GOP hope­fuls can’t skip de­rid­ing ab­sent Trump

Front- run­ning busi­ness­man misses de­bate over feud with Fox News

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Julie Pace and Jill Colvin

des moines, iowa » Ab­sent Don­ald Trump, the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates strained to take ad­van­tage of a rare op­por­tu­nity to step out of the front- run­ner’s shadow in Thurs­day night’s de­bate — a staid, pol­icy- heavy con­test that of­fered a glimpse of what the GOP con­test might have been with­out the un­pre­dictable busi­ness­man.

Still, the can­di­dates couldn’t re­sist mock­ing Trump for boy­cotting the fi­nal de­bate be­fore Iowa kicks off vot­ing in the 2016 cam­paign on Mon­day.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is locked in a tight con­test with Trump in Iowa, opened the de­bate with a sar­cas­tic im­pres­sion of the real es­tate mogul’s fre­quent insults of his op­po­nents.

“I’m a ma­niac, and ev­ery­one on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” Cruz said. Then he thanked his fel­low can­di­dates for show­ing Iowa vot­ers re­spect by tak­ing part.

For­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a fre­quent tar­get of Trump’s, said with a wry smile, “I kind of miss Don­ald Trump; he­was a teddy bear to me.”

Never one to go qui­etly, Trump was hold­ing what his team called a “Spe­cial Event to Ben­e­fit Veter­ans Or­ga­ni­za­tions” at a packed 775- seat au­di­to­rium at nearby Drake Univer­sity in­stead.

“You have to stick up for your rights. When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights,” Trump told the crowd. “We have to stick up for our­selves as peo­ple, and we have to stick up for our coun­try if we’re be­ing mis­treated.”

Speak­ing fromthe stage at what felt like a cross be­tween a tele­vised fundrais­ing telethon and a typ­i­cal Trump cam­paign rally, Trump said his foun­da­tion al­ready had raised be­tween $ 5 mil­lion and $ 6 mil­lion for veter­ans since an­nounc­ing the event. He said he’s putting up $ 1 mil­lion of his own money and read off the names of wealthy friends he said had pledged ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions.

Trump re­peated ear­lier state­ments that Fox News “very much” wanted him to at­tend the de­bate and said he had fielded re­peated phone calls from the net­work dur­ing the day. Fox News is­sued a state­ment say­ing Trump had of­fered to ap­pear at the de­bate upon the con­di­tion that Fox News con­trib­ute $ 5 mil­lion to his char­i­ties, which the net­work said was not pos­si­ble.

Trump’s ab­sence put the spot­light on Cruz, as well as on Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio, who needs a strong show­ing in Iowa in or­der to stay in the top tier of can­di­dates.

The two sen­a­tors were con­fronted with video clips sug­gest­ing they had changed their po­si­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, one of the most con­tentious is­sues among Repub­li­cans. While each in­sisted the other had flip- flopped, both de­nied they had switched their own views on al­low­ing some peo­ple in the U. S. il­le­gally to stay.

Cruz ac­cused Ru­bio of mak­ing a “politi-

cally ad­van­ta­geous” de­ci­sion to sup­port a 2013 Se­nate bill that in­cluded a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship, while the Florida sen­a­tor said his ri­val was “will­ing to say or do any­thing to get votes.”

“This is the lie that Ted’s cam­paign is built on,” Ru­bio said. “That he’s the most con­ser­va­tive guy.”

In a rare stand­out de­bate mo­ment for Bush, the for­mer Florida gov­er­nor sharply sided with Cruz in ac­cus­ing Ru­bio of hav­ing “cut and run” on the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill.

“He cut and ran be­cause it wasn’t pop­u­lar with con­ser­va­tives,” said Bush.

Cruz was put on the spot over his op­po­si­tion to ethanol sub­si­dies that sup­port Iowa’s pow­er­ful corn in­dus­try — a po­si­tion that has long been con­sid­ered po­lit­i­cally un­ten­able for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the state.

The Texas sen­a­tor cast his po­si­tion as an ef­fort to keep the govern­ment from pick­ing eco­nomic win­ners and losers.

With their White House hopes on the line, the can­di­dates worked hard to pres- ent them­selves as best pre­pared to be com­man­der in chief and take on ter­ror threats.

Ru­bio struck an ag­gres­sive pos­ture, pledg­ing that as pres­i­dent he­would go af­ter ter­ror­ists “wher­ever they are. And if we cap­ture them alive, they are go­ing to Guan­tanamo.” Ru­bio also stood by his pre­vi­ous calls for shut­ting down mosques in theU. S if therewere in­di­ca­tions that the Mus­lim religious cen­ters were be­ing used to rad­i­cal­ize ter­ror­ists.

Ken­tucky Sen. Rand Paul — back on the main de­bate stage af­ter be­ing down­graded to an un­der­card event be­cause of low poll num­bers ear­lier this month — warned against clos­ing down mosques. A pro­po­nent of a more iso­la­tion­ist for­eign pol­icy, Paul also raised con­cerns about the U. S. get­ting in­volved mil­i­tar­ily in Syria, where the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group has a strong­hold.

The can­di­dates fo­cused some of their most pointed at­tacks on Demo­cratic front- run­ner Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“She is not qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent of the United States,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

Christie is part of a crowded field of more main­stream can­di­dates who have strug­gled to break through in an elec­tion year where Trump, and in­creas­ingly Cruz, have tapped into voter anger with the political sys­tem. Party lead­ers have grown in­creas­ingly ea­ger for some of the more tra­di­tional can­di­dates to step aside to al­low one to rise up and chal­lenge for the nom­i­na­tion.

Asked whether the crowded es­tab­lish­ment lane was putting Trump in po­si­tion to win, Bush said, “We’re just start­ing out. The first vote hasn’t been counted. Why don’t we let the process work?”

Bush also de­fended the flurry of crit­i­cal ad­ver­tise­ments his well- funded su­per PAC has launched against Ru­bio and other ri­vals.

“It’s called pol­i­tics,” Bush said. “That’s the way it is. I’m run­ning hard.”

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump poses Thurs­day with a ring given to him by a group of veter­ans dur­ing a cam­paign event on the cam­pus of Drake Univer­sity in DesMoines, Iowa. Jae C. Hong, The As­so­ci­ated Press

From left, Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio and Jeb Bush lis­ten to a ques­tion from moder­a­tor ChrisWal­lace, front right, dur­ing a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary de­bate, Thurs­day. Chris Carl­son, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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