Debate Prep: Will Anybody Pick On Anyone Besides Donald Trump?

If not for Trump, the debate might focus on immigration, privacy, and the nature of conservatism.


CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) take the stage for the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

To paraphrase the stars of the cutthroat reality TV competitions that helped make Donald Trump famous: the presidential candidates are not here to make friends. 

But at Wednesday night's CNN debate, the second showdown among the Republican presidential contenders, how many targets will there be? The summer of Trump hasn't just overwhelmed other candidates' poll numbers. It seems to have quelled feuds between candidates who aren't Donald Trump.

The members of the 15-candidate field have been so busy taking aim at the surprise frontrunner that they haven't had time to pick nits among themselves.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been too focused on calling Trump a "madman who must be stopped" to criticize what he calls Governor Scott Walker's "liberal" health care plan. Senator Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum haven't traded jabs about limiting legal immigration (and won't have much chance to do so at this evening's debate because Santorum is once again in the early undercard contest). And the ongoing spat between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul that enlivened the last debate seems to have gone dormant since then.

Here's a look back at four policy disagreements the non-Trump candidates have engaged in over the last few months. Depending on how substantive Wednesday's debates are, some of these battles might actually rise above our national obsession with The Donald. 

Christie v. Paul 

During last month's Fox News debate, one of the more exciting exchanges that didn't feature Trump involved Christie and Paul arguing over National Security Agency surveillance. Nearly every Republican presidential candidate has knocked Paul's foreign policy—including Lindsey Graham, the leader of the eye-roll caucus—but this feud has deeper roots. For years the two have been arguing over government spending (Paul once called Christie the "king of bacon") and national security (Christie said this summer that Paul has made America "weaker").

There's no sign that the two will back down any time soon: In 2013, Paul suggested the two have a beer summit to clear the air, but Christie said he was too busy because he's “responsible for actually doing things and not just debating.”

Paul v. Bush 

During the first half of 2015, when Bush was the perceived front-runner for the Republican nomination, Paul took several shots at the former Florida governor. In January he called Bush, who has admitted smoking pot in high school, a hypocrite for opposing medical marijuana legalization in Florida. In May, he said Bush wasn't conservative enough to be the Republican nominee. In June he said Bush was "confused" about NSA spying, linking that to Bush's stumble over whether he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq, as his brother, then-President George W. Bush did, knowing what Americans know now. Now that Bush has dropped to a distant third in the polls, however, it seems more likely Paul will be focusing his energy on Trump. 

Jindal v. Bush

Paul wasn't the only one to go after Bush early. During his announcement speech, Jindal criticized Bush's statement that Republicans need to lose the primary to win the general election—in other words, that the GOP candidates have to stay relatively centrist to win the November. “He is saying that we need to hide our conservative ideals,” Jindal said of Bush during his speech. “But the truth is, if we go down that road again, we will lose again.” If Bush wants to lose the primary, the Louisiana governor added that he would be happy to help him with that.

Bush v. Cruz 

Along with Trump and former Senator Rick Santorum, Senator Ted Cruz has come out in favor of ending birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. In his defense of birthright citizenship, Bush implied that Cruz was a beneficiary of the policy. "Now, if people are here legally, they have a visa, and they have a child who’s born here, I think that they ought to be American citizens," he said last month. "People like Marco Rubio, by the way, that’s how he came. You know, so to suggest that we make it impossible for a talented person like that not to be a candidate for president — or Ted Cruz."

Cruz responded by pointing out that, since his mother was a U.S. citizen, he didn't need birthright citizenship. "I appreciate Governor Bush's concern," Cruz said last month. "I would note it seems he's having a problem and getting confused between legal immigration and illegal immigration." 

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