When it came to immigration, the fourth Republican presidential debate was more like a WWE wrestling match.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich took on Donald Trump during the debate on the Fox Business Network for his comments that millions of undocumented immigrants should be deported. Then former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush double-teamed Donald Trump, and eventually Sen. Ted Cruz jumped in to even up the sides.
But Marco Rubio? He never got tagged in at all.
In what has now become the norm in Republican debates, the candidates lined up on their respective sides in the immigration conversation. Trump began by saying he was "so happy" when he saw a Monday court decision against lifting the injunction on Obama's executive orders on immigration that would shield close to 5 million people from deportation.
"We have no choice if we’re going to run our country properly," Trump said when asked if the government can just send millions of people back to Mexico.
An exasperated Kasich invoked Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty that allowed 3 million people to remain in the country. Kasich said the problem was the border wasn't secured in turn, but he also questioned the morality of deporting millions.
"If people think we are going to ship 11 million people who are law abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up at their house, and ship them out to Mexico, think about the families, think about the children," Kasich said.
Trump defended the action as something Dwight Eisenhower did when he had the military deport 1.3 million Mexican nationals during the controversial "Operation Wetback." After sniping back and forth with Kasich, Trump earned one of the few boos of the night when he said that as a successful businessman, "I don’t have to hear from him."
Deporting 500,000 immigrants a month is just not possible, Bush argued.
"It's not embracing American values," he said. And, hinting at an area where Bush hopes to be strongest among the Republican candidates if he were to make it to the general election, the former Florida governor referenced the growing Latino vote and the question of tone in discussing immigration.
"And even having this conversation sends a powerful signal," he said. "They're doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this. That's the problem with this."
Rubio — who was part of the group of senators, known as the Gang of Eight, who helped craft bipartisan immigration legislation in 2013 before backing away from a comprehensive approach — was chosen to speak next by the moderators, but instead was asked about the economy.
During the first debate on Fox News Channel where the candidates fought to be toughest on immigration, Rubio said a fence was needed on the border as well as e-verify and an entry-exit tracking system to prevent illegal immigration.
But instead of being asked about how his positions on immigration have shifted, Rubio was able to speak about one of the few slam dunks on the hot-button issue: frustration with the slowness of the legal immigration system.
"And let me tell you who never gets talked about in these debates," Rubio said during the first debate. "The people that call my office, who have been waiting for 15 years to come to the United States. And they've paid their fees, and they hired a lawyer, and they can't get in. And they're wondering, maybe they should come illegally."
On Tuesday night, while Rubio didn't have to say a word on immigration, Cruz picked up the slack.
Seizing on Bush's comments that Clinton's campaign was celebrating, Cruz said Republicans need to hold their ground. "If Republicans join Democrats as the party of amnesty, they lose," he said.
Framing immigration as an economic issue that depresses wages, the Texas senator joked that if lawyers were coming over the border or people with journalism degrees then Democrats and the media would call it an "economic calamity."
"It is not compassionate to say we're not going to enforce the laws and we're going to drive down the wages for millions of hardworking men and women," Cruz concluded.
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at email@example.com.
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