Donald Trump, his face red with emotion, lashed out a rivals Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz at the most acrimonious debate to date between Republican presidential candidates, shouting insults and casting aside a pledge to be more measured.
The billionaire went into the CBS debate on Saturday with a head of steam, having won New Hampshire last Tuesday and holding a big lead in polls in South Carolina a week before Republicans vote on February 20.
Rather than play it safe, Trump responded to every comment levelled his way, interrupted his opponents at will and called them liars repeatedly
in an emotional outburst that could raise more questions about whether he has the temperament to serve in the White House.
He made his most blistering attacks against Bush and his brother, former president George W Bush, who has many admirers in the Republican establishment.
It was hard to declare a winner in the debate amid the constant volley of insults, not all of them from Trump. Cruz and fellow Senator Marco Rubio also took pointed jabs at each other over illegal immigration.
Trump was quickly goaded when Jeb Bush criticised Trump’s past statements that Russia had a role to play in Syria. Russia, Bush said, was not attacking Islamic State militants but helping Syrian President Bashir Assad, who Washington wanted to leave office.
Trump blasted Bush’s brother for launching the Iraq war in 2003 over claims, later proven false, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “A big, fat mistake,” said Trump, noting that the September 11 2001 attacks had also occurred on George Bush’s watch.
“They lied!” Trump thundered. “They said there were weapons of mass destruction. And there were none.” Jeb Bush, who has wilted in the past under assault from Trump, stood firm this time.
Trump also was drawn into a fight with Cruz over whether the real estate developer is sufficiently conservative. Trump called himself a “common-sense conservative”, which Cruz dismissed.
“If Trump is president he will appoint liberals to the Supreme Court,” Cruz said.
“You are the biggest liar,” Trump replied. — Reuters