Donald Trump said he would bring back waterboarding, "and a hell of a lot worse", as Republicans clashed in their final vote before a crucial vote in New Hamshire.
In their fiercest showdown yet, Republican candidates for president turned on each other in a debate that ranged from torture to economic policy.
With several of those taking part in the deabte at Manchester's St Anselm College very much aware that Tuesday’s vote may be the last chance if they are to stay in the race, and with others hoping to maximise the momentum they already have, the seven contenders spent as much time attacking each other as they did targeting the Democratic hopefuls, or the government of Barack Obama.
In early exchanges, on everything from immigration, to foreign policy and even the use of eminent domain to force people off their private property, among the sharpest of the back-and-forths were between Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gvoernor Chris Christie.
“He simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States and make these decisions,” Mr Christie said of Rubio noting that his experience didn’t extend much beyond serving since 2011 in the US Senate, the same body provided the springboard for Mr Obama.
“We’ve watched it happen, everybody, for the last seven years. The people of New Hampshire are smart, do not make the same mistake again.”
Mr Rubio hit back, claiming that Mr Christie had almost refused to return to his state two weeks ago when it was hit by a large blizzard. “You did not want to go back,” he said. Wearing a face of indignant outrage, Mr Christie asked if ESP, extra-sensory perception, was now a part of Senate service also.
In a part of the discussion about the so-called enhanced interrogation practice of waterboarding, Mr Trump said he would have no hestitation as president.
“I'll tell you what, in the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians. We have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before, as a group,” he told the ABC News moderators.
“I mean we studied medieval times. Not since medieval times have people seen what's going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Mr Cruz said he did not believe waterboarding was torture but he said he was opposed to its use.
“Under the definition of torture, no it’s not. It is enhanced interrogation. It does not meet the generally recognised definition of torture," he said. “[But] I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed I’d join with Senator McCain in prohibiting line officers from employing it.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump also clashed with former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, a man whom he has routinely derided as a “low energy candidate”.
Mr Bush accused the billionaire of seizing land by means of so-called eminent domain to evict an elderly woman and turn the area into a “limousine parking lot for his casinos”. The clash between reach a new low when Mr Trump turned to the former governor and mocked him for being “a tough guy” and then trying to cut him off. “Let me talk, quiet,” he said, holding his finger to his mouth.
Booed for that, Mr Trump the did something surely no other political candidate has done before him. He turned on the audience asserting it had been padded by party elites with donors to Washington politicians. It was a strike that earned him more boos, but played to his supporters who love his fearlessness and willing to take on whomever and whenever.
The hard-edged nature of Saturday’s debate underscored just what is at count this coming week and what may be a make-or-break vote.
A poll released on Friday showed that Donald Trump remains the frontrunner in New Hampshire, despite him coming second in Iowa to Senator Ted Cruz and many speculating that his campaign could at least lose some air, if not being fully deflated.
The poll released by Quinnipiac University put Mr Trump on 31 per cent, with Mr Cruz on 22 percent and Mr Rubio, who came third in Iowa, on 19 per cent. The poll placed Ben Carson on six per cent, with nine percent undecided and no other candidate securing more than three per cent.
“Despite the Iowa setback, Donald Trump is way ahead of his GOP opponents,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
“But that's not the whole story nine months before Election Day. In mano a mano, or mano a womano, face-offs with all contenders, Sanders and Rubio would be the candidates left standing.”
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