The evening began with questions about the ramifications of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death earlier that day. Most of the candidates stressed the importance of electing a president who would nominate conservative jurists to the bench (except for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who stressed only that Scalia’s replacement should be “somebody that’s going to have unanimous approval” from left and right).
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the only candidate to expressly connect the issue to abortion, noting “we are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states” and “would undermine the religious liberty of millions of Americans.” Therefore, he argued, “the Senate needs to stand strong and say, ‘We’re not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more liberal appointee.’”
Later, Cruz criticized businessman Donald Trump, stating that “for most of his life, he has described himself as very pro-choice and as a supporter of partial birth abortion. Right now today as a candidate, he supports federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.” Trump angrily responded by calling Cruz “the single biggest liar” and a “nasty guy” who “will say anything.”
Trump asked Cruz to substantiate his allegations, to which Cruz directed viewers to a video on his website of Trump supporting partial-birth abortion and describing himself as “very pro-choice” in 1999. Cruz also referenced Trump’s comments in August that Planned Parenthood deserved to retain partial tax payer funding for their non-abortion services. Trump dismissed it as “a lot of lies”—he walked back those remarks and endorsed total defunding in September (though in October, he again appeared to support taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood when he stated, “What I would do when the time came, I’d look at the individual things they do, and maybe some of the individual things they do are good. …”).
Cruz pointed out that Trump preferred to call him a liar instead of actually addressing the question of Trump’s real position on Planned Parenthood. Cruz’s persistence in getting Trump to answer the question prompted Trump to repeat his belief that the abortion giant “does do wonderful things” “having to do with women’s health, but not when it comes to abortion.”
Cruz concluded the exchange by declaring, “The reason principle matters sadly was illustrated by the first questions today. The next president is going to appoint, one, two, three, four Supreme Court Justices. If Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals.” Cruz could have specifically taken the opportunity to emphasize the point by referencing Trump’s August statement that his sister, Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, would be “one of the best” choices for the Supreme Court, despite her voting to uphold partial-birth abortion.
Finally, Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio both referenced the right to life in their closing statements:
RUBIO: We’re going to be a country that says life begins at conception. We’re going to be a country that says marriage is between one man and one woman. We’re going to say that rights come from our creator, not our president.
CRUZ: Do you want another Washington dealmaker who will make deals with the Democrats, and give up our liberties, grow the debt? Or do you want a conservative? If we get this wrong, if we nominate the wrong candidate, the Second Amendment, life, religion, liberty, hang in the balance.