Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul pose together before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker
By Steve Holland and Emily Stephenson
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush assailed front-runner Donald Trump in a debate on Tuesday for proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, calling Trump a “chaos candidate” who was not serious but adept at delivering one-liners.
But many other candidates, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, were reluctant to directly take on the billionaire Trump, focussing their criticism on President Barack Obama and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state, for failing to keep the United States safe.
“Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president,” said Bush, the former governor of Florida who has been lagging in opinion polls. He said Trump’s Muslim plan was “not a serious proposal.”
Trump, 69, dismissed Bush’s criticism. “He’s failed in his campaign, it’s been a total disaster,” Trump said, and defended his proposal.
“We’re not talking about isolation; we’re talking about security. We’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about security. Our country is out of control,” Trump said.
Bush, 62, later criticized Trump for proposing to kill the families of Islamic State militants, saying it was “just crazy” to think that was a solution.
“Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency,” Bush said. “Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people.”
Trump, who also backed closing parts of the Internet used by Islamic State militants, has dominated the last few weeks of the campaign with his call for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States, following a married couple’s Dec. 2 massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, inspired by Islamic State.
Most of Trump’s Republican rivals, as well as officials and leaders in the United States and around the globe, have criticized Trump’s proposal although many of his supporters have voiced sympathy with his views.
IOWA SEVEN WEEKS AWAY
With seven weeks to go before the first nominating contest in Iowa, Trump, has held or expanded his lead in national polls in the Republican race for the November 2016 presidential election. Cruz has moved past him in some Iowa surveys.
The Republican debate on Tuesday was the first since the attack in California and another in Paris, and focussed heavily on national security.
But while the other contenders were reluctant to take on Trump, they did not hesitate to tangle with each other. Cruz and Rubio, both 44, battled over Cruz’s proposal to “carpet-bomb” areas of the Middle East controlled by Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS.
“ISIS is gaining strength because the perception Is that they’re winning, and President Obama fuels that perception,”” Cruz said. “That would change when militants across the globe see that when you join ISIS you are giving up your life.”
But Rubio noted that Cruz had voted against defence authorization bills and had supported defence cuts that would make such bombing impractical.
“You can’t carpet bomb ISIS if you don’t have planes or bombs to attack them with,” he said.
TRUMP LEADS IN OPINION POLL
The latest Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, completed after Trump’s Dec. 7 call for a ban on Muslims, showed him leading the field with support of 33 percent of Republican voters. Cruz was second at 15 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 12 percent, Rubio at 10 percent and Bush at 9 percent.
Also appearing in the main debate were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and former corporate executive Carly Fiorina.
At the so-called “undercard” debate of low-polling candidates, held before the main event, former New York Governor George Pataki blasted Trump’s Muslim proposal as “un-American, unconstitutional, and it is wrong.”
Lindsey Graham, a U.S. senator from South Carolina with hawkish views on national security, was especially withering.
“Donald Trump has done the one single thing you can’t do: Declare war on Islam itself,” Graham said, calling the proposal a coup for Islamic State militants trying to recruit new members.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said, however, that Trump had brought up an important issue, stressing the need to protect American citizens from Islamic State militants.
“He has touched a nerve because people are angry and afraid,” Huckabee said.
(Additional reporting by Megan Cassella, Ginger Gibson and Erin McPike; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller)
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