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11 GOP Candidates Take Stage At Prime Time Debate


It's round two of the second GOP debate at the 2016 campaign. Republican candidates for president are battling it out on stage tonight at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been following the action. He joins us now. Don, Donald Trump has been the center of gravity in the campaign, and the buildup to this debate was really all about Trump's battles with the other candidates. It seems he really is at the center of the action tonight.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You know, last time, in the last debate, six weeks ago, it was Trump fighting with the moderators. This time, the moderators from CNN have - they've been brining up his opponents' insults and comments deriding his qualifications and against his temperament and asking Trump to respond to those things. CNN would often go to split-screen, and you would see the other candidate in one half, Trump reacting kind of with a sour mouth or rolling his eyes on the other screen.

And there were a lot of conflicts. Here's one. He got into it with Jeb Bush, who has been very aggressive against Trump on the campaign trail. Let's listen just to a little bit of what it's been like between them tonight.


JEB BUSH: You got Hillary Clinton to go to your wedding...

DONALD TRUMP: That's true. That's true.

BUSH: ...Because you gave her money. Maybe it works for Hillary Clinton, but it doesn't work for anybody on this stage.

TRUMP: I was - excuse me, Jeb. Jeb, I was a business man. I got along with Clinton. I got along with everybody. That was my job, to get along with people. I didn't want to...

BUSH: But the simple fact is...

TRUMP: Excuse me, one second.


TRUMP: I didn't want to...

BUSH: The simple fact is, Donald, you cannot take.

TRUMP: Yeah, OK - more energy tonight - I like that. Look...


GONYEA: OK. There was a lot of that. There was a lot of that back and forth...

SIEGEL: More energy - I like - more energy tonight - I like...

GONYEA: For a little dig at Jeb that Trump...


GONYEA: ...Has been using on the campaign trail. Trump also hit Rand Paul really hard, saying he shouldn't even be on the stage; he's only at 1 percent. Paul responded that saying that Trump's namecalling was all like junior high and it wasn't the kind of thing that you'd expect of someone who wants to control the nuclear codes.

SIEGEL: Now, Trump's lead has been challenge in the polls by Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon. He's the other real outsider in the race. Did Carson challenge Trump onstage?

GONYEA: Well, you know, he has a very low-key, calm, calm personality. And onstage, he maintained that. He wasn't very aggressive. It's not his style. And part of the deal is to contrast himself with Trump's style, trying to describe and show himself as the reasonable, calm outsider. And he makes the point that he's a neurosurgeon. He's running because he's concerned about the country's divisiveness and its fiscal state. And he said he doesn't want to get into, you know, describing if he's a politician, who is, who isn't. But again, it was this very above-the-political-fray demeanor for Carson.

SIEGEL: There are 11 candidates on stage tonight. Carly Fiorina joined the main stage after being in the undercard in the last debate. How far - how has she performed so far?

GONYEA: Well, she's been getting a lot of applause from the audience in the room. There's a lot of pro-Carly Fiorina action on Twitter. She had a strong answer on dealing with Russia and talked about how she's personally dealt with Putin. And she deftly turned to a slam on Donald Trump for a big stumble he made on National Security in a radio interview a week or so back mistaking the Kurds in Iraq and Syria with the Iranian Quds Force. So she jabbed him for that. Then she got into a recent Trump insult directed at her. He said, in an interview with Rolling Stone, look at that face; who would vote for that? Well, listen to her response tonight.


CARLY FIORINA: I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.


GONYEA: It was a real zinger, and after that big applause, we heard Trump respond.


TRUMP: I think she's got a beautiful face, and I think she's a beautiful woman.

GONYEA: After that, they went to a commercial.

SIEGEL: Now, Don, the GOP tried to get control of the primary debates this year. They felt there'd been too many debates four years ago, or in 2012, in that race. And they felt that all those debates did a lot of damage to Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee. Is this what they had in mind?

GONYEA: They felt it pulled him to the right, that it made him seem to extreme. They wanted it to be less of a reality show by having fewer of them. Guess what, Robert? They got a reality show.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Ok. That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks.

GONYEA: Yep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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