WASHINGTON – Political pundits declared Carly Fiorina the clear winner in the first GOP debate of the season, as seven Republican candidates squared off against one another and discussed Donald Trump, illegal immigration, Planned Parenthood funding, ISIS and cyber security.
Immediately following the debate, Fox News political analyst Chris Wallace observed, "I'd have to say I was most impressed with Carly Fiorina. I think she just stood above the other six people on the stage. She was sharp on national security. She was, not surprisingly for a former CEO, sharp on domestic policy and budget, money issues. I just think there's kind of a sharpness and intelligence about her and a precision [in] her message that really cuts through. I was frankly a little surprised that she didn't make the top 10."
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He said he believed the former Hewlett-Packard CEO's performance could help propel her into the top-tier candidates.
Fox News political analyst George Will said, "I agree with Chris. Carly Fiorina stood out for the precision, fluency and the way she managed to pack a lot into one minute or into 30 seconds."
Based on Google search interest during the first half of the debate, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza and highly regarded 538 analyst Nate Silver also declared Fiorina Thursday's winner:
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The Republican presidential candidates who didn't crack Fox News' top 10 were relegated to an earlier debate than the main event.
Those in the first debate tried to make a strong enough impression to separate them from the pack and gain entry into the top tier for the next debate, and it looked like Fiorina did the best in that endeavor.
Participants in the 5 p.m. ET debate were former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (polling at 1.8 percent), Former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum (1.4 percent), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (1.4 percent), Fiorina (1.3 percent), South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (0.7 percent), former New York Gov. George Pataki (0.6 percent), and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (0.2 percent).
The candidates were asked about Donald Trump's popularity in the contest for the GOP nomination.
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Fiorina referenced news reports that former President Bill Clinton contacted Trump to encourage him to run.
"Unlike Trump, I didn't get a call from Clinton," she said, adding, "Maybe it's because I haven't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife's Senate campaign."
Fiorina briefly complimented Trump then immediately questioned his integrity, observing, "I think he's tapped into an anger that people feel. I think they're sick of politics as usual. ... Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, health care and abortion, I would ask, 'What are the principles by which he will govern?'"
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Watch Perry and Fiorina's comments on Trump:
Perry questioned Trump's history of support for single-payer health care and added, "I've had my issues with Donald Trump. I've talked about Donald Trump from the standpoint of being an individual who was using his celebrity rather than his conservatism."
The top issues the candidates tackled included the economy and jobs, illegal immigration, cyber security, ISIS, the Iran deal and Obamacare.
On the topic of illegal immigration, Santorum said, "We're a country of laws, not of men, not of people who do whatever they want to do. The reason America is a great country is because our compassion is in our laws."
Clearly getting fired up, Perry declared, "Here's the interesting thing. Americans are tired of hearing this debate go to 'What are you going to do about illegal immigration?' For 30 years, this country has been baited with that. All the way back to when Ronald Reagan signed a piece of legislation that basically allowed amnesty for over four-million people and the border's still not secure."
He added, "The American people are never going to trust Washington, D.C., and for good reason. We hear all this discussion about 'I would do this' or 'I would do that' when the fact is the border is still porous. There's not anybody on either one of these stages that has the experience of dealing with this as I have for over 14 years with that 12-hundred mile border.
"Then Americans will believe Washington is up to a conversation to deal with the millions of people that are here illegally, but not until (then). If you elect me president of the U.S., I will secure that Southern border."
The election issue most important to voters – by far, according to numerous surveys – is the economy and jobs.
On that issue, Graham said, "I think Americans are dying to work. They just need to give them a chance. To all the Americans who want a better life, don't vote for Hillary Clinton. You're not going to get it. She's not going to repeal Obamacare and replace it. I will. She's not going to build the Keystone Pipeline. I will. She's not going to change Dodd-Frank. I will. Until you change the policies of Barack Obama, we're never going to grow this economy."
Graham said Clinton "represents the third term of a failed presidency."
As WND reported, most 2016 Republican presidential contenders are on record opposing Obamacare and some have offered market-based alternative proposals.
Asked why he passed on taking Obamacare dollars for his state, Jindal responded, "Under President Obama and Secretary Clinton, they're working hard to change the American dream into the European nightmare. They do celebrate more dependence on the government. Give Bernie Sanders credit. At least he's honest enough to call himself a socialist. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they're no better."
Jindal expressed concern that the U.S. is borrowing massive amounts of money from China.
"Yesterday the president stunningly admitted this, he said we don't have leverage with China to get a better deal on Iran because we need them to lend us money to continue operating our government," he said. The president of the U.S. is admitting that he's weakening our government's position, our foreign policy standing, because he can't control spending in D.C."
The moderator asked, "Critics say the Iran deal puts the U.S. on the same side as largest state sponsor of terror ... but our allies the Saudis also support radicals who want to kill Americans. So which side should we be on?"
Perry replied, "We need to be on the side that keeps Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That's the side we need to be on. And that's the side of the bulk of the Middle East."
The former Texas governor then offered a tip of the hat to a fellow competitor.
"I will tell you one thing, I would a whole lot rather have Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiations than John Kerry," he said. "Maybe we would have gotten a deal where we didn't give everything away."
Watch Perry respond to questions about Iran:
Perry continued, "The issue for us is to have a Congress that not only says no, but hell no, to this money going to a regime that is going to use it for terror. Susan Rice has said that. And we need to stand up and strongly and clearly tell the ayatollah that whoever the next president of the U.S. is going to be, and I promise you if it's me, the first thing I will do is tear up that agreement with Iran."
Addressing the issue of whether America should back allies that support jihadis, Fiorina said:
"Yep, sometimes it's a complicated situation, but some things are black and white. On day one in the Oval office, I would make two phone calls. The first one would be to my good friend, (Israeli Prime Minister) Bibi Netanyahu, to reassure him we will stand with the state of Israel. The second will be to the supreme leader of Iran. He might not take my phone call, but he would get the message, and the message is this: Until you open every nuclear and military facility to full, open, anytime anywhere, for-real inspections, we are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system."
She added, "As important as the two phone calls are, they are also very important because they say this: America is back in the leadership business."
Calling the agreement with Iran a "bad deal," Fiorina said Obama broke every rule of negotiation.
"Yes, our allies are not perfect, but Iran is at the heart of most of the evil that is going on in the Middle East through their proxies."
Asked whether the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage is "settled law," Santorum responded:
"It is not any more than Dred Scott was settled law to Abraham Lincoln, who, in his first inaugural address, said 'it won't stand.' And they went ahead and passed laws in direct contravention to a rogue Supreme Court. This is a rogue Supreme Court decision, just like Justice Roberts said. There is no constitutional basis for the Supreme Court's decision, and I know something about this.
He the Supreme Court also acted outside its authority in the case of partial-birth abortion.
"You know, these Planned Parenthood tapes, what they're showing are partial-birth abortions," he said. "Abortions being done where the baby's being delivered first, to preserve those organs, and then they crush the skull. Well, the Supreme Court found a bill that I was the author of unconstitutional.
"What did I do? I didn't stop. I didn't say, 'Oh, well we lost. It's the law of the land.' We worked together. The House and Senate, under my leadership, and we passed a bill, and we said, 'Supreme Court, you're wrong.'
"We're a coequal branch of the government. We have every right to be able to stand up and say what is constitutional. We passed a bill, bipartisan support, and the Supreme Court, they sided with us. Sometimes it just takes someone to lead and stand up to the court."
Pataki, the only pro-choice candidate running, said, "My heart has not changed, because I've always been appalled by abortion. I'm a Catholic, I believe life begins at conception. But Roe v. Wade, it's has been the law for 42 years, and I don't think we should continue to try to change it.
"But what we can do is defund Planned Parenthood, and by the way, put in place an absolute permanent ban on any taxpayer dollars ever being used to fund abortions. Also, when you look at these videos, they are horrific and show just a hideous disrespect for life. What else we can do is that we should believe in science.
"You know, Hillary Clinton's always saying how Republicans don't follow science? Well, they're the ones not listening to the scientists today, because doctors say that at 20 weeks that is a viable life inside the womb. And at that point, it's a life that we have the right to protect, and I think we should protect. So, I would pass legislation outlawing abortion after 20 weeks. It is Hillary, it is Biden, it is the others who insist on allowing abortion well into viable (inaudible) wrong, and that should be stopped."
Jindal said Planned Parenthood should hope Clinton wins the election in 2016.
"I guarantee under President Jindal, January 2017, the Department of Justice and the IRS and everybody else that we can send from the federal government will be going in to Planned Parenthood," he said. "This is absolutely disgusting, and revolts the conscience of the nation. Absolutely, we need to defund Planned Parenthood. In my own state, for example, we launched an investigation, asked the FBI to cooperate. We just, earlier this week, kicked them out of Medicaid in Louisiana as well, canceled their provider contract. They don't provide any abortions in Louisiana."
As for shutting the government down to make that happen?
"I don't think President Obama should choose to shut down the government simply to send taxpayer dollars to this group that has been caught, I believe, breaking the law, but also offending our values and our ethics," Jindal said.
"It is time for Republicans in D.C. to fight. Too often, they give up, they negotiate with themselves. They said they would get rid of the unconstitutional amnesty. They didn't do that. They said they would repeal Obamacare if we gave them the majority. They didn't do that either. They said they'd shrink and balance the budget. They haven't done that. Absolutely, they should fight to defund Planned Parenthood, and I don't think the president should shut down the government simply to send our taxpayer dollars to this group."
Both debates were broadcast on Fox News, which set the rules and limited the participants in the prime-time event at 9 p.m. EST to the top 10 in an average of five national polls as of Tuesday.
Making the cut for the later debate were businessman Donald Trump (23.4 percent), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (12.0 percent), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (10.2 percent), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (6.6 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (5.8 percent), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (5.4 percent), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (5.4 percent), Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (4.8 percent), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (3.4 percent) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (3.2 percent).
The debates were held at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.