Donald Trump was back, Carly Fiorina was out, excluded by the rules of the ABC News debate, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was drawing attacks after his strong showing in Iowa.
The GOP presidential candidates were on stage Saturday night for the final debate before the New Hampshire primary, where some of the Republicans must do well if they are to continue. Trump, who finished second behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Iowa caucuses, returned after skipping the previous debate.
Here are some of the liveliest moments of the evening.
GETTING ON STAGE
The debate got off to an awkward start as Dr. Ben Carson hesitated going onto the stage even as he was waved on. Trump lingered with Carson until they both entered, but then Kasich was left behind. A few minutes later Carson made a reference to expecting to be introduced second.
A STUMP SPEECH
Rubio tried to defend his relatively short time in the U.S. Senate by saying if years spent as a senator were the measure of a candidate everyone on the stage should be rallying around Vice President Joe Biden. Biden represented Delaware for 36 years.
But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie quickly attacked Rubio for failing to make a single decision of consequence in the Senate for which he was held accountable and mocked him for giving his “30-second” prepared speech. Memorized speeches don’t get the snow plowed or help rebuild a state destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, he said. And he criticized Rubio for listing the Hezbollah Sanctions Act as an accomplishment but failing to show up for the vote.
“That’s not leadership,” Christie said. “That’s truancy.”
Rubio rejoined by telling Christie he had to be shamed into returning to New Jersey from New Hampshire during the recent blizzard. And he brought up New Jersey’s credit rating, downgraded nine times since Christie became governor.
But Rubio also continued to repeat himself several times with the same comments criticizing President Barack Obama.
Carson was asked about messages sent by Cruz’s campaign just before the Iowa caucuses, claiming falsely that Carson was leaving the race.
“I’m not going to use this opportunity to savage the reputation of Senator Cruz,” he said.
Carson said he owed it to his volunteers, one of whom died in a traffic accident in Iowa, to stay in the competition. And he added that he was disappointed in the display of what he called “Washington ethics” — doing what is needed to do to win, not what is right.
Cruz apologized, and blamed CNN for reporting that Carson was taking a break from his campaign.
Carson responded that CNN’s initial tweet was quickly followed by a second one saying he was still in the race. Voters can make their own judgement, he said.
At the end of the debate, Trump got a dig in, saying Cruz had received Carson’s votes.
Trump and Bush got into a sharp disagreement over eminent domain, the process by which the government can take private property for public good. Trump, who has benefited from it, defended it as a way to build roads and schools.
Bush countered with a jab at Trump’s attempt to take a woman’s house in Atlantic City to use as a parking lot for limousines, next to one of his casinos.
“Jeb wants to be a tough guy,” Trump snapped.
The woman went to state court and ended up keeping her home.
TRUMP VERSUS THE CROWD
Trump at one point said his team was unable to get tickets for the audience because they had gone to “donors, special interests, the people who put up the money.”
As the audience booed, he added, “The reason they’re not loving me is I don’t want their money.”
Trump makes a point of saying he is funding his campaign himself.
FEELING LEFT OUT
Carson showed his frustration at not getting as much time as the others.
“I’m not here just to add beauty to the stage,” Carson said as he jumped into a discussion about the Middle East.
In his closing remarks he said the media had tried to ignore him
“I’m still here and I’m not going any place either,” he said.
Cruz, asked about the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire, talked about the death of his half-sister, Miriam, from a drug overdose. He and his father, Rafael, tried to rescue her from a crack house, but failed, he said. After his sister’s death, he put her son, Joey, into a military school.
He joins Christie and Fiorina in discussing addictions from the vantage of their families.
Christie talks about a law school friend who died after injuring his back and becoming addicted to Percocet.
Fiorina’s step-daughter, Lori, died at age 35 after a struggle with alcohol and prescription pills.