GOP debate: Did forum focus on 'zinging' Trump?

Detroit News staff

Did forum focus on 'zinging' Trump?

“Half the debate was zinging Trump,” says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said in a post-debate segment.

But most of the other half were zingers by Trump.

Candidates deliver closing statements

11 p.m. The four candidates wrap up the debate with closing statements in Detroit. Each said that they would support the ultimate GOP nominee, even if it's Trump.

"Yes, I will," Trump said of supporting the nominee if it's not him.

After the debate, he tells Bill O'Reilly, "It was tough, but fair." He again predicts that he'll win the Michigan primary on Tuesday.

Republicans rumble in Detroit debate

Yoga, breathing and flexibility

10:55 p.m. Trump and Cruz were sparring again over interruptions with Cruz telling Trump to "breathe, breathe, breathe," when Rubio interjected.

“When they’re done with yoga, can I answer a question?” Rubio asked.

“You cannot. I really hope that we don’t see yoga on this stage,” Cruz responded.

“Well, he’s flexible, so you never know,” Rubio responded, getting in another dig at Trump for being "flexible" on the issues.

Trump doesn't support assault weapon ban

10:45 p.m. Trump disavowed his previous support of a ban on assault weapons during Thursday’s debate.

“I’m a very big supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said.

“I don’t support it anymore. I don’t support the ban on assault,” he added when moderator Brent Baier pressed him on language in favor of an assault weapons ban that was included in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve.”

Cruz sought to use the change in Trump’s position to cast doubt about his commitment to protecting gun rights.

“If you care about the Second Amendment, you need to ask who on this stage do know will appoint principled constitutionalists to the [Supreme] Court and not cut a deal with your Second Amendment rights,” Cruz said

Kasich on cupcakes

10:38 p.m. Kasich called for more tolerance in response to a question from moderator Bret Baier about whether “gay marriage dissenters have rights.”

“In our country, we need to learn to respect each other and be a little bit more tolerant for one another, and at the end of the day don’t go to court,” the Ohio governor said.

“Can’t we have common sense again? That’s the way it’s used to be,” Kasich continued.

Kasich defended himself from criticism from religious groups about his stance, saying, “I try to be a man of faith every day as best as I can."

He added, “I try to focus in my faith on the 'do’s,' and I think the 'don’ts' will take of themselves once I get the 'do’s' right."

Poll: Who won Detroit's GOP debate

Cruz laments failed 'left-wing' policies in Detroit

10:29 p.m. Asked about Detroit's recent bankruptcy and other troubles, Cruz describes Motown as a magnificent city "utterly decimated" by decades of failed left-wing policies.

“It is an outrage,” Cruz said of abandoned homes, high crime rates and other urban issues in Detroit.

To bring back manufacturing jobs, Cruz says he’d repeal Obamacare, institute a flat tax and roll back “job killing” EPA regulations.

Cruz: Detroit destroyed by �left-wing policies�

Rubio accuses Dems of politicizing Flint crisis 

10:23 p.m. Rubio is asked about the lead-contamination of drinking water in Flint: Why haven’t GOP candidates done more or talked more about it?

Rubio responds that he has talked about Flint.

“The politicizing of it is unfair. I don’t think someone woke up one morning and said, Let’s figure out how to poison the water system,” Rubio said, criticizing the way the Democrats have tried to “politicize" the issue.

Finley: Establishment plays a risky game with Trump

Cruz to Trump: ‘Learn not to interrupt’

10:18 p.m. During another night of the candidates speaking over one another and the moderators, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz admonished Republican frontrunner Donald Trump for interrupting him.

“Donald, learn not to interrupt,” Cruz said. “It’s not complicated. Count to 10, Donald.”

Trump defends himself on flip-flopping

10:10 p.m. Debate moderator Megyn Kelly showed a reel of video examples of Trump contradicting himself on a number of issues, including whether the U.S. should have committed troops to Afghanistan.

“I have a strong core,” Trump said. But I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible, who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility. You have to have a certain degree of flexibility.”

Trump’s opponents sought to paint recent statements by the GOP frontrunner about negotiating certain aspects of his plans as evidence of his willingness to deviate from conservative orthodoxy.

“There’s a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to, and that’s what Donald has done throughout his whole career,” Rubio said.

Fact check: Claims from the GOP Detroit debate

Trump at center of debate attacks

9:57 p.m. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he thinks "the American people understand that yelling and cursing at people doesn’t make you a tough guy” in an effort to knock Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s temperament.

“We need a commander in chief that, No. 1, will rebuild the military, just like Ronald Reagan did coming out of the weak Jimmy Carter administration,” Cruz said. “As president, I will do the exact same thing with radical Islamic terrorism.”

Referring to foreign policy, Cruz added, “We need a president who isn’t rash, who doesn’t just pop off at the hip, but waits to see what the facts are."

Trump changes position on worker visas

9:45 p.m. Trump said he’s changing his position on skilled worker visas for foreign workers.

"I'm changing," Trump said.

Under criticism from Rubio, Trump said his resorts try to hire Americans but they don’t want short-term work, so his companies bring in foreign workers.

“It is very, very hard to get people, but other hotels do the same,” Trump said, emphasizing that it’s a legal process.

The other candidates are urging Trump to release an audio tape of an interview he did with the New York Times in which he purportedly explained his “true” feelings about immigrants.

Cruz pitches his flat tax 

9:27 p.m. Cruz is asked about who will collect taxes, enforce tax laws if the IRS is abolished – one of the promises of Cruz’s campaign. Cruz says his flat tax is the answer.

“When we get rid of all the corporate welfare, corporate subsidies in the IRS tax code, it dramatically simplifies it,” Cruz said. “There still will be an office at the Treasury Department to receive the post cards.”

Rubio challenges Trump to make his clothing in U.S.

9:15 p.m. Rubio, asked how many jobs he’s created, challenges Trump to pledge that his clothing line and other products will be made in the United States “rather than China and Mexico.”

Trump says that, because of those nations are devaluing their currency, they make it impossible to "do clothing in this country." Trump finishes out by saying the Trans Pacific Partnership is a bad trade deal.

"The answer is he's not going to do it," Rubio replies. "You see what happens again when you challenge him on a policy issue?"

Big moments from the Detroit GOP debate

Trump defends size of his 'hands'

9:10 p.m. Donald Trump defended the size of his hands – and other parts of his anatomy – during Thursday’s Republican Party debate in Detroit.

“I have to say this. He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I’ve never heard of this one,” he said of comments from Rubio about the size of his hands that have been read as a reference to Trump’s genitals.

“Look at those hands, are they small hands?” Trump continued. “And he referred to my hands…if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

Rubio accused Trump of having small hands for his height in campaign speeches leading up to Super Tuesday.

“His hands are the size of someone who’s 5’2”,” Rubio said in a speech last weekend in Virginia. “And you know what they say about men with small hands.”

Debate has started in Detroit 

9:04 p.m. First question, not surprisingly, to Trump regarding Romney's speech. Trump calls Romney a "failed candidate."

“He should’ve beaten President Obama easily. ... “It was an embarrassment to everybody, including the Republican party,” Trump added of Romney’s unsuccessful 2012 bid to unseat Obama.

Romney, a Michigan native, declared Trump unfit to assume the presidency in a high-profile speech in Utah earlier on Thursday.

Fox News’ host Megan Kelly laid out the rules at the start of Thursday’s debate. Kelly famously engaged In a heated back-and-forth debate with Trump at earlier GOP debate last year.

Fox News’ host Bret Baier instructed audience members to keep their applause levels “somewhere between a library and a Red Wings game.”

Trump repeated his disavowal of the endorsement by former KKK leader David Duke.

GOP candidates Marco Rubio, left, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich at the start of the GOP debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on March 3, 2016.

Amash: To stop Trump, 'have Romney endorse him'

8:49 p.m. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, a Cruz supporter who is in the debate audience tonight, weighed in on Twitter in response to Romney's speech critical of Trump.

"Umm ...Trump is a thing because millions of Republican voters share concerns about Romney and McCain," Amash posted.

He later added that the Trump phenomenon is not about President Barack Obama but the GOP.

"Ironically, Trump and GOPe share same underlying philosophy: power, not principles; ends justify means. But Trump uses populism to obscure," Amash posted.

He said Trump draws strength from the GOP establishment's attacks. "If you really want to stop Trump, have @MittRomney endorse him," he posted Wednesday.

State Rep. who endorsed Rubio: 'Trump-mania' is spreading

8:30 p.m. A large and loud group of protesters gathered outside of the Fox Theatre did not impress state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, who questioned the gathering as he waiting in line for the debate.

“I’m trying to figure out what they’re protesting because here in this country, don’t we need freedom? Freedom to speak?” Kesto said. “They want to shut the debate down, but I thought we want to circulate ideas around and understand them and listen and hear.”

Kesto endorsed Marco Rubio in the race but noted that “Trump-mania” is spreading.

“I say give him a shot. He’s a great businessman," Kesto said.

Republicans split on Romney speech

8:26 p.m. State Sen. Jack Brandenburg, who has endorsed businessman Donald Trump for president, blasted today’s comments by former GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

“I thought it was a real sucker punch from a guy who couldn’t even carry his own state,” said Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township.

“To talk about another Republican like that, I thought it was a low blow. Totally bush league. I have no respect for what he did.”

Romney earlier Thursday called Trump ”a phony, a fraud” and mockingly compared his promises to a degree from the defunct Trump University. “He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers,” Romney said. “He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”

Former state House Speaker Jase Bolger, waiting in line outside the Fox Theatre, offered a different take, calling Romney’s comments “on point.”

“I thought he could have gone a step forward and endorsed somebody, but that was his decision not to do that,” said Bolger, R-Marshall, who is backing Marco Rubio.

Gingrich on Romney: GOP establishment is panicking

8:15 p.m. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Mitt Romney's speech today illustrated the "panic" of the establishment wing of the Republican Party over Donald Trump's candidacy.

"They have no idea how to relate to him," Gingrich told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, referring to Trump

Asked whether Gingrich would campaign for Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee for president. "Sure," Gingrich says, but he would do the same for Rubio, Cruz or Kasich -- all of whom he considers superior to Hillary Clinton.

Hassan Sheikh, of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, was among the hundreds gathered across the street from the Fox Theatre by 7 p.m. – a crowd that would be boosted 10 minutes later by the arrival of buses filled with other demonstrators.

For Sheik, the concern is the climate that has been generated by the level of discourse in the GOP campaign.

"We’re here today protesting the hateful rhetoric that  has been spewed by the Republican Party, particularly Donald Trump," Sheikh said. "We’ve seen a rise in hate crimes. We’ve seen a rise in people being empowered to spew out hateful mindsets. And this is not good for the nation. We live in the greatest nation on earth, and we have to do everything we can to keep it that way.”

Pastor wants GOP to speak out on Flint

7:57 p.m.: Pastor Maurice L. Hardwick, founder of the Living Peace movement, talked about the lack of Republicans speaking up about Flint and other urban ills.

“If you are going to run for office and advocate for the people, why do you want an answer from us?” he said. “I want to see that you have an answer that would address the issues because you’re supposed to be the one who can help fix the problems of the country. You want to run for president. That means you have to be the president of every citizen. So if you’re out of touch and don’t know what’s going on and don’t care, then you’re not worthy to be our president. Not in Detroit you’re not.”

Hardwick said Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders should combine forces and quickly to fend off the GOP in November's general election.

Clinton to attend Saturday Democratic event

7:50 p.m.: Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon confirmed Hillary Clinton will speak at a Michigan Democratic Party fundraiser Saturday night at the MGM Grand casino in Detroit. Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has not yet committed to speaking at the event, he said.

Democratic leader: Expect more GOP insults

7:48 p.m.: Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon predicts the recent spate of Republican presidential candidates lobbing insults at each other will shift into “more high gear” during Thursday’s 9 p.m. debate on Fox News.

“You’re going to see two hours essentially of insults and attacks and who can try to get under Donald Trump’s skin more as opposed to actually talking about how to raise wages, how to deal with Flint, how to make sure we have better education,” Dillon told The Detroit News.

Dillon was making the rounds with reporters inside Hockeytown Café, where news organizations are camped out covering the debate through television feeds from the Fox Theatre.

Protester: 'Down with Facism'

7:39 p.m.: One protester who didn’t have far to travel Thursday night was 38-year-old Detroit resident Alia Allen.

Toting a sign reading “Down with Fascism” on one side and “I don’t vote for bigots or the GOP,” Allen said it was necessary for her to be downtown to underscore the seriousness of what’s at stake.

“It’s important to show up and show that people are willing to be out in the cold because this is extremely important,” she said. “This isn’t just some fun event. This is about people’s lives.”

Allen, a Bernie Sanders supporter, said she and others are “fed up” with the tenor of the GOP campaign.

“We’re fed up with the hypocrisy and the lies – candidate statements that are based on feelings and not facts.”

Hundreds swarm Fox Theatre

7:37 p.m.: Hundreds of protesters swarmed the Fox Theatre Thursday evening ahead of the GOP debate, chanting their intent to “shut it down.”

Police were not immediately forcing people off Woodward Ave., which was impassable by car, but barricades provided a buffer between the front door. It appeared attendees were still making their way inside.

“It was Republican policies that brought us to this point, and everybody who has a reason to be angry right now is out here, and there’s a lot of angry people right now,” said Erik Shelley of Redford.

Protesters crowd the outside of the Fox Theatre before the GOP Debate in Detroit.

Shelley was holding one end of a large sign that declared “Snyder must go,” a reference to embattled Gov. Rick Snyder and his handling of the Flint water crisis. A similar message was projected by spotlight onto the exterior wall of the Fox Theatre.

Protesters: 'Arrest Snyder now!'

7:28 p.m.: Several dozen residents from Flint were outside the Fox Theatre to bring their message to GOP supporters making their way inside.

“Arrest Snyder now!” and “Hey hey, ho ho. Snyder’s got to go!” were a few of the chants directed at Michigan’s governor.

They were hitting Snyder on the lead-contaminated water in the Genesee County city that was caused when state environmental officials didn’t require Flint officials to treat the river water with phosphates.

The Republican governor is not attending the debate, spokesman Ari Adler said Thursday.

Many of those who made the trip walked the snowy street with signs that read “Flint Lives Matter” and “Fix Flint Now.”

A large group of protesters gather in front of the Fox Theatre in Detroit ahead of the GOP debate trying to “shut it  down. ”

Protesters hit 'hate' in race

7:20 p.m.: As darkness and snow fell on downtown Detroit, more than 100 protesters gathered outside the Fox Theatre and chanted about Flint Lives Matter and disparaged the Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

“”I don’t like the hate that’s come out from these guys,” said Shannon Moss, 33, of Warren, who at that moment was waiting for her fellow protesters. We’re trying to make the country more united. And it just seems that everytime one of them opens their mouth, they divide it even further. I don’t like that.”

Referring to Trump, Moss said she doesn’t like the tone of his rallies “where there are videos of people getting beat up and pushed around and then hearing somebody that wants to be our president cheer that on. That’s not acceptable to me. I just don’t like where they want to take the country. They want to take away rights for women.”

Courtney Russell, 20, of Detroit, held a police-shield type sign that asked for employers not to discriminate against people who have criminal records. She said she’s unsure who is she going to support on either the Republican or Democratic side but she wants them to take on issues that affect people seriously.

“We’re just a Detroit voice, campaigning and debating about Detroit’s voice. It’s really just bringing light to the problems in Detroit and the things that we are facing today in 2016.”

Can GOP woo black voters?

6:50 p.m.: Detroit is a majority-black city, but the only African-American presidential candidate on either side of the aisle essentially dropped out of the race this week (Detroit native Ben Carson  withdrew from the debate).

Wayne Bradley, who heads the Michigan Republican Party’s permanent office in Detroit, said Thursday the GOP has made some inroads with black voters but needs to continue making progress to win in November.

“Even when I listen to people like Donald Trump talk about job creation, that is a message that’s specific to us. Ted Cruz, when it talks about school choice and education, that’s an issue related to us,” Bradley said. “Instead of pandering, talking about issues are relevant.”

6:37 p.m.: David Rudolph, a self-described black Republican and senior manager at a Detroit PR firm, said earlier today he wants to hear the GOP candidates talk about their urban agendas, or maybe highlight African American entrepreneurs who are making a difference and can serve as role models to young people. The rhetoric has become too divisive, he said.

“Detroit is about inclusion and diversity,” Rudolph said. “We’re talking about people getting a piece of the pie here, and I’d like to hear that from these candidates. When they talk about America and trying to make America better, I’m part of that … I have yet to feel that I’m part of the messaging across the board.”

Meekhof questions Rubio's Trump insults

6:29 p.m.: Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Thursday it’s “a stretch” for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to lob personal insults at frontrunner Donald Trump about the size of the billionaire’s hands and using a mirror to check his pants for wet spots.

“It doesn’t seem to be in his character,” Meekhof said before entering the Fox Theatre for tonight’s 9 p.m. GOP presidential debate.

Over the past week, Rubio has struck back at Trump on several fronts, calling him a “con artist.” Trump has responded in kind by calling the Florida senator “little Marco” and a political “lightweight.”

Meekhof, R-West Olive, is supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Michigan’s Republican presidential primary Tuesday, but expressed disappointment at Rubio’s campaign tactics.

“It’s a stretch for him to do that. It’s not how he campaigns,” Meekhof told The Detroit News.

Meekhof said he’s looking forward to seeing just four men on stage tonight – Trump, Rubio, Kasich and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Fox News to host Sen. Bernie Sanders for town hall event Monday in Detroit

6:10 p.m.: Fox News is planning a town hall event Monday night in Detroit featuring Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, anchor Bret Baier said at the beginning of his 6 p.m. show focused on tonight's Republican presidential debate at the Fox Theatre.

The Sanders town hall will be broadcast on Fox News, which is airing tonight's GOP debate.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a "scheduling conflict" and could not attend the event, Baier said.

No other details about the event were immediately available.

Rubio, Kasich seek 'signs of life'

5:55 p.m.: Michigan native Charlie Spies, a Washington, D.C. attorney with the Clark Hill firm, said by phone Thursday that Michigan is big for Marco Rubio and John Kasich because they need to show “signs of life” before the winner-take-all primaries next week in their home states of Florida and Ohio.

What’s a sign of life these days? Getting 15 percent of the vote in Michigan’s primary, he said, because that means they qualify to win a share of the state's 59 delegates.

“If either of them don’t hit that threshold and pick up delegates, that will undercut their argument that they’re going to win their own state a week later," Spies said.

Kasich says with Ohio victory he can block Trump

Trump, Romney spar before debate

5:45 p.m.: Michigan native Charlie Spies, a Washington, D.C. attorney with the Clark Hill law firm, said via phone today thinks his longtime ally Mitt Romney is “doing a service to the conservative cause” by speaking out against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

“I think for a hardcore 20 percent of the Republican electorate that likes Donald Trump, having Mitt Romney criticize him plays into why they like Trump in the first place,” he said. “But for Trump to win a majority of delegates and become the Republican nominee, he needs to expand his coalition, and those people respect Mitt Romney. It’s important to note Mitt’s comments were substantive. He wasn’t insulting Donald Trump’s physical traits or making school yard taunts.”

Romney says safe future �greatly diminished� with Trump

Attorney General Schuette still not endorsing

5:35 p.m.: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who served as state chairman for the Jeb Bush campaign, has not announced support for another candidate since the former Florida governor dropped out of the race last month.

Spokesman John Sellek confirmed Thursday that Schuette will not be endorsing anyone else before the Michigan primary.

“Attorney General Schuette remains committed to defeating Hillary Clinton and ensuring a Republican wins the White House,” Sellek said.

Schuette does plan to attend the debate, Sellek said.

U.S. Rep. Upton won't attend debate

5:20 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, won’t be attending the GOP debate, spokesman Tom Wilbur said Thursday.
Because of scheduled votes in the House, he will be staying in Washington, D.C., Wilbur said.

Snyder won't attend debate

5:01 p.m.: This does not come as a surprise because of the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis, but spokesman Ari Adler confirmed Thursday that Gov. Rick Snyder “is not attending” the Republican presidential debate at the Fox Theatre.

In May 2015, Snyder announced he would not run for the GOP nomination.

While describing Michigan as a model for the rest of the nation, Snyder said at the time he still had “historic issues to solve” in the state.

Carson chairman backs Rubio

5 p.m.: Marco Rubio is a presidential candidate “who can rally and inspire and heal” the Republican party, said state Sen. Mike Shirkey, the former Michigan campaign chairman for Ben Carson.

Shirkey made the switch to the junior U.S. senator from Florida Thursday a few hours before the GOP presidential debate in Detroit.

Carson, a Detroit native and retired neurosurgeon, effectively ended his campaign Wednesday, less than a week before Michigan’s March 8 primary. He withdrew from Thursday’s GOP debate in his hometown and said he did not see a political path forward after losing all 11 states on Super Tuesday.

“I’ve been and remain a large fan of Ben Carson,” said Shikey, R-Clark Lake, who has parted ways with the campaign. “I still think he’s the best candidate for this time and what we need in American, but he can’t win — can’t win this time.”

Shirkey said he found himself philosophically aligned with both Rubio and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas but has “deep-rooted concerns” about the Cruz campaign apparatus because of reports he’s heard from Carson field workers.

Ben Carson's Michigan chairman backs Rubio

“I concluded the guy I think has the best chance to provide the healing necessary for the party once this process has played out is Marco Rubio,” he said.

That healing is necessary, Shirkey said, because GOP front-runner Donald Trump has exposed anger among activists – not just over the direction of the country in the past eight years, but over the “apparent deafness” of the Republican Party.

“I believe much of the strong support for Mr. Trump by certain aspects of the conservative movement is driven by their plain, raw frustration,” Shirkey said. “But I find it very difficult to support somebody who is very unpredictable in terms of where he stands on any issue from one day to the next.”