GREENVILLE, S.C. — Republicans began a final week of fighting Sunday for the South Carolina primary, the day after a brawl-filled debate that exposed stark disputes over style and substance.
“All the yelling and screaming, and all the back-and-forth,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich lamented on NBC’s Meet The Press, denouncing the negative tone of the debate and a Republican race in which candidates accuse each other of lying and dirty tricks.
Jeb Bush, who argued with GOP front-runner Donald Trump on items ranging from Trump’s profanity to the legacy of President George W. Bush, told Fox News Sunday that he has been the only Republican candidate willing to challenge the billionaire businessman. “Someone has to take him on,” Bush said. “I do not want my party hijacked by someone who’s not a conservative.”
Trump, who easily won last week’s New Hampshire primary and leads polls in South Carolina, told CBS’ Face The Nation that opponents are “shooting at me because I’m leading by a lot.”
The debate provided “an amazing evening,” Trump said, and “the interesting thing is I was being hit from all sides and I was bullied here bullied there. I think it was probably my best performance. Who knows?”
The South Carolina primary, the first southern contest in the Republican race, is Saturday.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also questioned Trump’s conservative credentials, telling NBC’s Meet The Press that “he has supported liberals for four decades: Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid.” Cruz himself also engaged in arguments during Saturday’s debate, as the Texas senator and Marco Rubio accused each other of lying about their records on the immigration issue.
Rubio, speaking on a variety of Sunday shows, said the Texas senator has developed a bad habit of saying things that are not true; Cruz says he is the most consistent conservative in the Republican race.
The GOP candidates agree on at least one thing: President Obama should not seek to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, but instead leave the appointment to his successor next year. Scalia’s death Saturday has cast yet another shadow on the 2016 presidential election.
As Republican candidates battle each other across South Carolina, Kasich and other said all the vicious in-fighting will benefit the Democratic candidate in the long run. Rubio agreed, but said candidates have to defend themselves against false charges. The Florida senator noted on CBS’ Face The Nation that, eight years ago, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said “horrible things” about each other during their Democratic primary battle.
“He ended up winning and she ended up working for him,” Rubio said.