Challenger Jeb Bush locked horns with Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a national security debate on Tuesday but most rivals avoided tangling with the billionaire who has emerged as an enduring force in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Their reticence was a nod to Trump’s unique ability to withstand attacks and return fire. Last week, Trump stunned the field by proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, a move his rivals assailed only to find many Republican voters backed the idea and Trump’s lead in opinion polls grew.
The Republicans’ last debate of the year was a lively affair in a city famed for heavyweight boxing matches. Although Bush assailed Trump as never before, it was perhaps too little too late to save his struggling campaign.
“Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president,” Bush, 62, said.
Trump, 69, shot back: “Oh yeah, and you’re a tough guy, Bush,” noting Bush’s falling standing in the polls and his resulting move down toward the end of the debate stage.
But most of the other seven candidates on stage notably refused to take Trump on.
Voicing appreciation for the response he had received on the campaign trail, Trump seemingly ended any further speculation that he might bolt from the Republican Party and run as an independent candidate, which would almost certainly mean a Democrat would win the White House in the Nov. 8 election.
“I am totally committed to the Republican Party. I feel very honored…