Five days after the Iowa caucuses and just three days before New Hampshire voters have their say in the first-in-the-nation primary, the Republican presidential candidates met for their eighth debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday night.
With businessman Donald Trump looking to bounce back from a surprise loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa, Marco Rubio seeking to consolidate establishment support and John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush staking their campaigns on strong showings in the Granite State, Saturday night's showdown came with high stakes for each of the contenders.
We kept track of the debate's most significant moments below.
1. Cruz and Trump awkwardly waited off-stage after being introduced.
The debate got off to a rough start. Several of the candidates missed their cues to get on stage and head to their podiums, creating a traffic jam in the wings.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson paused after his name was called, and soon was joined by Trump backstage. Marco Rubio did hear his cue, and gently pushed his way past to get in front of the cameras.
The Trump-Carson backup resolved, the candidates took their places. Then someone noticed Ohio Gov. John Kasich hadn't been called.
"The applause — you couldn't hear; we couldn't hear, either. That's a good sign for the excitement this evening," the moderator air-guitared as the candidates got settled. — Celeste Katz
2. Cruz and Carson tussled over the Cruz campaign's "dirty tricks" in Iowa.
Cruz and Carson sparred over the Cruz campaign's decision to transmit the message on Iowa caucus night that Carson was set to withdraw from the race and that the retired neurosurgeon's supporters should caucus for Cruz.
Carson, of course, has yet to quit the race. Asked about the controversy by moderator David Muir, Carson noted that the candidates were meeting on the 105th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, and that the 40th president's "11th commandment" was "not to speak ill of another Republican."
"So I'm not going to use this opportunity to savage the reputation of Sen. Cruz," Carson went on. "But I will say that I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me that they thought that after having hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers and college students who sacrificed their time and were dedicated to the cause, one even died, to think that I would just walk away 10 minutes before the caucus and say, forget about you guys — I mean, who would do something like that?"
Resorting to such tactics, Carson continued, "gives us a very good example of certain types of Washington ethics."
Cruz used the opportunity to apologize — and explain himself.
"When this transpired, I apologized to him then and I do so now," the Texas senator said. "Ben, I'm sorry."
Cruz went on to say that his campaign chose to tell Iowans Carson was withdrawing based on media reports that Carson was to take a break from campaigning after the caucuses."Ben's campaign [later] put out a statement saying that he was not suspending his campaign," Cruz said. "I wish that our campaign staff had forwarded that statement. They were unaware of it, I wish that they had. That's why I apologized." — Luke Brinker
3. Rubio came under fire from Christie for his accomplishments in the Senate.
After Sen. Marco Rubio made remarks talking about how the length of time spent in Washington shouldn't be overvalued, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went for his jugular.
"You have not be involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven't," Christie said. "And the fact is — when you talk about the Hezbollah sanctions act that you list as one of your accomplishments, you weren't even there to vote for it. That's not leadership. That's truancy."
When Rubio struck back at Christie's record as governor of New Jersey, mentioning how the state's credit rating has been downgraded repeatedly during his tenure, Christie accused Rubio of repeating overly rehearsed debate remarks.
"This is what Washington, D.C., does: the drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him," Christie said. "Marco, the thing is, when you're president of the United States, when you are a governor of a state, that memorized speech doesn't solve one problem for one person."
Christie then went on to repeatedly push the point that Rubio's responses as being scripted and meant to distract attention from a senate record lacking major legislative accomplishments. — Zeeshan Aleem
4. The candidates reacted to the launch of a North Korean missile.
With the debate taking place shortly after a reported rocket launch by North Korea, the candidates were given the opportunity to say how they would respond to the incident as commander-in-chief.
Cruz would not commit to launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea's launch pad, saying he'd need to be more fully briefed by intelligence agencies, although he did use the occasion to slam the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, arguing that it pointed to the danger of emboldening bad actors.
Rubio said that existing U.S. procedures ensured any "errant" missile could be shot down before it posed a threat to the U.S. or its allies, while Kasich vowed to be "tough" and said he would support North Korean foe Japan in taking action to shoot down a missile.
Meanwhile, Bush railed against the Obama administration's foreign policy as a failure, saying that he would support the use of preemptive strikes if necessary.
Trump broke with the pack, arguing that it was the duty of China, a North Korean ally, to resolve the problem. — Luke Brinker
5. Cruz offered some inflated statistics to argue how easy it would be to deport undocumented immigrants.
When Cruz was asked to explain the practicality of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, who number around 11.3 million in the U.S., he made reference to his "11-page, single-spaced" policy document on the matter. But when he described deportations under previous presidents, he employed some misleading statistics.
"I would note that in eight years, Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, in eight years, George W. Bush deported 10 million people, enforcing the law. We can do it," Cruz said.
But the real numbers aren't quite so large. According to a fact check by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, there are two ways to measure how unauthorized immigrants leave the country, and by both measures, Cruz's numbers are off.
In terms of "removals" — compulsory and confirmed departure of unauthorized immigrants based on order of removal, there were about 681,000 people removed during Clinton's time in office and about 1.65 million during Bush's tenure.
There are also "returns" — confirmed movement out of the U.S. not based on an order of removal. "In other words, a return occurs when an apprehended immigrant leaves the U.S. voluntarily before being ordered to do so through a formal removal proceeding," according to the Annenberg fact check. But by this definition, still the numbers are smaller than Cruz's — around 9.7 million returns during Clinton and 7.5 million under Bush. — Zeeshan Aleem
6. On health care, Trump said he would keep people from "dying on the streets" as president.
"We are going to replace Obamacare with something so much better, and there are so many examples of it, and I will tell you part of the reason we have some people laughing [is] because you have insurance people that take care of everybody up here. The only one they're not taking care of is me," Trump said.
Trump didn't actually go into any details on how he'd replace the Affordable Care Act, however, opting for a more menacing theme instead.
"There will be a certain number of people that will be on the street dying, and as a Republican, I don't want that to happen. We're going to take care of people that are dying on the street, because there will be a group of people that are not going to be able to even think in terms of private or anything else, and we're going to take care of those people," Trump expounded.
"And I think everybody on this stage would have to agree: You're not going to let people die, sitting in the middle of a street, in any city in this country." — Celeste Katz
7. Rubio trotted out a tired myth about how the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.
Rubio blamed wage stagnation in the economy on tax rates in the U.S., but in order to make the point he rolled out a common conservative myth about how the corporate tax code works.
"We have an economy today that is not creating jobs that pay enough, and one of the reasons why is because we have one of the most expensive business tax rates on the planet," Rubio said.
The reality is that while the U.S. does have a very high statutory corporate income-tax rate, due to a special combination of corporate subsidies, loopholes, benefits and the relative size of the economy, the effective rate is in fact similar to the the rest of the developed world.
Setting aside the fact that Rubio's intention of connecting wage stagnation to corporate tax rates was not clearly argued, the claim that a high corporate tax rate in the U.S. is uniquely damaging to the business world's ability to retain profits just isn't true. — Zeeshan Aleem
8. Trump doubled down on bringing waterboarding back, which Cruz said isn't torture.
Trump, known for his bellicose foreign policy stance, reiterated his support for waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique which the Bush Administration banned in 2006.
The frontrunner said he had no problem with it.
"In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians. We have people chopping the heads off many other people... We studied medieval times. Not since medieval times have people seen what's going on," Trump said.
"I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."
Cruz, responding to the same question, said he'd allow sparing, high-level use of waterboarding in interrogation, arguing that it's not "technically" torture.
"Under the law, torture is 'excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems,' so, under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture," Cruz said, drawing some grumbles from the audience.
"I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use." — Celeste Katz
9. Christie laid out his plan for tackling drug addiction.
For years now Christie has held strikingly progressive views on drug policy, and during the debate he had a chance to showcase his accomplishments and values on that front.
"Three years ago, I proposed a law that we signed into effect, which said that anyone who was a nonviolent, non-dealing first-time drug offender no longer goes to prison in New Jersey, they go to mandatory in-patient drug treatment," Christie said. "Crime has gone down 20% in those three years. The prison population has gone down 10%. We've now closed a state prison and we're turning it into a drug rehabilitation facility."
Christie likened an attitude of compassion toward people suffering from addiction to the kind of faith that undergirds his pro-life values.
"I'm pro-life, not just for the nine months in the womb. I'm pro-life for when they get out and it's a lot more complicated," Christie said. "The 16-year-old heroin-addicted drug girl on the floor of a county lockup — I'm pro-life for her life." — Zeeshan Aleem
10. The candidates took aim at Hillary Clinton.
During breaks from sparring with each other, the GOP hopefuls trained their sights on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, calling her "deceitful" and "unqualified to serve" as president.
Trump turned to a tried-and-true theme to stir up Republican support: Bashing Clinton when asked about her potentially scoring a place in the record books as the first female president.
"We will galvanize the people of this country and we will beat Hillary Clinton — assuming that she runs. By the way, how she gets away with the email stuff, but on the assumption that she runs, and if she runs, she's running for one reason," Trump said.
"The Democrats are protecting her, because so many people have done so much less than her and they were absolutely — their lives have been destroyed. But on the assumption they protect her, I will win the election and we will win it by a lot."
Recent polling shows Trump leading among Republicans nationally, but trailing Clinton in a hypothetical November matchup.
For a chance at a faceoff with Clinton, Trump would have to get past his fellow Republicans, including Rubio, who, asked about downplaying the "female president" theme, said the vote is about "our identity as a nation" and not just Republican versus Democrat.
"We are going to defeat Hillary Clinton, because she is unqualified to be the president of the United States. She put classified information on her computer because she thinks she's above the law," Rubio said, "and anyone who lies to the families of people who have lost their loved ones in the service of our country like she did in Benghazi can never be the commander-in-chief of the United States of America."
Carson, meanwhile, said he would "never forget" the U.S. deaths at Benghazi.
"When did we in the United States not send people to help our own people? You know, this is not who we are," Carson said. "I would simply make it a referendum on honesty and integrity versus deceit and the Washington way." — Celeste Katz
11. Rubio said widespread discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. is "fiction."
In light of his criticism of Obama's visit to a mosque on Wednesday, Rubio was asked whether he would visit a mosque if he were president. The senator said he would, but then proceeded to lay out why he thought that Obama's call for openness toward Muslims in America was misguided.
"My problem with what [Obama] did is, he continues to put out this fiction that there's widespread, systemic discrimination against Muslim Americans," Rubio said. "First of all, let's recognize this: if you go to a national cemetery in this country, you will see stars of David and crosses, but you'll also see crescent moons. There are brave men and women who happen to be Muslim-Americans who are serving this country in uniform and who have died in the service of this country, and we recognize that and we honor that."
To Rubio, the fact that American Muslims' faith is recognized on their tombstones seems to constitute evidence that they face no prejudice in the country. His assessment appeared to pay no heed to the spike in hate crimes against Muslims in the past year.
The one kind of religious persecution in the U.S. that Rubio was concerned about was anti-Christian activity.
"I don't think Barack Obama's being sued by any Islamic groups, but he is being sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor," he said. "We are facing in this country christian groups, groups that hold traditional values who feel and in fact are being discriminated against by the laws that try to force them to violate their conscience." — Zeeshan Aleem