America knew anything could happen Thursday at the big Republican debate in Miami, but most people – including GOP front-runner Donald Trump – never expected such civility among the typically feisty presidential candidates.
A half-hour into the event, Trump declared, "So far, I cannot believe how civil it's been up here."
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The GOP debate came just five days before another big primary night where 350 Republicans delegates are at stake, including in the winner-take-all contests in Ohio and Florida. And if Trump wins those states, many analysts say the game will be over.
Trump, Rubio, Ted Cruz and Kasich faced off in the debate hosted by CNN, Salem Media Group, the Washington Times and the Republican National Committee at the University of Miami.
CNN's Jake Tapper moderated, and CNN's Dana Bash, Salem talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt and the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan asked questions of the candidates.
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H1B visas and American jobs
The debate began with questions about the H1B visa program and American jobs.
Asked about his support for increasing the H1B program, Rubio said companies must prove they've tried to hire American workers and should be penalized if they break those rules.
Referencing Disney's use of H1B visa holders to replace U.S. workers, Rubio said, "It is a violation of that program now to use those visas to replace Americans."
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Rubio said those loophole must be closed, and foreign workers should only be hired when there are no Americans to do the jobs.
Trump admitted to using H1B workers for his own companies, but he called for an end to abuse of H1B visas.
"I know the H1B very well, and it's something that I use. It's something that I shouldn't be allowed to use," he said. "And I don't think it's something we should be allowed to use. … It's very bad for business. It's very bad for our workers, and we should end it" He said he supports a "pause" of "a year to two years" on H1B visas.
Cruz said the U.S. must "redefine its legal immigration system so it meets the needs of the U.S. economy." He called for building a wall, tripling the Border Patrol, ending funding for sanctuary cities, ending welfare benefits for anyone in the U.S. illegally.
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He said the U.S. can solve these problems, but members of both parties lack the will to do it.
"We need an immigration system that takes care of the jobs of the working men and women in this country."
Social Security insolvency
Asked what the age of retirement for Social Security should be, Rubio said, "Social Security will go bankrupt, and it will bankrupt the country with it."
He said, under his plan, the Social Security age would slowly be increased to 70.
“The people who are on it now, we don’t have to change it at all,” he said, adding, "If we don't do anything, we will have a debt crisis."
Trump, who opposes increasing the retirement age, said, "I want to leave Social Security as it is. I want to make our country rich so we can afford it."
Trump said getting rid of waste and corruption will solve the debt issue.
“It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way that it is,” he said.
Then he trailed off with comments about China and “our jobs our gone” and “make America great again.”
Bash noted that studies show waste in the Social Security program adds up to $3 billion while budget overruns come closer to $150 billion.
Rubio said Trump's numbers don't add up and cannot save the program.
Then Cruz warned that Social Security is "careening toward insolvency," and as president he will make "no changes whatsoever" for older workers. But for younger workers, he would change the retirement age and allow a portion of taxes to go into personal accounts they can pass onto their grandchildren.
'I think Islam hates us'
At the debate, Trump was asked about comments he made to CNN's Anderson Cooper: "I think Islam hates us. There's something there that's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable of us. "
Cooper asked, "In Islam itself?"
Trump replied, "You're going to have to figure that out, OK? You'll get another Pulitzer, right? But you're going to have to figure that out. But there is a tremendous hatred. And we have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful. We can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States and of people that are not Muslim."
Cooper followed up: "Is there a war between the West and radical Islam or is there a war between the West and Islam itself?"
"Well, it's radical, but it's very hard to define," Trump said. "It's very hard to separate because you don't know who is who."
At the debate, Trump stood by his statement when Tapper asked if he was referencing all 1.6 billion Muslims: "I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them. There's something going on that maybe you don't know about and maybe a lot of people don't know about, but there's tremendous hatred."
Nonetheless, Trump has properties and business projects in the following Muslim nations: Trump World Golf Club, Dubai; Trump Towers, Istanbul, Sisli; Trump International Golf Club, Dubai; Trump International Hotel and Tower in Bali.
Tapper turned to Rubio to ask if he agreed with a criticism of Trump's remark by Sen. Jeff Flake, Ariz., that, "Republicans are better than this."
Rubio said, "I know a lot of people find an appeal in a lot of things Donald says because he says what people wish they could say. The problem is presidents can't just say anything they want. It has consequences here and around the world."
After pausing for some applause to subside, Rubio recounted meeting missionaries, presumably Christian, in Bangladesh who told him they rely upon the protection of friendly Muslims for their safety.
"And they tell me today they have a very hostile environment in which to operate because the news is coming out that in America leading political figures are saying that America doesn't like Muslims."
Rubio continued, "There is no doubt radical Islam is a danger in the world," but then he insisted, "If you go anywhere in the world you're going to see American men and women serving us in uniform that are Muslim. And they love America."
Ignoring the obvious contrary example of Fort Hood mass-murderer Maj. Nidal Hasan, Rubio declared, "Anyone who has the uniform of the United States on and is willing to die for this country is someone who loves America no matter what they're religious background may be."
Rubio said the U.S. must work with Jordan, the Saudis, the Gulf states and Egypt, "people of Muslim faith, even as Islam faces a crisis."
Trump responded, "Marco talks about consequences. Well, we've had a lot of consequences, including airplanes flying into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and it could have been the White House."
"There have been a lot of problems. And you can say what you want. And you can be politically correct if you want. I don't want to be so politically correct. I like to solve problems. We have a serious, serious problem of hate. There is tremendous hate. There is tremendous hate. A large portion of a group of people, Islam. Large portions want to use very, very harsh means."
"Let me go a step further. Women are treated horribly. You know that. You do know that. Women are treated horribly and other things are happening that are very, very bad. Now, I will say this. There is tremendous hatred.
"The question was asked, 'What do you think?' I said, 'There is hatred.' Now it would be very easy for me to say something different, and everybody would say, 'Oh, isn't that wonderful?' But we better solve the problem before it's too late."
Cruz: 'I won't be neutral between Israel, Palestinians'
Cruz blasted Obama on his lectures of American people in the wake of terrorist attacks: "People are scared, and for seven years we've faced terrorist attacks, and President Obama lectures Americans on Islamophobia. That is maddening.
"We need a commander in chief focused on fighting" radical Muslims the senator offered, then turned his sights on Trump.
"Frankly, one concern I have with Donald," observed Cruz, "although his language is quite incendiary, when you look at his substantive policy on Iran, he has said he would not rip up this Iranian nuclear deal. I think that's a mistake. The Ayatollah Khamenei wants nuclear weapons to murder us.
"I'll give you another example. Dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. On Israel, Donald has said he wants to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. As president, I will not be neutral.
"And let me say this week, a Texan, Taylor Force, he was an Eagle Scout, he was a West Point graduate, he was an Army veteran, he was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist this week in Israel. And I don't think we need a commander in chief who will be neutral between the Palestinian terrorists and one of our strongest allies in the world."
Trump responded, "There's nobody on this stage that is more pro-Israel than I am," adding, "I have tremendous love for Israel. I happen to have a son in law and a daughter who are Jewish, OK? And two grandchildren that are Jewish."
"But I will tell you, I think that if we are ever to negotiate a peace settlement, which every Israeli wants, and I've spoken to the toughest and the sharpest, they all want peace, I think it would be much more helpful – I'm a negotiator – if I go in, I'll say I'm pro-Israel and I've told that to everybody and anybody that would listen. But I would at least like to have the other side think I am somewhat neutral as to them, so that we can maybe get a deal done. I think it's probably the toughest negotiation of all time, but maybe we can get a deal done."
He added, "And, as far as Iran, I would have never made that deal. I think it's maybe the worst deal I've ever seen. I will be so tough on them, and ultimately that deal will be broken unless they behave better than they've ever behaved in their lives, which is probably unlikely."
Trump making 'good deals' with Cuba
Asked about Obama's trip to Cuba this month, Rubio criticized U.S. changes allowing money to flow to the Castro regime “and nothing will change for the Cuban people. ... In fact, things are worse, than they were before this opening.”
The crowd went wild with applause upon hearing Rubio's statements about Cuba.
Trump, who has previously agreed with opening Cuba, said, “I want a much better deal with Cuba. ... I do agree that something should take place. After 50 years, it’s enough time folks. But we have to make a good deal here.”
Rubio hit back against Trump on Cuba, listing a number of anti-Castro grievances to the loudest applause of the evening.
Cruz was asked: Would you break diplomatic relations with Cuba?
“Yes I would,” he said.
Cruz said the question illustrates “a real difference between us” on foreign policy.
Trump, Cruz charged, supports the “same basic trajectory” of policy that Obama and Clinton have backed.
Trump returned to his deal-making theme: “We would not do the deal unless it would be a very good deal for us."
Violence at Trump events?
Trump also faced outrage from members of the media after Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields claimed Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted her.
Fields posted an image on Twitter of a bruise on her arm. She claims it was causes by Lewandowski when he grabbed her arm and forcefully yanked her out of his way at a press conference.
Fields had been trying to ask Trump a question.
The Washington Post's Ben Terris said he witnessed the incident: "I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager."
The Post said Fields said, "I'm just a little spooked. No one has grabbed me like that before."
In a separate incident at a campaign rally Wednesday night, a Trump supporter punched an anti-Trump protester in the face.
The 78-year-old man charged with assaulting the protester, John McGraw, told "Inside Edition": "Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don't know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization."
McGraw, who was charged with assault and battery and disorderly conduct Thursday, said he enjoyed punching the man.
"You bet I liked it, clocking the hell out of that big mouth."
Asked at Thursday's debate about the violence breaking out at some of his rallies, Trump said:
"We have 25-30,000 people. … People come with tremendous passion and love for their country … When they see what's going on in this country, they have anger that's unbelievable. They love this country. … I see it. There's some anger. There's also great love for the country. But I certainly don't condone that at all."
Trump claimed he hadn't seen the video in dozens of news reports Thursday showing his supporter sucker-punching a protester.
He said, "We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They're swinging. They are really dangerous ... We had a couple big, powerful, strong guys doing damage to people."
Contested convention? It's a numbers game
On Tuesday, Trump won Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii. Cruz captured Idaho. Trump won 71 delegates and Cruz came away with 56. Kasich received 17 and Rubio suffered a shutout. To win the party nomination, a GOP candidate needs 1,237 delegates. After Tuesday, 1,435 remain available. The next GOP primaries will be held March 15 and include Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio.
In an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly Wednesday evening, Cruz indicated he's prepared for a contested convention, should it come to that.
"A contested convention is a different thing where you go if nobody gets 1,237 and you’ve got two front-runners. Look, Reagan and Ford battled it out in a contested convention. That’s what conventions are for," Cruz said. "If you’re fighting with the candidates that have earned the votes of the people and it’s the delegates at the convention who elected to do that, that’s the way the system works."
But Trump told CNN, "I don't see the convention going that route. I see [myself] probably getting the delegates. It's like with the fighters, that's the ultimate way of doing it. You knock 'em out. If you knock 'em out, nothing can happen."
In Real Clear Politics' national polling average from Feb. 19-March 6, Trump leads the pack with 36 percent. Cruz trails at 21.8 percent, Rubio at 18 percent and Kasich at 12 percent.