Republican Presidential Debate: 9 Moments That Mattered

It's the last pitch the GOP candidates make to NH voters ahead of the primary.

February 6, 2016, 11:33 PM

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire -- With the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary just three days away, the leading members of the Republican presidential field gathered on a debate stage in the Granite State Saturday night to draw distinctions between themselves and offer what amounted to closing arguments to voters here.

Moderated by “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and “This Week” co-anchor and Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, the debate featured heated exchanges among the seven candidates invited to appear: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump.

Here are nine moments that mattered at the debate, hosted by ABC News and partners WMUR, the Independent Journal Review the Republican National Committee and held at Saint Anselm College:

1. Christie Riles Up Rubio

A fiery exchange erupted early in the debate when Christie attacked Rubio, arguing that the Florida senator is too inexperienced to be president.

“That's not leadership. That's truancy,” Christie said, taking a swipe at Rubio’s attendance record in the Senate.

Rubio pushed back, saying that when New Jersey was hit with a snowstorm in January, Christie “didn’t even want to go back.”

“The shame is that you would actually criticize somebody for showing up to work,” Christie said.

2. Trump Says He’ll Save People "Dying On The Street"

If elected, Trump said he would repeal Obamacare and replace it “something so much better.”

Without going into too many specifics, Trump said that his plan would make people “compete” for insurance in the free market -- a move he said would prevent people from lying “on the street dying.”

“We're going to take care of people that are dying on the street,” he pledged. “You're not going to let people die, sitting in the middle of a street in any city in this country.”

3. Carson and Cruz Re-Litigate Iowa Caucuses Controversy

Carson hit Cruz over his campaign’s attempt to suggest that the former neurosurgeon was suspending his campaign on the day of the Iowa caucuses.

“Washington ethics basically says if it's legal, you do what you need to do in order to win,” Carson said. “That's not my ethics. My ethics is, you do what's right.”

On stage, Cruz apologized to Carson, but did not commit to firing the members of his campaign team who took the actions: “When this transpired, I apologized to him then, and I do so now,” Cruz said. “Ben, I'm sorry.”

4. Rubio on Repeat

Rubio drew criticism after using a similar line during the debate again...and again...and again.

"And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing," Rubio said.

When Rubio started the line again, Christie knocked him for it: “There it is. The memorized 25-second speech.”

But that didn't stop the Florida senator from completing the line a third time: “We are not facing a president that doesn't know what he's doing. He knows what he is doing.”

And a fourth: “I think anyone who believes that Barack Obama isn't doing what he's doing on purpose doesn't understand what we're dealing with here, okay?” Rubio said.

5. Jeb’s Millionaire Moment

Bush said he’d like to have more top earners in response to a question of whether America should tax its richest.

“I’d like to see more millionaires,” Bush said. “I think we need to grow more millionaires. We need to create a prosperity society where people can rise up.”

6. Candidates Discuss Torture

Cruz said he didn’t think waterboarding was considered torture under the law and that he “would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use.”

Trump said he would bring it back and more: “I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Rubio responded: “We should not be discussing in a widespread way the exact tactics that we're going to use, because it allows terrorists and others to practice how to evade us.”

7. Cruz Gets Personal

Responding to a question about what he would do about the problem of drug addiction, Cruz shared the emotional story of his half sister Miriam‘s struggles with drug addiction that ultimately led to her death.

“My father and her mom divorced when she was a little girl and she was angry her whole life,” Cruz said. Cruz went on to describe how his sister became a single mom, went to jail several times and landed in a crack house.

“I still remember my father and me driving up to get Miriam out of that crack house to try to convince her, she needed to be a mom to my nephew, Joey,” Cruz recalled.

8. Bush Confronts His Old Friend

The moderators reminded Bush about a comment he made in 2012, saying at the time that Rubio was “ready to be vice president” and contrasting that with his contention this week that the Florida senator accomplished “nothing in the Senate.”

Bush pointed out that when they were both under consideration for the No. 2 spot by then GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Rubio said the same thing about him.

“I think we were both right at the time and Mitt picked somebody else,” Bush said. “So, let's move onto the 2016 race.”

9. Super Bowl Preview

The debate wouldn’t have been complete without a question about the other competition this weekend: the Super Bowl.

Kasich and Trump were outright for the Carolina Panthers; Christie, for the Denver Broncos.

Bush said he was rooting for Denver because Peyton Manning supported him. Upon hearing Bush’s answer, Rubio flipped his own, saying “Well, I was going for Peyton Manning, but now I'm rooting for Carolina.”

Cruz, “with an eye to February 20,” catered his answer to South Carolina’s potential caucus-goers.

And, “with 100 percent certainty,” Carson predicted that either the Broncos or the Panthers would win Sunday's championship game.

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