GREENVILLE, S.C. — Republican White House hopefuls insisted that President Barack Obama step aside and let his successor nominate the next Supreme Court justice, in a raucous Saturday night debate that also featured harshly personal jousting over immigration and foreign policy.
The debate was shaken by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hours before the candidates took the stage. Among the contenders, only Jeb Bush said Obama had “every right” to nominate a justice during his final year in office. The former Florida governor said the presidency must be a strong office — though he added that he didn’t expect Obama to pick a candidate who could win consensus support.
The five other candidates on the stage urged the Republican-led Senate to block any attempts by the president to get his third nominee on the court.
“It’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it,” Donald Trump said. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
A debate that began with a somber moment of silence for Scalia devolved quickly into fighting between Trump and Bush, then between Trump and Cruz. The exchanges highlighted the bad blood between the billionaire businessman and his rivals as the race turns to South Carolina, a state known for rough-and-tumble politics.
Trump, repeatedly interrupting his rivals, lashed out at Cruz after the Texas senator challenged his conservative credentials, Trump calling Cruz the “single-biggest liar” and a “nasty guy.” The real estate mogul also accused Bush of lying about Trump’s business record and said Bush’s brother — former President George W. Bush — lied to the public about the Iraq war.
Bush, who has been among the most aggressive Republican candidates in taking on Trump, said that while he didn’t mind the businessman criticizing him — “It’s blood sport for him” — he was “sick and tired of him going after my family.”
Trump was jeered lustily by the audience in Greenville, South Carolina, a state where the Bush family is popular with Republicans. George W. Bush plans to campaign with his brother in Charleston Monday, making his first public foray into the 2016 race.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich sought to inject the election’s high stakes into the discussion in the midst of the fiery exchanges between his competitors.
“I think we’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this,” Kasich said.