WASHINGTON – Dr. Ben Carson may be soft-spoken but, as a pediatric neurosurgeon, he spoke with passion, conviction and authority when asked about the grisly Planned Parenthood videos, drawing numerous loud cheers.
"My entire professional career dealt with trying to save children and provide for them quality of life," he told a GOP candidate forum Friday.
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"That's actually the reason I am in this (race) now. When I look at the things they have done and I look at their founder, Margaret Sanger, who was a eugenicist who didn't like people who look like me, obviously I am not that interested in anything that she founded."
He continued, "The worst part is that the majority of Americans disagree with the tearing up of babies and the destroying of human life that this organization is engaged in, so why should their taxpayer money be used to fund that kind of activity?"
"What happened to America?" he asked rhetorically to thunderous applause.
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Regarding President Obama's vow to veto any budget bill that doesn't fund the abortion provider, Carson said, "I personally believe that Congress needs to call his bluff on that."
Pausing for wild cheers to subside, he continued, "Congress has tools. They can defund everything. They can defund his breakfast," a comment that elicited even wilder cheers.
Carson was one of 10 Republican presidential candidates to share their solutions to America's most pressing issues Friday during a live-streamed post-debate summit in South Carolina – where GOP front-runner Donald Trump pulled out at the last minute, citing a "significant business transaction" as the reason for his absence.
Heritage Action's Take Back America forum was hosted at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.
In attendance were: Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Chris Christie, Dr. Rand Paul, Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Bobby Jindal.
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Cruz might have easily cruised to the nomination if it had been voted upon by that crowd, that night, as he worked the audience like a symphony conductor, rising to soaring oratorical crescendos that ignited standing ovations time and again.
He was challenged with a question about his reputation for not getting along with fellow lawmakers. Could he be an effective president?
"We've had way too many Republicans who say their number one virtue is 'I get along great with Democrats,'" the Texan retorted.
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"Right now, Republican leadership in Washington seems to be competing to see who can surrender faster and more ostentatiously to Barack Obama."
Cruz called Obama the most successful president in history when it comes to pushing a leftist agenda.
"And, last I checked, President Obama doesn't spend a lot of time spooning with congressional Republicans," he cracked.
"Just once, Republicans should nominate a candidate as committed to conservative principles as Barack Obama is to liberal principles," he exhorted, bringing a roaring crowd to their feet.
Cruz noted the Republican landslide victories running against Obamacare in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2012.
"In between, in 2012, we sought out and nominated the one person on the planet who had actually designed and implemented a plan just like Obamacare."
"Literally, there seven-billion people on the face of planet Earth. We could have walked up to anyone and asked, 'Sir, have you designed and implemented a plan like Obamacare? No? You're our guy!'" he yelled, to big laughs.
Cruz noted most candidates in the debate never uttered the words Obamacare, then warned, "I promise you, if you don't campaign on repealing Obamacare, you ain't gonna repeal Obamacare."
Referring to Supreme Court justices, the man who had successfully argued cases before that court marveled that all those nominated by Democrats vote "like a radical leftist nutcase," while Republicans "bat about 50-50."
Some honor their oaths and defend the Constitution, he offered, while the "other half are screaming train wreck disasters," going back to Earl Warren.
That is why, he said, he has called for those judges to have to stand for reelection instead of serving automatic lifetime terms.
Cruz drew another raucous standing ovation after calling his fellow contenders fine men and women, but promising, "The difference between me and the other candidates is I'm gonna do what I told you I would do."
The Texan declared, "If I'm elected, everyone will know the days of apologizing for America and bowing and scraping to dictators..." but he didn't have to finish the thought before the crowd erupted and were on their feet again.
He concluded to yet another standing ovation after vowing, "The day I am elected the world will know, America is back."
Fiorina capitalized on her strong performance in Wednesday's debate by keeping her sharp criticism of Planned Parenthood in focus and renewing her call for Congress to send Obama a budget bill that would defund the abortion provider.
She was asked how Congress could beat Obama in a game of chicken over a government shutdown when the president won in 2013 after GOP lawmakers tried to defund Obamacare?
"One of the things that's changed is we (Republicans) are in charge of the Senate and we have a record majority in the House. That's a huge change from 2013," noted Fiorina.
"If we will not fight for this, faced with proof positive of the butchery that is going on at Planned Parenthood, faced with an assault on the character of our nation, and that is what I believe this is, it is not actually about whether you are pro-choice or pro life – we cannot be a nation that funds this kind of barbarity."
"And that is what it is," she thundered to a standing ovation.
But the biggest roar and longest standing ovation came after Fiorina challenged congressional Republicans to fight, despite Obama's threat of a shutdown, and then challenged the president himself, "[I]f you're prepared to shut down the government to defund this kind of barbarity, have at it, and explain it to the American people."
"I will issue my charge again: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, anyone who wants to defend Planned Parenthood, watch these tapes."
Forina also took dead aim at the mainstream media.
"I went on national television the morning after the debate and George Stephanopoulous at ABC News told me I was mistaken, that the tapes don't exist. That the images aren't real."
She paused and shot the audience an incredulous look before asserting, "Well yes, ladies and gentlemen, they are real."
Asked how she could persuade Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to get over his fear of a shutdown and get on board with the defunding movement, Fiorina, dripping with sarcasm, seemed to relish the opportunity to take aim at GOP brass.
"Well, I think leaders should produce results. And I think there are some very clear things leadership in the House and the Senate ought to be doing right now.
"I think they ought to pass a border security bill. That would be nice, after 25 years. Let President Obama veto that, too.
"They ought to pass what's called the Reins Act, which gives Congress the authority, imagine this, to actually look at regulations before they're passed. Wouldn't that be novel?
"And they ought to fight over the defunding of Planned Parenthood."
But, she said, the major problem was a disenfranchised electorate.
"I am going to use the power of technology to reengage citizens with their government," she explained, offering the example of using smart phones to conduct instant polls.
For instance, to learn if most voters favored zero-based budgeting, "so you know where every dollar is being spent," she deadpanned, "Press one for yes, two for no."
"We need to use technology to put the pressure of a citizenry that has grown angry and frustrated and tired of business as usual on Congress so they will act."
And she earned another of many standing ovations when she promised, "President Fiorina will call on you to take our government back."
She concluded with an attack on her favorite target, the other woman in the race.
"How hypocritical of Hillary Clinton to be running on her record of 'protecting women's rights' when, in her position as secretary of state, she promptly took off the table women's rights, human rights, and any other topic of conversation that might be uncomfortable for the Chinese."
"Rest assured, ladies and gentlemen," Fiorina promised, " I will bring that up on a general election debate stage.
When asked about his support of amnesty for illegal immigrants, the mild-mannered candidate did not draw the kind of cheers or applause he did for his comments on Planned Parenthood.
"I don't think it is possible to round them all up. Just the judicial system itself would be clogged up for many, many years to come."
Carson said farmers have told him they can't get enough people to work their fields, so he proposed a guest-worker program to do the "kind of work that Americans don't want to do."
Carson did garner some applause for saying those workers should have pristine records and could not vote or become a citizens.
Would that be a permanent or temporary program? Would guest-workers be eligible for federal benefits?
That would be for "we the people" to decide, Carson suggested.
He insisted, contrary to liberal belief, the economy can't be fixed by taking money from the rich, but by stopping "all these stupid regulations that are driving up the costs for everybody," especially the poor.
He advised jump-starting the economy by bringing back all the money overseas hiding from punitive corporate tax rates, saying that would provide the "biggest stimulus since the New Deal."
Carson remarked he has been on many corporate boards, and, "I have a lot of business experience. People think doctors only know medicine? They're nuts."
He called for a flat tax, saying "If it was good enough for God, it's good enough for me, too. And it should be good enough for all of us."
When asked what he told fellow scientists who questioned his belief in God, the surgeon noted the motto "In God We Trust" is on money, court rooms and government buildings all across America.
So, he marveled at people who question his faith, remarking, "What is that? In medicine it's called schizophrenia, and we can do much better than that."
Walker took the first shot of the evening at President Obama, quipping, "I'd love to play cards with him because he folded on everything in the Iran deal."
Obama had told Walker he should "bone up" on foreign policy because of his opposition to the deal, but Walker said, "How about that from the guy who called ISIS a JV squad and Somalia a success? It's about time he boned up on what Americans really care about."
Walker also offered support to senators who want to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood in the upcoming budget battle.
"I don't buy this nonsense about Senate rules," he proclaimed. "'There aren't 60 votes out there.' I gotta tell you something. The Democrats don't play by those rules. They passed Obamacare with 51 votes. It's time we sent the president a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood with 51 votes in the United States Senate."
The governor paused while the crowd erupted in wild applause.
He then took aim at critics of those such as Cruz who advocate using all means to defund the abortion provider.
"You don't have to buy into this media talk about government shutdowns. Were not talking about shutdowns. We're talking about sending a bill to the president that reasonably, responsibly defunds Planned Parenthood and puts that money into other areas that are non-controversial."
He added, "The president is the one who's willing to stop and shut down the government. We're not. You know what we're standing for? We're telling the rest of America that we don't want any more of those videos."
A moderator pointed out Walker was a critic of shutting down the government in an attempt to defund Obamacare in 2013. What was the difference?
Walker evaded the question by insisting he would repeal Obamacare on day one in office as president and install his plan to give power back to patients and healthcare providers.
Asked how the GOP could shed an image as the party of big business bailouts, the Kentuckian said, "We can't be Democrat-lite to win elections."
He called on Republicans to boldly assert conservative basics such as smaller government and lower taxes.
But, the problem was, he said, "The truth is most Republicans in Washington don't want to lower taxes."
The key to winning, according to Paul, was to "bring a bigger, better bolder message to more people," without diluting conservative principles.
"There are 18 states we haven't won in 30 years."
That's why, he said, "I've tried to take our Republican principles to places we haven't been going."
He listed Detroit, the south side of Chicago, Ferguson, and Baltimore as places where he has preached the virtues of small government and how that would will help stop poverty and create jobs.
Paul said he went to Ferguson, Missouri, after the riots not to talk with the looters, but the looted.
He said he wasn't questioning the appropriateness of the shooting that sparked the unrest, but the whether police should be armed like the military.
"I just don't think we need tanks in our cities," he observed, adding, "Why do some police now have bayonets?"
Paul noted 40 government agencies now have SWAT teams, including the Department of Agriculture, which "arrested a farmer for selling milk directly from a cow."
The senator suggested the federal government "might be too large if we are arresting people for selling milk."
Paul also took a shot at a Democrat climbing in the polls.
"Bernie Sanders is offering you free stuff. He'll give a free car, a free house, but guess what? There is no free lunch. It just means somebody else is paying for it but they're not showing you who's paying for it."
"It is a disservice to the country," he said, "for Sanders to offer everyone all this free stuff."
The man who came in second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 race for the GOP nomination pitched his "blue-collar conservatism" by noting former Reagan aide Peggy Noonan had written just that day that the Republican party had "sold its soul" to the donor class after the Gipper left office.
Santorum charged his party with forgetting working men and women.
He called for a 20 percent flat tax "with no corporate giveaways."
And he said there were justifiable reasons for this year's voter anger, especially with wages flatlining over the last 20 years.
"What have we done? We've brought in waves of immigrants, 35 million over the last 20 years, more than any 20-year period in the history of our country."
That, he said, had only suppressed wages and costs jobs, as all the net new jobs went to immigrants.
Santorum said Democrats just want immigrants' votes and "don't really care what happens to working men and women."
The Florida governor condemned the administration for treating "the prime minister of Israel with less respect under this president than we do the radical ayatollah of Iran."
Rubio blasted Obama for cutting the U.S. military "at a time when the world has gone nuts."
The senator said allies must consider America reliable and its enemies must be afraid to test her, "just the opposite of what we have today."
He said the country's $18 trillion debt will be $20 trillion by time the next president takes office and called it the "most predictable crisis in history and completely self-inflicted."
When asked how to handle immigration reform "without dividing our country," Rubio didn't mention his support for amnesty or opposition to deporting illegal immigrants.
Instead, he said the system was broken because America accepts legal immigrants based on whether they have family members in the country, rather than based on their skills.
He did acknowledge there were too many illegal immigrants in the country.
Rubio called for a secure border, mandatory verification that employees are legally eligible to work in the country and an end to visa overstays.
He did not mention he is sponsoring legislation to increase work visas.
Generally consider an establishment moderate, Christie portrayed himself as a conservative and Washington outsider.
“I’m a Republican in New Jersey, man, I’m an outsider every morning I get up," he claimed.
Then he took aim at GOP congressional leadership.
"They told us if they got a Republican majority in the Senate, they would change things. In 2010, they told us if they got a Republican majority in the House, they would really be able to stir things up."
"What I’ve found is that those folks go down to Washington, and they seem to get amnesia,” he observed. “They forget about all the stuff they said to us back here, when they get down there."
Signaling his toughness, Christie promised, "I’m not somebody who opposes compromise, but I oppose capitulation."
Bush defended his support of the Common Core educational curricula, something opposed by many conservatives, but tried to mollify them by insisting he would oppose all national testing standards.
Bush also said he would reduce the national debt by insisting on zero-based budgeting for virtually everything except national defense, especially intelligence gathering and care for veterans.
On almost every issue, he consistently said the way to reduce spending and increase to power of the people was to restore power to the states and let them decide how to spend their own money.
Jindal's most significant contribution to the evening occurred offstage.
He Tweeted, "Sorry to see @realDonaldTrump cancel on event today w/ Sen DeMint & Gov Haley. Filing for bankruptcy again? Perhaps 5th time is the charm..."
A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Sept. 16-17, after Wednesday evening's GOP debates, indicates 59 percent of likely Republican voters now believe Carson is most likely to win the Republican nomination.
Carson is followed by Trump (58 percent), Fiorina (41 percent) and Bush (40 percent).
"Jeb Bush is treading water, but Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina appear to have dramatically improved their chances for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016," a Rasmussen analysis stated. "Carson is now in a virtual tie with recent front-runner Donald Trump."
RealClearPolitics' polling average has Trump leading the GOP pack with 30.5 percent. Carson is at 20 percent, and is followed by Bush (7.8 percent), Cruz (6.8 percent), Rubio (5.3 percent), Huckabee (4.5 percent), Paul (3.3 percent), Fiorina (3.3 percent), Walker (3 percent), Kasich (2.5 percent), Christie (1.5 percent), Santorum (.8 percent), Perry (.8 percent, though he's no longer running), Jindal (.5 percent) and Lindsay Graham (.3 percent).
Heritage Action for America is the political action arm of the Heritage Foundation, and states it is dedicated to restoring conservative principles to the presidential debate.
Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., hosted the event, which reached maximum capacity earlier this week after 5,000 people registered to attend.
The event was being live streamed on the TakeBackEvent website from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST.
On Friday afternoon, Red State Editor Eric Erickson thrashed Trump, calling him a "chicken" for cancelling his appearance at the last minute. Erickson suggested Trump's performance at Wednesday's GOP debate explains the front-runner's absence.
"It was obvious to even Donald Trump supporters that he was out of his depth on Wednesday night in Simi Valley, CA," Erickson wrote. "He did not have a grasp of issues and could not resort to rhetorical hyperbole to answer many of the questions."
Erickson said the questions at the Heritage event "were guaranteed to be even more substantive."
"Suddenly, oh so suddenly, a HUGE business transaction has come up on a Friday night and Donald Trump has no one in a vast MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR organization to handle it for him," he wrote. "So he must bail on the substantive questions in South Carolina to deal with this 'business transaction.' Hahahaha. Chicken."