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GOP Candidates Clash With Each Other And Moderators In Third Debate


It was easy to sense some movement in the presidential campaign last night. Some candidates are tired of being down in the race. Some of the leaders in the race can't be sure if they'll stay on top.


And they verbally elbowed each other from a row of lecterns in a Republican debate. The official subject of the CNBC debate was the economy.

MONTAGNE: The underlying dynamic was a little different. Many contenders are working not to be lost in a very large field. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: As the Republican nominating battle moved into the fall with the two outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, still on top of the polls, the frustration of the other establishment candidates is growing. Ohio Governor John Kasich has called some of his rivals' proposals crazy, a criticism he was happy to repeat to their faces in the CNBC debate on Westwood One last night.


JOHN KASICH: They talk about we're just going to have a 10 percent tithe, and that's how we're going to fund the government. And we're not - we're going to just fix everything with waste fraud and abuse or that we're just going to be great or we're going to ship 10 million Americans - or 10 million people - out of this country, leaving their children here in this country and dividing families. Folks, we've got to wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn't know how to do the job. You've got to pick somebody who has experience, somebody that has the know-how, the discipline.

LIASSON: That 10 percent tithe was part of Ben Carson's tax plan. Deporting 10 million people, of course, refers to Donald Trump's immigration plan. Trump, as always, was ready with a counterpunch about Kasich's record in Ohio.


DONALD TRUMP: First of all, John got lucky with a thing called fracking, OK? He hit oil. He got lucky with fracking. Believe me; that's why Ohio is doing well. Number - and that's important for you to know. Number two, this is the man that was a managing general partner at Lehman Brothers when it went down the tubes. And just thirdly, he was so nice. He was such a nice guy. And he said, oh, I'm never going to attack. But then his poll numbers tanked. He's got - that's why he's on the end. And he got nasty.


TRUMP: And he got nasty.

LIASSON: If last night's debate was a chance to take on Trump, whose support in the polls has seen some slippage, it was also a chance for other rivalries to burst into the open. In the second tier of candidates, just below Trump and Carson, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both from Florida, are fighting for establishment support. Bush has been attacking Rubio's poor attendance record in the Senate and his high number of missed votes.


JEB BUSH: Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term. And you should be showing up to work. I mean, literally, the Senate - what is it, like a French workweek? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign. Or just resign, and let someone else take the job.

MARCO RUBIO: I get to respond, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thirty seconds.

RUBIO: All right. Well, it's interesting. Over the last few weeks, I've listened to Jeb as you've walked around the country and said that you're modeling your campaign after John McCain. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling him under?

BUSH: He wasn't my...

RUBIO: Now, Jeb, I don't remember - well, let me tell you. I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position. And someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

LIASSON: Attacking the mainstream media is a surefire applause line at Republican debates. And last night was no exception. Chris Christie, who's been looking for ways to reinsert himself into the campaign, criticized the moderators. And the loudest applause of the night came after Ted Cruz said this.


TED CRUZ: The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media.


CRUZ: This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions. Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?


LIASSON: There were substantive issues discussed. The candidates laid out details of their tax reform plans and their entitlement and immigration reform proposals. Ben Carson, who is now leading in Iowa and some national polls, had a relatively minor presence last night. He was among the three candidates with the least amount of speaking time. The soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon didn't engage with the other candidates directly. He said he was following Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, not to speak ill of a final Republican. But he was asked by a moderator why he stayed involved in a nutritional supplement company called Mannatech. Here's CNBC's Carl Quintanilla.


CARL QUINTANILLA: They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas. And yet, your involvement continued. Why?

BEN CARSON: Well, that's easy to answer. I didn't have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda. And this is what happens in our society, total propaganda. I did a couple of speeches for them. I did speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it's a good product.

QUINTANILLA: To be fair, you were on the home page of their website with the logo over your shoulder.

CARSON: If somebody put me on the homepage, they did it without my permission.

QUINTANILLA: Does that not speak to your vetting process or judgment in any way?

CARSON: No, it speaks to the fact that I don't know...


CARSON: See? They know.

LIASSON: The partisan audience was having none of it. But in fact, Ben Carson starred in a promotional video for Mannatech. The next Republican debate is in Milwaukee, Wisc. on November 10. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.