The Washington Post
Politics ⋅ Live Blog

GOP debate live blog: All the front-runners — except Trump

January 28, 2016

The top Republican candidates — minus one front-runner — faced off in Des Moines for the final time before the Iowa caucuses, in a crucial presidential debate that front-runner Donald Trump boycotted.


  • Jenna Johnson
  • ·

Whatever Fox said to Trump: It didn’t work. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

THE CONTENDERS | Did Fox executives really call Donald Trump repeatedly to beg him to join the rest of the candidates on stage tonight, as he’s claimed — and they’ve denied? Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks said that the campaign and Fox News “have a difference in opinion” on what constitutes multiple phone calls. “There were more than half a dozen calls placed” on Thursday, she said, adding that the calls went to Trump, along with members of his family. “They were asking him until the last minute,” Hicks said.

When asked about Fox’s claim that Trump had asked them for a $5 million donation, Hicks said she was “not privy” to that conversation, and would check with him.

Hicks later sent a statement:

The event tonight, which raised more than $6 million dollars, and in many respects turned out to be bigger than the debate, was for the Veterans. If FOX wanted to join in that effort and make a contribution Mr. Trump would have welcomed that. Nearly a dozen calls were made by Roger Ailes and his executives, including the final call, which came just before the start of the debate and Mr. Trump’s Veterans event, which was a huge success. And as the polls have shown after the last six debates, Mr. Trump won tonight as well.

  • Katie Zezima
  • ·

He’s gotten used to answering ethanol questions. January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

ON THE ISSUES | If Sen. Ted Cruz’s answer on ethanol tonight sounded rehearsed, that’s because it was.

Cruz has been continually asked about his stance on ethanol in Iowa, which definitely goes against the GOP grain here. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad even said Cruz shouldn’t win the caucuses because of it. Cruz doesn’t support the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires a certain amount of biofuels, including ethanol, to be mixed into gasoline.

The Texas senator is continually asked about ethanol on the campaign trial. On Monday, he was asked about ethanol at all three of his voter events. And he repeats the exact same answer he said on the debate stage – that God has blessed the United States with energy, but that none of them should have mandates or subsidies attached to them.

Cruz says he’s not against ethanol, but doesn’t want the federal government picking “winners and losers.” By requiring ethanol in gasoline, Cruz tells voters, it keeps lobbyists and others in Washington rich – feeding the so-called “Washington cartel” Cruz so wants to demolish.

As he makes his way across Iowa, Cruz has been followed by a Winnebago and protesters from a pro-ethanol group that Branstad’s son works for. Cruz said those moves show that the establishment is “in panic” about his campaign and are working to take him down in this farm-rich, agricultural state.

So far, it’s not clear it’s cost him much among his grassroots supporters: Many voters at Cruz’s events have said that they agree with his stance – that they prefer to let the free market dictate the energy markets.

  • Abby Phillip
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Donald Trump wasn’t at the GOP presidential debate. But he still managed to grab the most debate night chatter.

According to Twitter, in the first half of the GOP presidential debate, Trump was king:


Even considering the social media conversation without Trump, no other candidate gets close to the share of conversation that Trump has:


  • Michelle Ye Hee Lee
  • ·

“There have been three different investigations that have proven that I knew nothing.”

–Chris Christie

THE FACT CHECKER | Only one of the investigations conclusively found that Christie had no knowledge of the massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, as a result of a two-lane shutdown on the George Washington bridge. Media outlets had revealed that the traffic delays may intentionally have been caused by the Christie administration because the mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse Christie in a gubernatorial election.

The one “investigation” that found Christie had no knowledge of the scandal before or during the lane closures was actually a study that Christie’s administration commissioned, through the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

The other two investigations were conducted by the New Jersey legislature and the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

The state legislature’s investigation found “no conclusive evidence” as to whether Christie was aware of the lane closure before or during it, PolitiFact said. The U.S. Attorney’s investigation did not find criminal evidence that Christie was involved in the scandal, but did not say the case is closed.

  • Michelle Ye Hee Lee
  • ·

Bret Baier: “Can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not at all?” …
Chris Christie: “How about one that I’ve done in new Jersey for six years: that’s getting rid of Planned Parenthood funding.”

Baier: “Anything bigger than that?”

Christie: “Bigger than that? Let me tell you something. When you see thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can’t think of anything bigger than that.”

— Exchange at debate

THE FACT CHECKER | Let’s add some context here. Planned Parenthood federal funding makes up nowhere near one percent of the federal budget–and even less from federal discretionary spending authorized by Congress every year.

Planned Parenthood receives about $450 million in federal funds annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The majority of federal funding that Planned Parenthood health centers receive are through Medicaid reimbursements or grants through the federal family planning program, Title X. In 2013-14, it received $528.4 million in state and federal funding, which comprised 41 percent of the organization’s revenues that year.

Nearly 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from entitlement programs, or mandatory spending, and the remaining 10 percent comes from discretionary spending, PolitiFact reported. Applying that percentage to annual federal funding for Planned Parenthood ($450 million), that means the organization receives $405 million in mandatory funding and $45 million in discretionary funding.

Federal mandatory spending for fiscal 2015 was $2.45 trillion and discretionary funding for fiscal 2015 was $1.11 trillion. That means Planned Parenthood receives 0.02 percent of the federal mandatory funding and 0.004 percent of discretionary spending.

A long-standing legal restriction bans federal funds from paying for any elective abortions, which are for pregnancies that are not caused by rape, incest or that threaten the mother’s health. So while Christie mentions abortions, pulling federal money would not necessarily affect how Planned Parenthood’s abortions are funded.

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·


  • Jose A. DelReal
  • ·

Marco Rubio has repeatedly mentioned his faith while answer questions during Thursday’s GOP debate. There’s a reason: he and his campaign are attempting to shore-up support among Christian evangelicals in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses by being more open about his religious beliefs.

For a deep dive on his strategy, read this excellent analysis from the Post’s Sean Sullivan:

“In TV ads, town halls and online videos, Rubio has been emphasizing his faith more than ever, wagering that showing his spiritual side will pay off in a state where 57 percent of GOP caucus-goers identified as evangelical or born-again Christians four years ago.

It is a challenging endeavor. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), who sits well ahead of Rubio in recent polls, has established dominance on the Christian right, unifying an impressive roster of leaders and an army of churchgoing followers. …

Some of Rubio’s opponents say the senator’s outreach has been too soft or that it simply has not worked. But Rubio, who lacks an obvious political base, senses an opportunity to win over some evangelicals to help himself at the margins.

  • Katie Zezima
  • ·

ON THE ISSUES | For months, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have been locking horns on immigration, with each arguing the other supports a position contrary to ones held previously. Fox decided to go to the tape – and had both men defending positions that have dogged each them, particularly Rubio.

Both men were on their heels on the issue, one that resonates heavily with Republican primary voters. Jeb Bush said Rubio “cut and run” on his support for an immigration reform bill providing a pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants because it “wasn’t popular with conservatives.” Sen. Rand Paul put Cruz on the defensive after watching video of Cruz defending an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.

“He can’t have it both ways,” Paul said, arguing Cruz has an “authenticity problem” that “everyone’s not as perfect as him.”

Rubio also dumped on Cruz.

“You’ve been willing to say and do anything to get votes,” Rubio said about Cruz.

  • Abby Phillip
  • ·

Ivanka Trump arrives before the start of a veterans event with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

THE CONTENDERS | Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump is expecting a child — in “two weeks,” to hear Trump tell it.

He also joked (we think!) tonight that he lobbied for the baby to be born in an Iowa hospital. Why? Well, so that he could win the Iowa caucuses.

“I said: ‘Ivanka: it would be so great if you had your baby in Iowa!'” Trump said. “It would be so great. I would definitely win!

“I want that to happen so badly,” Trump said.

Unfortunately, this grandfather-to-be won’t get his wish. It turns out that another hospital has already been selected. As far as the Iowa caucuses are concerned, we’ll find out how that goes on Monday night.

  • Scott Clement
  • ·

Does it matter that he’s on another stage?. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

BY THE NUMBERS | Donald Trump’s decision to skip Thursday’s debate throws a twist into an Iowa contest where many voters come to a final decision in the final week — yet history doesn’t clearly suggest whether it would help or hurt his chances.

The worst case analog for Trump is the 1980 Republican race, when Ronald Reagan skipped the campaign’s first debate in early January. A Gallup poll at the time showed him with a 22 percentage-point lead over his nearest rival in Iowa, yet George H.W. Bush surged to defeat him by 32-30 just over two weeks later. It’s unclear how much the debate had an impact, and of course Reagan recovered from the loss and won the nomination.

The 2000 Republican primary offers another sign that debate skips could be damaging, where George W. Bush stayed on the sidelines for the campaign’s the first two of four debates in New Hampshire, which took place in October. Over three months later, he lost the state’s primary to John McCain by an 19-point margin, but it’s unclear how much if any was due to his spotty attendance record. New Hampshire’s more moderate electorate offered a natural advantage for McCain’s candidacy, and of course Bush went on to capture the GOP nomination.

The 1996 South Carolina primary offers a completely opposite lesson, where Bob Dole skipped the campaign’s first debate only two days before the state’s contest and went on to win by 16 percentage points. He also went on to win the party’s nomination.

One element that ties Trump and previous debate skippers together is that all held front-runner status when they decided to skip the debate, perhaps with the goal of avoiding the risk of challengers besting them on-stage. Those absences did not stop each from securing their party’s nomination, so Trump’s may not matter too much in the long run.

Of course, Trump is not the only factor in this equation. If any contender in tonight’s debate was seen as having a standout performance — especially second-place candidate Ted Cruz — it could sap Trump’s support and endanger his Iowa lead.

  • David Weigel
  • ·

ON THE ISSUES | DES MOINES — Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) return to the debate stage, after a strategic boycott of the last “undercard,” gave him multiple chances to roam around his safe zone. The coziest moment came when Mark Watson, a “YouTube star” who posts under the handle “Soldier Knows Best,” prodded the candidates on police reform. “Why aren’t we using the technology available to better protect our communities?”

The question could have gone to anyone, but it went to Paul — the candidate who already said the most about the topic.

“Drug use is about equal between white and black, but our prisons — three out of four people in prison are black or brown,” he said. “I think something has to change. I think it’s a big thing that our party needs to be part of, and I’ve been a leader in Congress on trying to bring about criminal justice reform.”

And… that was it. No other candidate was pushed on the topic, which prevented Paul from distinguishing himself from his “liberty lane” competitor, Ted Cruz. As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out*, Cruz only recently started criticizing criminal justice reformers for wanting too many people to be freed during a “crime wave” (which statistics don’t back up).

The only good Paul did was in emphasizing the libertarian message that ran through his speech today, a sort of reboot on the campus of Drake University.

“The GOP has been the party of emancipation,” he said. “We are the party of civil rights. We need to be the party of justice. Justice begins when the war on drugs ends A generation of young black men have been incarcerated and permanently lost the privilege of voting and the opportunity of work. The war on drugs has disproportionately incarcerated those who live in poverty in our cities. Though blacks and whites use drugs at similar rates, 3 out 4 people jailed in the drug war are black or brown.”

*Disclosure: I worked at Reason from 2006 through 2008.

  • Washington Post
  • ·

We are updating a live transcript of tonight’s debate. Washington Post reporters and readers using Genius will be annotating it, and will continue to do so following the debate.

Read and annotate tonight’s transcript here.

  • Jose A. DelReal
  • ·

THE CONTENDERS | Ohio governor John Kasich received the only question of the night regarding the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., which has sparked a national outrage over the systemic government failures that allowed the situation to worsen.

His response was…not particularly specific.

The criticism of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has put Republican presidential hopefuls in an uncomfortable position , forcing them to walk a fine line in responding without directly attacking a party ally. With regards to the crisis, Kasich was asked specifically, “How would you have handled that?”

“You’ve got to be on top of it right away. And I don’t know all the details of what Rick Snyder has done…but the fact is every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that,” Kasich said. “You’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to go the extra mile…because you realize that people are depending on you.”

Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only sitting governors onstage Thursday, and the issue presented an opportunity for the two of them to distinguish themselves as chief executives of large states. Kasich’s statement that he did not “know all the details” of the crisis probably wasn’t part of any debate prep – and is a response that’s dogged him on other major issues, including the militia standoff in Oregon.

“The fact is, we work for the people, the people don’t work for us,” he added.

  • Glenn Kessler
  • ·

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“First of all we have seen how in six years of Obamacare that it’s been a disaster. It is the biggest job killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums sky rocket.”

–Ted Cruz

THE FACT CHECKER | Cruz adds lots of things together to come up with his “millions.”

But he glosses over the fact that the Affordable Care Act has added nearly 18 million people to the health-insurance rolls since it was enacted five years ago, according the Department of Health and Human Services. (There were at least 2 million discontinued insurance policies that were no longer eligible under the law, but those policies were either temporarily extended or could be replaced.)

As for Obamacare’s impact on jobs, there is slim evidence that jobs have been lost. (In fact, the unemployment rate is now just five percent.) Recent, detailed studies have found the Affordable Care Act had little impact on employment patterns.

One study, published in January in the journal Health Affairs, examined Census data and found no increase in the likelihood of working part time, except for a 0.18 percentage point increase in the likelihood of working 25 to 29 hours per week between 2013 and 2014 — a trend that predated the ACA. Even the researchers said the findings were surprising, given widespread reporting of scattered companies that said they had moved some workers to part-time work in response to the health-care law.

Thus far, however, it appears such anecdotal reports do not reflect a trend with any real impact on employment.

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Via The Post’s Michael Cavna:

  • Abby Phillip
  • ·

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets retired Army Sgt. 1st Class John Wayne Walding to the stage at a event in support of veterans at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

He is a wounded veteran who served in the Iraq War and his name is Sgt. John Wayne Walding.

In 2014, the native Texan was profiled by the Indy Star as part of a series on veterans. Here’s a little of his amazing story:

Walding, a Green Beret who had previously served a tour in Iraq, lost the lower part of a leg after being shot by a sniper during a mission to capture a high-value target in the Shok Valley area of Afghanistan on April 6, 2008. Walding tied his severed leg to his thigh and continued to return fire for four hours before the Green Berets were rescued.

“I tell everybody, you should see the other guy,” Walding joked to the crowd at Trump’s Drake University event.

Walding said that he met Trump in Las Vegas when he was in town for a convention and he noted that Trump never asked him for anything.

After Walding spoke, Trump noted: “Isn’t that better than this debate that’s going on where everyone is sleeping?”

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Via The Fix’s Chris Cillizza:

  • Ed O'Keefe
  • ·

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a event at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

DES MOINES — Just a few miles from the debate hall, hundreds of Donald Trump’s most devoted fans are still packed into the Sheslow Auditorium, the same venue that hosted a Democratic presidential forum on Monday night.

In the seats, there seemed to be universal agreement that Trump had done the right thing by skipping the Fox News debate.

By doing so, Trump “is putting his foot down towards Fox News, telling them that their biased journalism isn’t going to happen anymore,” said Paul Bartosz, 29, an ethanol plant worker in Hartley, Iowa.

Thursday was the ninth time Bartosz had seen Trump. He wore a blue winter hat with the Trump campaign logo, a grey sweatshirt and a name tag that said, “F— Megyn Kelly.”

Kelly, a Fox News anchor, has been the focus of most of Trump’s ire towards the network. Bartosz said Kelly had treated Trump unfairly in a previous Fox debate because “she was making statements rather than asking questions and it was singling him out.”

Other devoted Trump followers sat amid a predominantly white and male crowd. There were local leaders of veterans service organizations, a Marine from Los Angeles who flew overnight to attend — even the three young “Freedom Girls” who recently performed a song written by a Trump supporter at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Fla.

The girls sat beaming in red, white, and blue outfits, but their father, Joe Popick, rebuffed media inquiries, telling reporters that “Tonight we’re just here as invited guests.”

Doug Banker, 36, the Marine veteran from Los Angeles, said he arrived in Des Moines Thursday morning and had just a few hours of sleep before getting in line. Growing up in Miami, Banker recalled seeing Trump several times at his hotels and golf courses in South Florida.

“I think he’s just brutally honest. I think he’s what the country needs as far as his skill in business, finance, get us out of this debt,” he said. “He could be a strong leader as far as our military. If I was still in, I’d love to have him as a commander-in-chief.”

Robert Burd, 71, a Navy veteran from Ankeny, Iowa, said Trump would easily win Monday’s caucuses because “people are very tired of people not getting things done. Trump has shown over the years that he knows how to get things done. He not only deals with governments around the world to get his business completed, but he has the ability to stand up and get things done. … He makes decisions based on input and he doesn’t take a month to make a decision and then back away from it.”

Several military veterans in the crowd conceded that Trump was using their plight as an excuse to skip the Fox debate — but they didn’t care.

“Everybody uses veterans to promote themselves,” said Daniel Gannon, 69, a Marin veteran from Ankeny, Iowa. “I have no problem with it if we get something back with it. Because without the publicity we get nothing.”

Robert Burd, 71, an Army veteran from Ankeny, said he first saw Trump during his first political campaign trip to Iowa.

“I want to see Don again. I appreciate his stance on a lot of things,” he said. “Donald Trump has the ability I believe to lead people and get things done.”

  • Jenna Johnson
  • ·

Seven figures raised in less than 24 hours, says Trump. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

DES MOINES, Iowa — Donald Trump’s anti-debate rally tonight is also a fundraiser for programs that benefit military veterans, especially those who were severely injured at war.

Trump says that in less than 24 hours he has raised close to $6 million. The bulk of that money came from big donors — he chipped in $1 million and his friend Carl Icahn, a billionaire hedge funder, put up $500,000. At the rally, Trump listed off a number of other major donors, and invited one donor who donated $1 million onto the stage. Trump said that he has also collected roughly $500,000 in small donations through a website launched by the campaign this afternoon.

The subtext of this impromptu fundraiser: Just imagine if Trump had a super PAC.

The Republican front-runner has disavowed the numerous super PACs that have tried to support his candidacy, although he still accepts small donations that have totaled millions. Trump reminded the crowd of this at his event tonight, telling them that it has been difficult for him to turn away money. But he promised that if elected president: “I’ll be greedy for the United States.”

  • Abby Phillip
  • ·

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) introduces his Republican presidential candidate rivals Mike Huckabee (L) and Rick Santorum (C) at his veteran’s rally in Des Moines, Iowa. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

THE CONTENDERS | An unusual spectacle unfolded at Donald Trump’s event at Drake University tonight: He offered the microphone to two rivals who, aside from the fact they are both currently struggling in the polls, are also notably the last two GOP winners of the Iowa caucuses.

“I’ll stand a little bit over here so I’m not photographed with the Trump sign,” Santorum said in what seemed like a joke (though he did physically contort his body so that it was next to, though not behind, the Trump sign in question).

“I’m supporting another guy for president,” he added.

Huckabee also thanked Trump for the invitation, and noted that Trump would have also gladly invited the other GOP presidential candidates.

“For reasons I don’t understand some of the others aren’t here,” Huckabee said.

Now, both Huckabee and Santorum have been relegated to the GOP’s undercard debate, which aired earlier in the night. The main event, on the other hand, was scheduled to occur during Trump’s event.

“I had nothing to do at 8:00,” Huckabee noted. “This worked well for me.”

Load More
No More Posts