Final Four GOP Candidates Hold Low-Key, High-Stakes Debate

The final four remaining Republican presidential candidates met Thursday night in what could be the last debate before the field narrows after next week's primaries.

Compared to the raucous debate a week ago, Thursday's affair was low-key and remained mostly focused on a range of issues, from the economy to ISIS, Middle East peace and the complicated delegate math in the GOP contest. But for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, the stakes are high in next Tuesday's contests in five states with 350 delegates at stake.

For all the news and analysis of tonight's debate, see the recap of our live blog below:


Carrie Dann

Closing Statements, the Cliffs Notes

Closing Statements, Abridged

Kasich: "I have run an unwavering positive campaign.. I wanted to raise the bar in American politics to show our kids how you they can run for president."

Rubio: "America is great because each generation before us did what needed to be done.. If you vote for me here in Florida, when I'm elected president, this generation will do its part."

Cruz: "Who will best defend our values, who will best defend your values?"

Trump: "Embrace these millions of people that now for the first time ever love the Republican Party. Be smart and unify."

Highlights from the GOP Debate in Miami 2:11
Anna Brand

Trump Says He's Turned Away $275 Million

Trump Says He's Turned Away $275 Million

Donald Trump touting his self-funded campaign claimed that he's turned down $275 million in contributions.

"Maybe that's foolish," he said.

Trump explained that the reason he's done this is because he's been in the business "a long time," as someone who has contributed to politicians on the other side. Trump said that those donors end up having "total control of the politician," adding that "I don't want anyone to control me but the people right out there."

Asked when Cruz denies that those donors have influence over a politician, the Texas senator responded: "Absolutely."

Andrew Rafferty

Trump and Cruz say They Are Only Candidates Who Can Win Nomination

Trump and Cruz Say They Are Only Candidates Who Can Win Nomination

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz made the case that they are the only two Republican candidates with a path to the nomination and that the remaining candidates would need to rely on convention chaos.

"That's just a mathematical fact," Trump said after making the case that he and Ted Cruz are the only candidates that can get the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

"There are only two of us who have a path to the nomination," Cruz said.

Cruz: Rubio, Kasich Have No Path to Nomination 0:54

"If we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins," he added while make the case that Trump would be unelectable in a general election.

Because of their delegate deficit, John Kasich and Marco Rubio could need to rely on a contested convention in Cleveland, Ohio, this summer to become the nominee.

"Math doesn't tell the whole story of politics...What's true today is not necessarily true tomorrow," Kasich said.

Carrie Dann

Trump on the Assault of a Protester at His Recent Rally

Trump on the Assault of a Protester at His Recent Rally

Trump (finally!) gets the question on the assault of a protester at his rally Wednesday night in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Asked if he has done anything to encourage an atmosphere of violence, Trump responded: "I hope not. I truly hope not."

He said "I certainly do not condone" the behavior of the 78 year-old man in North Carolina who was arrested after punching a young African-American protester.

Trump Addresses Violence at His N.C. Rally 1:14

Citing the enthusiasm of his supporters, he said "There is some anger. There is also great love for the country."

But Trump also said some of the protesters have been "bad dudes" who have "done serious damage," suggesting that some protesters themselves have been "swinging" at other attendees.

Trump also decried coverage of his demand that attendees at his rallies "pledge" their support, calling it "a total disgrace" that many commentators drew comparisons between his rallies and those in Nazi Germany.

But Ted Cruz also took aim at Trump for those pledges, saying "to me, that's exactly backwards."

"We are here pledging our support to you (the voters), not the other way around," Cruz said.

Anna Brand

Kasich: 'The Chinese Government Butchered Those Kids'

Kasich: 'The Chinese Government Butchered Those Kids'

Gov. John Kasich, alarmed by Donald Trump's answer that the Tiananmen Square protest was only a "riot," said that China massacred kids in Tiananmen.

"We ought to build a statue to the guy who stood in front of that tank," Kasich said to cheers from the audience.

Andrew Rafferty

Rubio and Kasich Highlight Different Views of Climate Change

Rubio and Kasich Highlight Different Views of Climate Change

Marco Rubio said the climate is changing "because it always has been changing" while John Kasich acknowledged humans contribute to global warming during Thursday's debate.

"Sure the climate is changing, and one of the reasons the climate is changing is because it always has been changing," Rubio said.

But when pressed whether he believes humans have contributed to rising temperatures, Rubio said only that no law could stop it. He indicated he could be in favor of global efforts to address rising sea levels.

"America is not a planet, it's a country," Rubio added.

Kasich said, "I do believe we contribute to climate change" and touted that he cut emissions by 30 percent in Ohio.

Anna Brand

Trump Says Putin Is Strong, But That's Not an Endorsement

Trump Says Putin Is Strong, But That's Not an Endorsement

Donald Trump said that even though he has called Russia President Vladimir Putin a strong leader -- and much strong than our president, he added on Thursday -- that doesn't mean he's endorsing him.

"Strong doesn't mean good," Trump said. "Putin is a strong leader. I could name weak leaders."

Trump added: "I don't say that in a good way or a bad way, I say it as a fact."

Trump Explains His Comments on Putin 0:41
Carrie Dann

A Question About Cuba

Asked about Cuba, Marco Rubio -- as he often does -- laments that the U.S. has extended a diplomatic olive branch to the Cuban government in exchange for "nothing."

"In fact, things are worse," from a human rights perspective, he added.

Candidates Sound off on Cuba Policy 1:31

But Trump said he wants "a much better deal with Cuba.... After fifty years, it's enough time, folks."

He added that the embassy should be closed until "a really good deal" has been made.

Rubio's retort: "I don't know if Cuba's going to sue us. If they sue us in a court in Miami, they're going to lose."

Big laughs from the Miami crowd.

Andrew Rafferty

Rubio Takes Credit for VA Reform Bill

Rubio Takes Credit for VA Reform Bill

Marco Rubio and John Kasich stressed the need to restructure the Department of Veterans' Affairs, with Rubio taking credit for passing a comprehensive reform bill as a senator.

Rubio said the VA now has more firing power "because of the law I passed." However, the Florida senator said that new authority has not been exercised and said under-performing employees would be fired if he becomes president.

Rubio, along with rival Ted Cruz, have been attacked for being first-term senators with thin legislative accomplishments, which opponents equate to President Obama.

Kasich said the VA "needs to restructured, it needs to be downsized."

Carrie Dann

Ground Troops to Fight ISIS? Trump Says 'We Really Have No Choice"

Ground Troops to Fight ISIS? Trump Says 'We Really Have No Choice"

Asked if he would follow the advice of military commanders who want much higher levels of ground troop engagement in Syria to defeat ISIS there, Ted Cruz said he'd back "whatever ground power is needed." But he avoided specifics about troop levels, instead decrying the Obama administration's "constraints" on rules of engagement.

Kasich also urged a defeat of ISIS, citing his backing by military veterans.

But Trump appeared to commit to significant ground troops, saying: "We really have no choice. We have to knock the hell out of them."

"I'd listen to the generals. But I'm hearing numbers of 20-30 thousand."

Anna Brand

Trump: I'm Pro-Israel, Was Grand Marshall of an Israeli Parade

Trump: I'm Pro-Israel, Was Grand Marshall of an Israeli Parade

Donald Trump said there's no one that's more pro-Israel than him, as someone who was a Grand Marshall of an Israeli parade and the grandfather to Jews.

As president, Trump said he would like to give "a shot" to an Israel-Palestinian deal. "I'm very, very pro-Israel, but I would like to give it a shot," he said, adding that he has Israeli friends and friends in New York City who are Jewish who have all said want to see peace in Israel.

Ted Cruz responded by saying we "need a president who understands national security," and that person is not Trump. Rubio piggybacked on Cruz, adding that there is "no peace with the Palestinian authority because there's no one to negotiate with."

"They are interested in removing the Jewish State," Rubio said, adding that the U.S. cannot have a president "forcing Israelis to the table."

Carrie Dann

Candidates on Targeting the Families of Terrorists

Moderator Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump again about his previous statements that he would allow the targeting of the families of terrorists, which would violate international law.

"We have to obey the laws, but we have to expand those laws, because we have to be able to fight on at least something of equal footing," Trump responded.

Rubio and Cruz both disagreed.

Asked if he'd pursue the same policies, Rubio said: "No, of course not, and we don't have to to be able to defeat terrorists."

And Cruz: "We've never targeted innocent civilians, and we're not going to start now."

Andrew Rafferty

Trump Defends Saying 'Islam Hates Us'

Trump Defends Saying 'Islam Hates Us'

Marco Rubio and Donald Trump sparred over how the country should view Islam, with the GOP frontrunner defending the comment that Muslims "hate us."

"There is tremendous hatred and I'll stick with just what I told Anderson Cooper," Trump said, referring to his original comments.

Trump Not Backing off 'Islam Hates Us' Comment 0:33

Rubio pounced on the remark, saying a president's word "has consequences around the world." Trump accused Rubio of trying to be "politically correct."

"I'm not interested in being politically correct, I'm interested in being correct," Rubio shot back.

Anna Brand

How Trump Is Different From the Rest of the Party, According to Trump

How Trump Is Different From the Rest of the Party, According to Trump

Donald Trump said he believes he holds similar views to other members of the Republican Party in many respects except for one thing: Trade.

"We've had horrible negotiators, horrible trade deals, jobs are disappearing, trade deals are absolutely killing our country," Trump said.

Ted Cruz reacted, saying that Trump is right about the problems, but his solutions don't work, particularly a 45 percent tax on goods imported from China.

"That 45 percent tax is a threat. It will be a tax if they don't behave," Trump said, adding that "our country is in trouble and it's going to explode."

Cruz reiterated that this isn't a solution. "How is this helping you?" he asked. "If you can't pay the bills how does it help you to have a president come and put a 45 percent tax on diapers, automobiles, clothing?"

Andrew Rafferty

Cruz Says He IS Only Candidate to Stand up to Ethanol in Iowa

Ted Cruz said he had the political courage to stand up to ethanol in Iowa while the rest of the GOP field was afraid to take on the electoral lightning rod.

Cruz opposed government subsidies to the ethanol industry, which is especially important in the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad came out against Cruz because of his stance on the issue.

But Donald Trump said Cruz changed his view a number of times ahead of the caucuses.

"He did change his view in the hopes of doing well," Trump accused.

Carrie Dann

"So Far, I Cannot Believe How Civil It's Been Up Here"

"So Far, I Cannot Believe How Civil It's Been Up Here"

Well, it took 33 minutes, but Ted Cruz tried his first foray at a Trump attack, referencing the real estate mogul's campaign contributions to "liberal Democrats" throughout his political career.

In a move wildly different than the previous take-no-prisoners debate, a subdued Donald Trump took the high road(!), responding that "we're all in this together."

"So far, I cannot believe how civil it's been up here," Trump said.

Trump Can't Believe How 'Civil' Debate Has Been 1:11
Carrie Dann

Raising the Retirement Age

Marco Rubio made a passionate argument for why the retirement age must be gradually raised, saying "Someone my age would retire at 68, my kids would retire at 70... If we don't do anything, we will have a debt crisis. It's not a question of if, its a question of when."

Donald Trump disagreed.

"It is my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is, not to raise the age," Trump said.

Rubio's retort: "The numbers don't add up.. people know that's the truth here in Florida."

Even after eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, "you still have hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit that you have to make up," he added.

Carrie Dann

Trump Confirms Ben Carson is Endorsing Him Tomorrow

As NBC News reported earlier tonight, sources indicated that Ben Carson is planning to endorse Trump Friday in Florida.

Trump Touts Carson Endorsement 0:44

The real estate mogul just confirmed that himself on stage, saying that he spoke to Carson for an hour today. One of their big topics of conversation was education reform, he said.

The remark came when Trump was asked about his specific objections to Common Core.

"Education through Washington DC. I don't want that," he replied, before name-dropping his latest supporter.

"I'm going to have Ben very involved in education, something that really is an expertise of his," Trump said.

Andrew Rafferty

Trump Says He 'Shouldn't Be Allowed' to Use H1B Visas

Trump Says He 'Shouldn't Be Allowed' to Use H1B Visas

Donald Trump said he has benefitted from a government program that allows him to recruit foreign workers but that he "shouldn't be allowed to use it."

"We should end it...It's a mess," Trump said.

Rubio, Trump Discuss Visa Program 1:00

However, he said he has benefitted from it as a businessman. H1B visas have come under fire after it was revealed some companies have used it to replace American workers with foreigners.

Marco Rubio, who supports H1B visas, said businesses caught violating the law need to be punished.

"If a company is caught abusing that program, they should never be allowed to do it again," Rubio said.

Anna Brand

Ted Cruz Also Wants to Build a Wall

Ted Cruz Also Wants to Build a Wall

Sen. Ted Cruz answering a question on immigration said the country must "redefine our system" and that means, you guessed it, building a wall.

Cruz said as president he would also triple the border patrol, cut off federal funds to cities that violate immigration laws, and end welfare benefits for anyone living in the U.S. illegally.

"We can solve these problems," Cruz said. "We need leadership that works for the working men and women in this country."

The Texas senator put blame on the Democrats and the current leadership in Washington. "Democrats support illegal immigration because they view those immigrants as potential voters," he said.