In the last debate, hosted by CNBC, the moderators were highly criticized for their questions, both by candidates during the debate and by analysts and Republican Party leaders afterward. The Wall Street Journal and Fox Business Channel likely planned to avoid a similar blunder. They asked substantive questions from the first minute, even bypassing the usual opening statements to go deep into tax plans, income inequality and the minimum wage.
The fourth debate also shook up the debate participants. With fewer people on stage, the moderators had more time to explore deeper questions.
The debate required candidates to meet a polling requisite of 2.5 percent in an average of the four most recent national surveys to qualify for prime time. While billionaire businessman Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky came back for the main event, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were relegated to the undercard debate. Former New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina failed to qualify for any debate and sat the event out entirely, along with Jim Gilmore who has only participated in the first Republican undercard debate.
In the first 30 minutes, Trump, Carson and Rubio agreed they wouldn't increase the minimum wage. Carson touched on wages and the lack of jobs for black Americans, while Paul continued his rhetoric from the last debate, blaming the Fed for income inequality. Bush gave an impassioned speech attacking Hillary Clinton and calling for a repeal of key Obama policies.
After a commercial break, the moderators turned to immigration. Trump reiterated his promise to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. This prompted a heated exchange between Trump and Kasich, with Kasich saying, "It's not an adult argument." Despite doubts, Republicans trust Trump more than other candidates on immigration reform, according to a Washington Post poll from Oct. 15-18.
Cruz centered his criticism on the media, continuing a strategy that worked well during the last debate after he blasted the CNBC moderators for their questions. Fiorina detailed her plans to repeal Obamacare, saying she was a cancer survivor who understood the problem with pre-existing conditions and, asked how she would replace Obamacare, said the U.S. should try something it's never tried – "the free market."
Paul detailed his tax plan for balancing the budget and making the government "so small you can barely see it."
Paul and Rubio then had an exchange about foreign policy, after Rubio accused Paul of being an isolationist. While Paul said the threat from the Islamic State group is no greater than the threat of bankruptcy, Rubio contended that the world is safer because of a strong American military. Fiorina agreed, as did Trump, who said, "We have to make our military bigger, better stronger than ever before so nobody messes with us."
Trump answered a question about the Pacific Rim trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership by railing on China and saying that country was taking advantage of the U.S. through currency manipulation, which wasn't addressed in the deal. Paul interjected to point out that China wasn't part of the trade agreement. Moderators agreed.
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Trump claimed he got to know Russian President Vladimir Putin well, claiming they were "stablemates" after their recent appearance on the same episode of the CBS News program "60 Minutes" and said he was in favor of Putin deploying Russian troops to fight the Islamic State group in Syria. Bush tried to interject and then insisted that the U.S. could not walk away from the Syria crisis, noting that when the U.S. withdraws, "voids are filled." Fiorina also interjected, agreeing with Bush that a no-fly zone should be established in Syria and slamming Trump for meeting Putin in a green room, when she met him in a private meeting. She said she wouldn't meet with Putin if she was president, suggesting that she would send him a more subtle message by deploying American military resources in the vicinity of Russia. Paul drew a line between himself and Fiorina and Bush, saying that Hillary Clinton also agreed that there should be a no-fly zone, but he repeatedly referred to a no-fly zone in Iraq when the others had been discussing Syria. Nevertheless, he said imposing a no-fly zone where Russian planes are flying would lead to an escalation of hostilities. Carson's approach to combating the Islamic State group focused on destroying their caliphate and making the group "look like losers" to discredit them before their followers.
The moderators continued asking tough economic questions, asking candidates what they would do if the banks defaulted. Cruz jumped on Kasich after Kasich suggested that an executive needs to be decisive in a crisis instead of simply holding firm to a philosophical belief that the banks should not be bailed out. But when he suggested that approach would entail determining which investors were most in need of their money, he was met with boos from the audience.
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