Republican presidential contenders Donald Trump, John Kasich and Jeb Bush appeared in a GOP town hall Thursday evening, and each man hoped to charm voters before Saturday’s crucial South Carolina primary.
In the prime-time event hosted by CNN, the candidates appeared separately on stage and answering questions from voters and moderator Anderson Cooper. Viewers can tune in here.
The town hall comes as Trump holds a firm lead in South Carolina. RealClearPolitics’ polling average has Trump at 33.5 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at 17.4 percent, Marco Rubio at 16.9 percent and Bush at 10.3 percent. Kasich and Ben Carson came in last at 9.8 percent and 6.8 percent respectively.
Trump: Iraq War was ‘worst decision … in the history of this country’
Trump has promised to build “a great, great wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigrant criminals and drugs from entering the country. He says he will have Mexico pay for the wall.
Trump took the comment personally, and at the town hall, Trump suggested Mexico’s government influenced the pope to make the statement.
“I didn’t think it was a great thing for him to say, frankly,” Trump said. “The bottom line is, we’ve got to have a border. We’ve got to have security. … He’s got an awfully big wall at the Vatican.”
Trump said he doesn’t like “fighting with the pope” and that the media have tried to stoke the flames in the situation.
He said he believes the pope was given false information and that he would love to meet with him on the issue.
He noted that ISIS is beheading Christians, and “this hasn’t happened since Medieval times.”
“We need toughness,” he said. “We need a certain toughness. We have weak people leading our country.”
Trump conceded that his tone would be different if he were president.
“I can be more politically correct than anybody you’ve ever interviewed. You’d probably say, boy, that was a boring interview,” he said. “… But we don’t have time to be politically correct in this country. Our country is in serious, serious trouble.”
Trump was asked about his recent criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision to send troops into Iraq.
“Bottom line, there were no weapons of mass destruction,” Trump said. “It may have been the worst decision going into Iraq, it may have been the worst decision anybody has made in the history of this country.”
Trump said the U.S. has spent $2 trillion and lost thousands of lives, and, “We got nothing.”
“Whether or not [Bush] lied, he went into Iraq and it was a horrible decision,” Trump said, adding that Saddam Hussein “didn’t knock down the World Trade Center.”
Trump suggested the terrorists had more to do with Saudi Arabia than Iraq.
“The war in Iraq started the whole destabilization in the Middle East,” he said. “… That was one of the worst decisions any government has made at any time.”
Trump said Obama made things worse when he pulled American troops out “the wrong way.”
Bush: If I were Obama, I’d nominate a justice
Bush talked about campaigning with his mother and brother, saying, “It’s a blast campaigning with George … and my mother is a superstar. People just love her dearly, and I do, too.”
Bush said he would revoke Obama’s executive actions on guns, but he supports legislation to stop individuals with mental illness from purchasing firearms.
“Why not go to Congress and see if you can work with Congress to make sure that people who are mentally deranged don’t have guns?”
Asked about the single most important driving force in his life, Bush recalled a time when he was younger and overwhelmed with life’s responsibilities and helping his father campaign for president. He said he gave his life to God and later became a Catholic. Bush said his faith informs a lot of what he believes about life: “It means that you protect life from beginning to end.”
“The minute we start closing off people acting on their faith in the public square, we’re not being American, in my mind,” he said.
If given a chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, Bush said:
“I don’t know who I would pick. I’ll tell you the kind of person that I would pick. It would be someone who did not aspire to legislate from the bench. It would be someone with a deep intellectual acumen and persuasive skills, because this is a collaborative body. You have to persuade people toward your view, toward your opinion and to a majority opinion. And it would be someone who has a consistent judicial record.
“I think, given the context in which we’re operating today, the old notion or conventional wisdom of picking someone who doesn’t have a record because it’s easier to get that person passed, that needs to be thrown out the door because we’re living in such a divided society right now that you can be sure there’s going to be a fight no matter who you pick. Having someone with a consistent judicial record, I think is important so as to avoid a case like [retired Justice] David Souter, for example. My dad picked him. I’m sure he had the first two. He probably had persuasive skills and he had high intellectual acumen, I’m sure. But he wandered away from what people thought he was going to be, how he viewed the law, pretty quickly. And he did not have a federal court record to operate, so I would pick someone that was, in all likelihood, to be in the judiciary already with a proven record. And I would fight. This is hugely important. Frankly, this is an important subject for this election.”
Bush said, if he were a president in Obama’s shoes, he would nominate someone to replace Justice Scalia at this point.
“So would I nominate someone? I probably would. … I’m an Article II guy. … We should be respectful of the Constitution, but whatever powers are afforded the presidency, the president ought to use them. They’re there for a purpose. But in this current environment, where you have such a divisive current in Washington, it is unlikely that the Senate would provide the necessary consent for that nomination. I think it probably is better to make this part of the election. … And then you would have the people deciding, in essence, which president would be the one that would be nominating not just the replacement for Justice Scalia, this incredible legal giant, this person who, I think was the greatest lover of liberty and believed in the limitations of government but whoever the next people are as well. This should be an important conversation we have and allow it to be part of the election.”
Kasich: ‘Imagine somebody beating up your daughter’
Kasich said “the glue of America is on our families,” and Americans should “slow down” and stop expecting a hero on a white horse to come and save the nation.
“I believe the country works best when it’s strong from from the bottom up,” he said. “It’s up to us to rebuild this country and renew our spirit.”
Kasich said he doesn’t worry about his campaign losing momentum, and, no matter what, he will continue on in the race after South Carolina and Nevada.
After a woman asked him what he would do to address violence against women, Kasich replied, “We have to have a war against that.” He said his campaign also worries about sexual violence on college campuses and noted that he has two 16-year-old daughters.
“Can you imagine somebody beating up your daughter or beating up your mother?” Kasich asked.
He said he would use the presidential “bully pulpit” to take on these issues.