On Saturday, February 6th, 2016, two days before the “First in the Nation” New Hampshire primary, six of the remaining Republican candidates for president met in Manchester, New Hampshire, for a debate hosted by ABC. Carly Fiorina, the seventh candidate in polling, was noticeably absent from the event, her campaign’s advocacy for inclusion having failed. The remaining candidates — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush — represented the four “establishment” figures in the race, the two “outsiders,” and Ted Cruz, who seems to straddle the line between both camps.
If you skipped the debate, we’ve assembled the highlights of the night below. Skip down to the last video to see the full debate.
The Entrance Debacle
This was perhaps the strangest beginning to a presidential debate in the 21st century: Ben Carson, unable to hear his name being called to take the stage, waits patiently under the steady gaze of a national television audience. One by one, every candidate passes him to take their spot, except Donald Trump, who stands with Carson, in camera. By the time the moderators correct their mistake, they’ve created a new one, forgetting to call John Kasich altogether.
Eminent Domain, and Trump Blaming the Audience
Donald Trump’s long history in New York construction makes him a prime target for attacks on his use of eminent domain. After listening to Trump defend the law’s importance for businesses and infrastructure around the country, Jeb Bush singled out Trump’s more sinister uses of the law, and said that a line should be drawn between private and “public use” implementation of eminent domain, such as the Keystone pipeline, which would serve a public good but would be built by private contractors. Trump, sensing his weakness on the issue, blamed the audience for their poor response. It did not play well.
Rubio Repeats Himself
After earning plenty of flack from the political press about his seemingly pre-programmed answers to complex policy questions, Marco Rubio’s repetition tick was made bare, on stage, in New Hampshire. After dressing down what he saw as a “Washington” answer and (yet again) toting his status as a state governor responsible for the well-being of his constituents, Chris Christie argued that Rubio didn’t have enough experience for the Oval Office. Then, when Rubio repeated some language from his earlier answer, Christie pounced. When he repeated the same answer two more times, the in-person audience seemed to audibly groan.
Trump on Healthcare
The immediate repeal and dismantling of Obamacare has been a Republican priority since the law’s passage and subsequent upholding by the Supreme Court. Still, the candidates have offered their own ways forward for “replacing” the coverage provided by the ACA’s state exchange programs. Donald Trump echoed a familiar conservative agenda — more competition over state lines, personal health savings accounts — but ended his answer with a more liberal view: “You’re not going to let people die sitting in the middle of the street in any city in this country.”
Cruz and Christie on Addiction
Early in this primary campaign, Chris Christie began to make ground in New Hampshire by relating his experience dealing with the public health crisis of addiction in New Jersey to the deep toll heroin and pain killers have cost New Hampshire. In this debate, Christie again humanized opiate addiction as a public health crisis, distancing himself from traditional language of drug abuse as a moral failing. Ted Cruz, whose half sister ultimately died of a drug overdose, took a similarly compassionate stance.
Cruz, Trump and Bush on Waterboarding
The debate over “enhanced interrogation” was clarified a few months ago by the Senate torture report, which described not just waterboarding but the entire palette of interrogation techniques used to get information from terror suspects. Asked if they would continue to use waterboarding as a method of interrogation and whether or not it qualified as torture, the candidates spoke to an undercurrent consistent throughout this primary season: that President Obama has not been aggressive enough in fighting the War on Terror.
On North Korea
North Korea’s launching of a ballistic missile into orbit just hours before the debate — supposedly carrying a satellite but capable of being used militarily — prompted moderator Martha Raddatz to push the candidates on their stances towards the isolated nation, currently under the iron fist of Kim Jong-un. While nearly everyone demurred when asked by Raddatz if they would have preemptively striked the missile on its lauchpad, the candidates did show some daylight in their approaches to this complex problem, including the examination of partnerships with Japan, China and South Korea, and a reflection on the supposed dangers of the Iranian nuclear deal.
Full Debate Video