GOP field delves deep into policy at South Carolina town hall

Updated

Republican presidential candidates delved deep into policy and offered some revealing personal tidbits in a CNN town hall on Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina.

The event, which featured Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz, was the first of two town halls hosted by the network. The second one Thursday will include Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov.John Kasich. Trump participated in a separate town hall hosted by MSNBC on Wednesday.

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Carson, up first, discussed whether he would have any litmus tests for a Supreme Court Justice and said he’d focus on their biography rather than questions in interviews or hearings.

“The litmus test would be their lives, what kind of rulings they’ve had throughout their lives, what kind of associations they’ve had,” he said.

Asked about his take on welfare and subsidies for the poor, Carson said it’s “not the government’s job” to handle them. Instead he thought people should turn to volunteerism and charity like “the old days of America.”

“Somebody got killed by a bear, everybody took care of their family,” he said. “So we have a history of taking care of each other.”

2/17/16, 9:04 PM ET

Carson: Makes no sense to take guns away

At the CNN town hall, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson discusses why we should focus on gun safety education instead of banning guns.

Rubio opened up on race, on which he said that Americans should take seriously complaints from African-Americans that they face unequal treatment of the police.

“If a significant percentage of the American family frankly believes that they are being treated differently than everyone else we have a problem and we have to address it as a society and a country,” he said.

Rubio added that Americans should still recognize the “simply amazing” progress made against discrimination in his lifetime, pointing to South Carolina’s own Governor Nikki Haley, whose parents are Indian immigrants, and Senator Tim Scott, who is African-American. Both politicians have endorsed him in the race. 

Asked whether he had faced racism himself, Rubio said he was taunted as a child in Las Vegas for his Cuban heritage during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, in which thousands of Cuban refugees left for the United States.

“I never saw that as a reflection on America, I saw it as a reflection on those kids,” Rubio said.

RELATED: Bush has his back against the wall in South Carolina

Rubio repeated his claim that Cruz was “lying” about his record and implied his campaign was involved with a Facebook post claiming Rubio supporter Rep. Trey Gowdy had withdrawn his endorsement and backed Cruz. Cruz has denied any involvement and condemned the post.

“These things are disturbing and they need to be addressed,” Rubio said.

Cruz said he accurately described Rubio’s history on immigration, zeroing in on his opponent’s support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

 “If they want to engage in personal insults, if they want to go into the mud, I will not say the same thing about them,” Cruz said

Cruz, asked about yet another ongoing feud, dismissed as “frivolous and ridiculous” Trump’s threat to sue his campaign over an ad featuring a clip of the billionaire describing himself as “pro-choice in every respect” in 1999. Trump now identifies as pro-life.

2/17/16, 9:56 PM ET

Rubio: We must secure the border first

During CNN’s town hall, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio discusses why the United States must secure the border as the first step toward progress in immigration reform.
“It is quite literally the most ridiculous theory I’ve ever heard that telling the voters what Donald Trump’s actual record is is deceitful and lying,” Cruz said.

He also lit into Trump for his accusation during Saturday’s debate that President George W. Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD program and for suggesting in 2008 he should have been impeached. Cruz said the idea came from “extreme fever swamps of the left.”

“I think that really draws into question the judgment of that candidate to be Commander in Chief,” he said.

All three candidates addressed the dispute between Apple and the Justice Department over whether to unlock an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino attackers. Apple has argued that doing so would create a “backdoor to the iPhone” that would undermine trust in its security for everyone. 

“There’s probably very good reason for people not to trust the government, but we’re going to have to get over that because right now we’re faced with tremendous threats,” Carson.

Rubio said he was conflicted over the issue and saw merit in Apple’s argument that creating a backdoor into their phones could create broader security problems. He called on the government and tech industry to work together to try to find a balanced fix.

“I don’t have a magic solution for it today,” he said.

Cruz also said he was sympathetic to Apple’s concerns, but believed there was a limited solution that could address the San Bernardino case.

“Nobody has the right to defy a legal search warrant,” he said.

The candidates also got personal at times. Rubio said he had never been to a rave despite his love of electronic dance music, Cruz admitted he constantly played iPhone games like Candy Crush and Plants vs. Zombies, much to the chagrin of his wife, while Carson said he favored baroque classical music in surgery and then billiards at home to relax afterwards. 

Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz

GOP field delves deep into policy at South Carolina town hall

Updated