The clock is ticking for Donald Trump’s primary rivals’ attempt to slow him down as the Republican Party held its 12th debate on Thursday in Miami.
Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner, said that he’s going for the “knockout punch” by winning Florida and Ohio, the two biggest winner-take-all states in terms of delegates. Both states vote next week.
Florida, the home state of Sen. Marco Rubio, is the largest winner-take-all state of the season. It awards 99 delegates to its victor. Rubio trails Trump there by roughly 15 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of several polls.
The prospects seem a bit better for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in his home state. A recent Fox News poll had Kasich leading Trump by five points, and he trails Trump in the RealClearPolitics average by just 2.5%. The Buckeye State, with 66 delegates, is the second-largest winner-take-all primary for the GOP.
In terms of delegates, Rubio and Kasich are far behind Trump and the fourth candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has won several primary contests against Trump. But Trump nevertheless holds a nearly 100-delegate lead over Cruz.
Thursday’s CNN debate was likely the candidates’ final opportunity to make an impression on many voters in the key states voting next Tuesday. The debate was moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper. It began at 9 p.m. and was being held at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida.
Check out the highlights below:
10:59 p.m. EST: “What an incredible nation we have that the son of a bartender, and the son of a mailman, and the son of a dishwasher, and a successful businessman can all stand on this stage competing, and asking for your support,” Cruz said in his closing statement.
10:43 p.m. EST: “Donald, you are welcome to be president of the Smithsonian,” Cruz said to Trump during a short dust-up.
10:40 p.m. EST: “He served the nation great by pardoning Richard Nixon,” Kasich said about former President Gerald Ford in a long answer about why he is still seeking the presidency in spite of mathematical odds that show it’s highly unlikely he’d be able to hit the needed number of delegates.
Kasich said the GOP united behind Ford after a 1976 convention that featured both Ford and former President Ronald Reagan as potential nominees.
10:33 p.m. EST: “They have anger that’s unbelievable,” Trump said when asked about the protester who allegedly sucker punched a protester at a Wednesday rally of his.
“I certainly don’t condone that at all Jake,” he said, adding, “We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They have done bad things. They are swinging. They are really dangerous.”
10:25 p.m. EST: Trump gave an odd answer about whether a “strong” leader is a compliment or not.
Tapper asked him about his previous statements where he said Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “strong” leader and that the Chinese government displayed “strength” in Tiananmen Square.
Trump said he doesn’t equate “strong” with the leader being good, and he didn’t equate it with an endorsement.
10:19 p.m. EST: “Sure, the climate is changing … there has never been a time when the climate has not changed,” Rubio said when a question from Miami’s mayor was posed about rising sea levels causing flooding in the city.
“Is there a law in Washington we can pass to change the weather,” he said. “There’s no such thing.”
10:01 p.m. EST: Kasich said he doesn’t “believe there is any longterm permanent peace solution” between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
9:58 p.m. EST: “I was the grand marshal of the Israeli Day parade down Fifth Avenue,” Trump said when asked who’s side he’s on in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Trump has insisted that a position of neutrality is needed to make a deal for peace in the country.
9:55 p.m. EST: “The answer is not simply yelling ‘China bad. Muslims bad,’” Cruz said in an obvious shot at Trump’s rhetoric throughout the campaign.
9:46 p.m. EST: Tapper asked Trump about his statement to CNN on Wednesday that “Islam hates us.”
“I mean a lot of them,” Trump said, adding that he’s sticking by his previous statement.
Rubio then said “Presidents can’t just say whatever they want.”
He added that Trump’s words have consequences around the world.
“I’m not interested in being politically correct,” Rubio said. “I’m interested in being correct.”
Trump shot back, saying how, although he’d obey the law, he’d expand the law regarding torture.
Rubio said “of course” he wouldn’t try and kill the families of terrorists.
9:38 p.m. EST: “He’s right about the problems. But his solutions don’t work,” Cruz said about Trump’s policy points.
9:33 p.m. EST: “So far, I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” Trump said.
9:28 p.m. EST: Presented with a potential conflict with Rubio, Trump, sounding much more presidential, didn’t take the bait. Rubio, who wasn’t quite attacking the candidate himself, said Trump’s plan to cut fraud and abuse wasn’t quite enough.
Trump was then asked what he thought about Rubio saying his numbers didn’t add up. Trump responded, saying he didn’t think Rubio said that, and went into how he believes the government doesn’t properly bid out its projects, which he said he will do a better job of in office, making up budget deficits in the process.
9:25 p.m. EST: “It’s a very, very, very boring thing to watch,” Trump said about the Democratic primary race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
9:17 p.m. EST: Trump admitted what many confirmed hours before — retired neurosurgeon and former 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson will be endorsing him tomorrow.
“I was with Dr. Ben Carson today, who’s endorsing me by the way tomorrow morning,” Trump said, adding he’d want Carson to work with him on education policy.
9:15 p.m. EST: The candidates have spoken for the first fifteen minutes about their positions on both trade and immigration — and they have yet to attack each other.
9:12 p.m. EST: Kasich said he would possibly be “running for president of Croatia” at the moment if his family wasn’t able to immigrate to the United States.