Billionaire businessman Donald Trump will not rule out running as an independent if he does not get the Republican presidential nomination. During the first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland, Trump would also not commit to supporting the eventual Republican nominee if he does not get the nod. Trump was immediately attacked by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who accused him of hedging his bet. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Trump divisive. Trump is the GOP frontrunner in national polls.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tangled with Senator Paul over NSA surveillance. Paul said the government should be collecting the phone records of suspected terrorists, not innocent Americans. Christie accused Paul of "blowing hot air." Paul said Christie misunderstands the Bill of Rights. Trump was pressed on negative comments he has made about certain high-profile women, including Rosie O'Donnell. He responded by dismissing "political correctness" and changed the subject, arguing that the U.S. is in trouble and must be turned around.
Trump also defended his assertion that Mexico is sending its bad citizens into the U.S. Florida Senator Marco Rubio noted that illegal immigrants are coming from many countries, not just Mexico. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said President Obama has "messed up" the federal immigration system. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said U.S. leaders on both sides of the political aisle don't want to tackle immigration in a serious way.
Many of the candidates condemned the Iran nuclear accord, saying they would tear it up immediately upon entering the White House. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee argued that the U.S. got nothing in the controversial deal. Senator Cruz said the U.S. continues "leading from behind" under President Obama. Candidate Ben Carson said the U.S. has grown weaker while America's enemies have grown stronger.
Senator Paul criticized the U.S. strategy against ISIS. He said ISIS terrorists are riding around in a billion dollars worth of American Humvees. Huckabee dismissed moves to formally open the U.S. military to transgenders. He said the purpose of the military is to kill people and break things. Huckabee argued that the military is not a social experiment. Bush was asked about running in the shadows of his father and brother, two former presidents. He insisted that he would be his own man if he wins the White House. The top 10 Republicans were selected according to national poll data. The seven other candidates held an undercard debate before the primetime event.