Front-runnER Donald Trump began the second Republican presidential debate with a bang, throwing barbs in all directions, but was quiet for long stretches as 10 fellow candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination bore down on serious issues.
Standing centre stage, Trump declared that he had a “phenomenal temperament” and a record in business that would help him on the world stage.
The billionaire businessman’s temperament was again up for discussion during Wednesday night’s marathon debate. Trump has made a series of incendiary comments about women and Hispanic immigrants and remains a long-shot candidate for the White House.
His unexpected rise and surprising durability is seen as a reflection of voters’ frustration with Washington and career politicians.
He drew a strong challenge from another Washington outsider with a business background: former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the only Republican woman in the race.
Ms Fiorina earned praise for her debut performance in the party’s main debate, commanding the three-hour event’s first half - when the television audience was likely the most engaged. Trump has become increasingly critical of Ms Fiorina as her standing has risen.
She drew the night’s first ovation when asked about Trump’s earlier denigration of her looks, which he later denied was a reference to her appearance.
“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said,” Ms Fiorina said.
Trump retorted: “She’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman.”
Trump’s climb to the top of the field has unnerved Republican leaders who fear the former reality TV star is damaging the party’s brand and imperilling its chances of winning back the White House after President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure. Trump has so far been immune to criticism for his lack of specific policy proposals, his caustic rhetoric and his uneven support of conservative principles.
And he’s been unpredictable, as he was in the first moments of the debate: unprompted, Trump declared that fellow candidate Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on the stage.
The clash that signified the broader battle within the party was between Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents who more than any other candidate is seen as a representative of the Republican establishment.
Bush came into the debate facing questions about whether he had the grit to take on Trump. In the debate’s early moments, Bush tried to challenge Trump directly but was repeatedly interrupted.
As Bush tried to finish an answer, Trump chimed in: “More energy tonight, I like that.” Trump’s jab was a reference to his frequent critique that Bush is a “low energy” candidate.
Bush said Trump needed to apologise for bringing his wife, a US citizen born in Mexico, into a political debate. Trump has suggested Bush is too soft on America’s immigration crisis because of his wife.
Trump refused to apologise, stood by his criticism of Bush for answering some questions on the campaign trail in Spanish and called Bush “weak on immigration.” Trump said people in the US should speak English.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio jumped in and said it’s important to speak Spanish to communicate with immigrants who might become Republican voters - highlighting a priority for a party that has overwhelmingly lost the rapidly growing Hispanic vote in recent presidential elections.