Skip to content Skip to footer

First Republican Debate of 2016 Presidential Race Kicks Off With Roger Ailes’ Favorites

Ten leading Republican presidential candidates faced off.

Ten leading Republican presidential candidates faced off in the first debate of the 2016 presidential election Thursday night. Fox News invited 10 candidates to take part: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Scott Walker. Some analysts described the debate as the Roger Ailes primary since the head of Fox News had so much say into who participated in the prime-time event. Seven other Republican presidential candidates who didn’t make the cut participated in another debate earlier in the evening. Fox News said it calculated its top 10 list by averaging five national polls, a process which came under fire from polling agencies earlier this week. We feature highlights from the debate.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten leading Republican presidential candidates faced off in the first debate of the 2016 presidential election Thursday night. Fox News invited 10 candidates to take part: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Scott Walker. Some analysts described the debate as the Roger Ailes primary, since the head of Fox News had so much say in who participated in the prime-time event. Seven other Republican presidential candidates who didn’t make the cut participated in another debate earlier in the evening. Fox News said it calculated its top 10 list by averaging five national polls, a process which came under fire from polling agencies earlier this week.

These are highlights from the debate. We begin with one of the moderators, Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

MEGYN KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” Your Twitter account has several –

DONALD TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.

MEGYN KELLY: No, it wasn’t. Your Twitter account –

DONALD TRUMP: Thank you.

MEGYN KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.

DONALD TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.

MEGYN KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president? And how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

DONALD TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been – I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico, both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody. And frankly, what I say – and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding, we have a good time – what I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.

MEGYN KELLY: Governor Bush, for days on end in this campaign, you struggled to answer a question about whether knowing what we know now –

JEB BUSH: I remember.

MEGYN KELLY: – you would have invaded Iraq.

JEB BUSH: I remember, Megyn.

MEGYN KELLY: I remember it, too. And ISIS, of course, is now thriving there. You finally said no. To the families of those who died in that war who say they liberated a country and deposed a ruthless dictator, how do you look at them now and say your brother’s war was a mistake?

JEB BUSH: Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence, and not having security be the first priority when – when we invaded, it was a mistake. I wouldn’t have gone in. However, for the people that did lose their lives, and the families that suffer because of it – I know this full well, because as governor of the state of Florida, I called every one of them, every one of them that I could find, to tell them that I was praying for them, that I cared about them, and it was very hard to do. And every one of them said that their child did not die in vain, or their wife or husband did not die in vain. And so, why it was difficult for me to do it was based on that. Here’s the lesson that we should take from this, which relates to this whole subject: Barack Obama became president, and he abandoned Iraq. He left, and when he left, al-Qaeda was done for. ISIS was created because of the void that we left, and that void now exists as a caliphate the size of Indiana.

MEGYN KELLY: Governor Christie, you have said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable, even going so far as to say that he should be called before Congress to answer for it, if we should be hit by another terrorist attack. Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Yes, I do. And I’ll tell you why: because I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the PATRIOT Act, who have gone before the federal – the Foreign Intelligence service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th. And I will make no apologies ever for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I’ll do.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Megyn, may I respond? May I respond?

MEGYN KELLY: Go ahead, sir.

SEN. RAND PAUL: I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over. John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. And I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: And – and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a – that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.” How are you supposed to know, Megyn?

SEN. RAND PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: What are you supposed to –

SEN. RAND PAUL: Use the Fourth Amendment!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: How are you supposed to – no, I’ll tell you how you –

SEN. RAND PAUL: Get a warrant!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Look, let me tell you something. You go –

SEN. RAND PAUL: Get a judge to sign the warrant.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: When you – you know, Senator –

SEN. RAND PAUL: Use the Constitution.

MEGYN KELLY: Wait, wait. Governor Christie, make your point.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, Senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that. When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure –

SEN. RAND PAUL: Here’s the problem.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: – is to make that you use the system the way it’s supposed to work.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Here’s the problem, Governor. Here’s the problem, Governor. You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants –

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: There is no –

SEN. RAND PAUL: – indiscriminately of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end. I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug. And if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.


MEGYN KELLY: Go ahead, Governor.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: And, you know – you know, Senator Paul – Senator Paul, you know the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th. Those are the hugs I remember. And those had nothing to do – and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you’re doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate, then putting them on the Internet within a half an hour to raise money for your campaign –

MEGYN KELLY: All right.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: – and while still putting our country at risk.

MEGYN KELLY: Governor Walker, you’ve consistently said that you want to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. You recently signed an abortion law in Wisconsin that does have an exception for the mother’s life, but you’re on record as having objected to it. Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion? And with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Well, I’m – I’m pro-life. I’ve always been pro-life. And I’ve got a position I think is consistent with many Americans out there, in that – in that I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there. And I’ve said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that will also protect the life of that mother. That’s been consistently proven. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who has a radical position in terms of support for Planned Parenthood, I defunded Planned Parenthood more than four years ago, long before any of these videos came out. I’ve got a position that’s in line with everyday America.

MEGYN KELLY: Senator Rubio, you favor a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York just said yesterday those exceptions are preposterous. He said they discriminate against an entire class of human beings. If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, Megyn, first of all, I’m not sure that that’s a correct assessment of my record. I would go on to add that I believe all human life –

MEGYN KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and an incest exception?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I have never said that, and I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass a law in this country that says all human life, at every stage of its development, is worthy of protection. In fact, I think that law already exists. It’s called the Constitution of the United States.

BRET BAIER: Senator Paul, would you tear up the deal on day one?

SEN. RAND PAUL: I oppose the Iranian deal and will vote against it. I don’t think that the president negotiated from a position of strength, but I don’t immediately discount negotiations.

BRET BAIER: Governor Huckabee, what do you think about what Senator Paul just said?

MIKE HUCKABEE: Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” President Obama is “trust, but vilify.” He trusts our enemies and vilifies everyone who disagrees with him. And the reason we disagree with him has nothing to do with party. It has to do with the incredibly dangerous place that this world is going to be as a result of a deal in which we got nothing. We didn’t even get four hostages out. We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want. We said we would have anywhere-anytime negotiations and inspections; we gave that up. We said that we would make sure that they didn’t have any nuclear capacity; we gave that up. The president can’t tell us what we got. I’ll tell you what the world got. The world has a burgeoning nuclear power that didn’t, as the Soviets, say, “We might defend ourselves in a war.” What the Iranians have said is, “We will wipe Israel off the face of the map, and we will bring death to America.” When someone points a gun at your head and loads it, by God, you ought to take them seriously.

MEGYN KELLY: Senator Cruz, how would you destroy ISIS in 90 days?

SEN. TED CRUZ: Megyn, we need a commander-in-chief that speaks the truth. We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

MEGYN KELLY: You don’t see it as an ideological problem, an ideological problem in addition to a military one?

SEN. TED CRUZ: Megyn, of course it’s an ideological problem. That’s one of the reasons why I introduced the Expatriate Terrorist Act in the Senate, that said if any American travels to the Middle East and joins ISIS, that he or she forfeits their citizenship, so they don’t use a passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans. Yes, it is ideological. And let me contrast President Obama, who at the prayer breakfast, essentially acted as an apologist. He said, “Well, gosh, the crusades, the inquisitions.” We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President el-Sisi did, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.

BRET BAIER: Governor Huckabee, the culture of the American military is definitely changing. Women are moving into combat roles. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has obviously been dropped. And now Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently directed the military to prepare for a moment when it is welcoming transgender persons to serve openly. As commander-in-chief, how would you handle that?

MIKE HUCKABEE: The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things. It’s not to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people think would make us a different country and more diverse. The purpose is to protect America. I’m not sure how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines makes our country safer.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, it has not escaped anybody’s notice that you say that the Mexican government – the Mexican government – is sending criminals – rapists, drug dealers – across the border. Governor Bush has called those remarks, quote, “extraordinarily ugly.” I’d like you – you’re right next to him – tell us – talk to him directly and say how you respond to that.

DONALD TRUMP: So, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris. You wouldn’t even be talking about it. This was not a subject that was on anybody’s mind until I brought it up at my announcement. And I said Mexico is sending. Except the reporters, because they’re a very dishonest lot, generally speaking, in the world of politics, they didn’t cover my statement the way I said it. The fact is, since then, many killings, murders, crime, drugs pouring across the border, are money going out and the drugs coming in. And I said we need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly. And I don’t mind having a big, beautiful door in that wall so that people can come into this country legally. But we need, Jeb, to build a wall. We need to keep illegals out.

BRET BAIER: Governor Huckabee, on Facebook, John Pietricone asked this: “Will you abolish or take away the powers and cut the size of the EPA, the IRS, the Department of Education?” Now, broadly – broadly, the size of government is a big concern for Facebook users, Facebook persons, as well as, obviously, conservatives. But year after year, decade after decade, there are promises from Republicans to shrink government. But year after year, decade after decade, it doesn’t happen. In fact, it gets bigger, even under Republican politicians. So the question is: At this point, is the government simply too big for any one person, even a Republican, to shrink?

MIKE HUCKABEE: It’s not too big to shrink. But the problem is we have a Wall Street-to-Washington axis of power that has controlled the political climate. The donor class feeds the political class, who does the dance that the donor class wants. And the result is, federal government keeps getting bigger. Every person on this stage who has been a governor will tell that you that the biggest fight they had was not the other party, wasn’t even the legislature. It was the federal government, who continually put mandates on the states that we had to suck up and pay for. And the fact is, there are a lot of things happening at the federal level that are absolutely beyond the jurisdiction of the Constitution. This is power that should be shifted back to the states, whether it’s the EPA. There is no role at the federal level for the Department of Education. And I’m still one who says that we can get rid of the Internal Revenue Service if we would pass the fair tax, which is a tax on consumption rather than a tax on people’s income, and move power back where the founders believed it should have been all along.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee at last night’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News.

And that does it for today’s show. We have a full-time job opening in New York for a social media editor. Visit our website at

Also, I’ll be speaking Tuesday in Venice, Italy, at the Creative Time Summit at the Venice Biennale. That’s at 11:00 at the Arsenale in Venice. And we’ll be broadcasting from Venice on Monday and Tuesday. Check our website for details.

Special thanks to our crew here in Toronto: Mike Burke, Amy Littlefield, John Hamilton, Denis Moynihan.

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $13,000. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.