Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush has sharply criticized frontrunner Donald Trump in a debate for proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, calling him a “chaos candidate” adept at delivering one-liners.
But candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz refused to bash Trump on Tuesday for his controversial proposal, focusing their criticism on President Barack Obama and accusing him of failing to keep the US safe.
“Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president,” said Bush, the former governor of Florida who has been lagging in opinion polls. He said Trump’s Muslim plan was “not a serious proposal”.
Trump dismissed Bush’s criticism. “He’s failed in his campaign, it’s been a total disaster,” he said, and defended his proposal.
“We’re not talking about isolation; we’re talking about security. We’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about security. Our country is out of control,” Trump said.
Trump has dominated the past few weeks of the campaign with his call for a total ban on Muslims entering the US, following a married couple’s December 2 massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, inspired by the so-called Islamic State group.
Most of Trump’s Republican rivals, as well as officials and leaders in the US and around the globe, have criticized Trump’s proposal although many of his supporters have voiced sympathy with his views.
With seven weeks to go before the first nominating contest in Iowa, Trump, 69, has held or expanded his lead in national polls in the Republican race for the November 2016 presidential election. Cruz, 44, has moved past him in some Iowa surveys.
The Republican debate on Tuesday was the first since the attack in California and another in Paris, and was expected to focus heavily on national security.