As the South Carolina GOP primary race is nearing the finish line, the presidential candidates had the chance to speak to the voters directly during a CNN-moderated town hall. Here are the most revealing quotes and zingers from the night (video below).
CNN hosted retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Feb. 17. This piece will focus on the candidates who were interviewed on Feb. 18: business mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Trump, fresh off his feud with Pope Francis after the pontiff called his immigration proposals “not Christian,” implied that the Catholic leader was a hypocrite.
“He’s got an awfully big wall at the Vatican, I will tell you,” Trump said of Pope Francis. He added that he admired the pontiff and said “He’s got a lot of energy.”
Host Anderson Cooper brought up Trump’s stance on the Iraq War. While the candidate has claimed to have never supported the invasion, audio from his 2002 interview with radio host Howard Stern suggested otherwise, Fox News reports.
“Are you for invading Iraq?” Stern asked the business mogul.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Trump answered.
Confronted with this new evidence, Trump clarified that the interview had taken place before the invasion had actually began.
“By the time the war started, I was against the war,” Trump said.
Finally, when asked how we would respond if the Mexican government would not pay for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, the business mogul replied, “The wall just got 10 feet higher.”
Bush, whose campaign’s future is largely staked on performing well in South Carolina, was asked about the state’s Gov. Nikki Haley choosing to endorse his former pupil, Rubio, over him.
“I’m marking her down as neutral,” Bush joked.
The son and brother of two former U.S. presidents was humble when asked if he would match the presidency of his father, George H.W. Bush.
“If I tried to strive to be as good as him, it would be impossible. I’d be on a couch, getting therapy all the time,” Bush said.
The former Florida governor added that he would launch a “moonshot” effort to study the brain as a way of treating addiction.
Kasich, who came in second in the New Hampshire race, offered a mixture of jokes and emotional appeals.
Discussing health care, the governor quipped that “it’s easier to interpret the Dead Sea Scrolls” than to read hospital bills. When asked about Trump’s feud with the pontiff, Kasich said you could “put me down in the pro-Pope column.”
Kasich’s parents were killed by a drunk driver. Discussing that difficult time in his life, he said, “I went into a black hole with a little pinprick of light.”
The governor, who has pitched himself as the optimist candidate, concluded that, “We've got to slow down. You’ve got to celebrate other people’s wins, and sometimes you’ve got to sit with them and cry.”
The South Carolina GOP primary will be decided on Feb. 20.
On Feb. 19, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll revealed that Trump’s lead in the state had shrunk to 28 percent, while Cruz was gaining on him with 23 percent. Rubio came in third with 15 percent, Bush rising with 13 percent while both Carson and Kasich were tied at 9 percent support.