Iran and five other countries, which President Obama said will prevent Iran from developing an nuclear weapon.

Paul said as senator, he was able to question Secretary of State John Kerry directly on if he trusts Iran. When Kerry said “no,” Paul wondered, How could the United States trust Iran not to cheat in the agreement.

“I don’t think the president negotiated from a place of strength.” Paul said.

Huckabee also blasted the deal, saying the United States did not get anything out of the deal, including hostages.

Huckabee cited President Reagan’s “trust but verify” policy, but said “President Obama is trust but vilify.”

Later in the event, Trump blasted the Iran deal, saying American negotiators should have been able to have Americans being detained in Iran as part of the deal. Trump also joked that if “Iran was a stock” that people should buy it because the sanction is relief giving $150 billion dollars to Iran.


Republicans, led by Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst, have been leading a fight to defund Planned Parenthood following a series of videos purporting to show the sale of body parts of aborted fetuses by the organization.

“My record is clear,” Bush said. “My record as a pro-life governor is not in dispute. I’m completely pro-life and I believe that we should have a culture of life that’s informed by my faith from beginning to end.”

Rubio was asked about not supporting exception to abortion ban when it comes to rape. Rubio responded that he has never advocated for that. 

Trump was called out for previous statements in which he described himself as “very pro-choice.” Trump responded by saying he has evolved on the issue of abortion. He also said he is very much against the “concept” of abortion and told the story of a family friend who decided against an abortion, and the son is now a “superstar.”


Kasich was asked how he would explain to a gay son or daughter his objection to gay marriage.

“I’m an old fashioned person and I believe in traditional marriage,” Kasich said. “The court has ruled, and we’ll accept it.”

Kasich said just because people are different does not mean we cannot accept them. He received a huge applause when he said everyone should get a chance, and we should not judge someone just because of sexual orientation.

Paul was asked about government interference when it comes to religious objections to same-sex marriage.

“I don’t want my guns, or my marriage, registered in Washington,” Paul said.

He said people with religious beliefs should be able to practice freely and said it is “time to resist” when government tries to intervene in free practice of religion.

Candidates also discussed a series of other topics, foreign and domestic. Rubio spoke about his plan of how to work in an ever-changing economy that is friendly to small businesses. Carson voiced opposition to sequestration when it comes to military spending. Cruz took a hard-line stance when it comes to fighting ISIS and battling those who want to harm Americans.

Seven other declared Republican candidates — Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore — did not make the cut for the primetime debate, but instead were invited to an earlier televised debate at 4 p.m.

Thursday night’s debate was just one of many to come this election cycle. Republicans are planning at least 10 more throughout the presidential nominating contest, including another FOX News debate scheduled for January in Iowa.

Democrats looking for candidate debates are in luck — the Democratic National Committee announced earlier Thursday they would sanction six debates between October and March, including a Nov. 14 debate in Des Moines sponsored by CBS, KCCI-TV and The Des Moines Register.