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Rubio Glitched, Trump Got Booed, and More From the Latest Republican Debate

The debate Saturday night in New Hampshire began with perhaps the most awkward introduction in history and ended with frontrunner Donald Trump appearing somewhat rattled.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 7 2016, 4:20pm

Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

As the remaining Republican presidential candidates duked it out on the debate stage last night, hundreds of protesters gathered outside to seize on one of the last high-profile election moments in New Hampshire before Tuesday's primary vote.

Several hours before the debate was scheduled to begin, hundreds of protesters marched to Saint Anselm College, in Manchester New Hampshire, where the debate was held. The majority of the protesters were with the national labor rights group Fight for 15, which has been leading demonstrations throughout the country to push for a higher minimum wage and union rights. Many of those gathered outside of the debate last night were New Hampshire fast-food employees and other low-wage workers who said they had never voted in an election before. 

"People are fired up, the primary is coming here in a couple of days," Kendall Fells, Fight for 15's national organizing director, said at the protest. "Workers know it's their turn, they know the eyes of the country are on them."

The protesters carried signs that read "Come Get Our Vote," and "Fight for a Livable Wage." Most of the labor rights activists were not there to support one specific candidate, but said they wanted to remind all of the candidates that income inequality and labor rights were central issues for a sizable constituency of voters here. 

The Fight for 15 protesters weren't the only ones clamoring for the spotlight last night. Though it was frigid, supporters of nearly all of the Republican candidates were outside chanting and holding signs. The candidates with the greatest number of supporters also happened to be the ones with some of the lowest national poll numbers, offering some indication of the difference between the Republican electorates in New Hampshire and Iowa. 

Related: Presidential Candidates Are Putting a National Spotlight on New Hampshire's Heroin Problem

Chris Christie and John Kasich had the largest and most vocal contingents. Donald Trump and Marco Rubio had the fewest supporters, despite polling in first and second place in New Hampshire, respectively. There were approximately the same amount of Bernie Sanders supporters as there were Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson fans combined. 

The supporters of the various Republican campaigns stood shoulder-to-shoulder with pro-Palestinian activists, union representatives, and environmentalists. Although there was plenty of shouting and cheering among the highly varied groups, they pretty much stuck in their own clusters and avoided any major confrontations with each other.

Related: After Iowa: Rubio, Sanders, Trump All Have Big Opportunities in New Hampshire

By the time the debate began at 8pm, with perhaps the most awkward introduction in history, most of the demonstrators had decamped to go watch the event inside, presumably somewhere warm. If the protesters outside of the debate hall decided to keep it relatively civil, it quickly became clear once the debate started that the candidates themselves had little interest in doing the same.

Senator Marco Rubio, fresh off a third-place finish in Iowa, quickly became the target of an all-out assault from his rivals. One of the most highly-charged moments of the evening came early on when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie unleashed an attack on Rubio over the question of the junior senator's experience.

"You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable — you just simply haven't," Christie told Rubio.

Rubio struggled to respond to the onslaught from Christie. "Let's dispel once and for all this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing," Rubio said, defending the question of his readiness to be president. "Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country and make this country more like the rest of the world."

Related: The Salacious Ammo Even Donald Trump Won't Use in a Fight Against Hillary Clinton

Christie hit back by calling out Rubio's habit of missing votes in the Senate. "That's not leadership. That's truancy," he said to cheers from the crowd.

Rubio then responded by repeating, nearly word for word, his previous talking points three more times. "Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing," he said. "He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country."

"There it is!" Christie interrupted. "There it is — the memorized 25-second speech, there it is everybody!"

Rubio's painful glitch was quickly pilloried on social media, and he struggled to recover from it for the rest of the night. At one point, Bush joined the pile-on against Rubio, stating that "We've tried it the old way," referring to Christie's apocalyptic warning about what might happen if we elect another first-term senator like Obama was in 2008.

The all-out assault on Rubio was a notable contrast from the last debate, when Ted Cruz was the target of the majority of attacks. Last night, Cruz seemed happy to stay out of the fray and watch Rubio get taken down. 

The broad consensus from political commentators was that Rubio's poor showing last night would make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to recover in time for Tuesday's primary vote. 

"This is a moment when [Rubio] really could have put away the field… and this is likely to put something of a brake on his momentum," remarked conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer last night. "Look, we were at a point where… other governors who dropped out of the race are endorsing him, and what he could have done is to start running the table, but this is going to hurt."

Another notable moment in the debate took place when Donald Trump, who is just barely in first place in New Hampshire over Rubio, tussled with Bush before turning on the audience. Coming off his defeat in Iowa, Trump appeared to be taking a quieter and more conciliatory tone in the beginning of the debate. But then Bush went after him on the issue of eminent domain, and Trump let loose.

"Jeb wants to be a tough guy tonight," Trump said after Bush tried to interrupt him.

"How tough it is to take away property from an elderly woman?" Bush shot back.

Trump then shushed him, which prompted massive booing from the audience. The crowd was so clearly on Bush's side in the fight that Trump, not knowing quite what to do once he lost the room, decided to go after the audience themselves.

"We have all donors in the audience," Trump said, before he was nearly drowned out by the continued booing. "And the reason they're not loving me… excuse me. The reason they're not loving me is I don't want their money."

Related: Ted Cruz's Biggest Challenge: To Know Him Is to Hate Him

Massive jeers from a debate audience just three days before the first primary vote might cause a more typical campaign to worry. Trump seemed to brush it off, but still appeared somewhat rattled by the response from the crowd. Trump's candidacy has been based nearly entirely on his perceived ability to win, and his performance last night showed just how much he hates the possibility of losing. 

The next three days are key for the remaining so-called establishment Republicans — John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio — to work off their base of supporters in New Hampshire and knock Trump out of first place. The #RubioGlitch seemed to torpedo his chances of doing that. But judging by their performances and the crowds outside last night, Christie, Kasich and Bush might be able to seize on the momentum of New Hampshire and turn the race around. They just have about 72 hours left to do it. 

All photos by Olivia Becker

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

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