Absence of Trump gives Republican candidates room to talk at NH forum - as it happened

Last modified: 01: 07 AM GMT+0

The Voters First Forum in Manchester, with 14 candidates on show, offers a preview of Thursday’s first official 2016 presidential debate

The Voters First presidential forum Is over

  • Speed dating might not be the worst way to meet a future spouse but it’s a terrible way to meet a future president. The hurried format made it difficult for most candidates to even get through their talking points, let alone say anything original.
  • No Trump, No Attacks. In the absence of Donald Trump, the forum was remarkably civil. On the rare occasions that candidates mentioned their opponents, it was to praise them.
  • Follow-ups are important. With a rushed format and less than aggressive moderator, candidates could easily ignore most questions.
  • The RNC has real power this cycle. The peculiar format tonight was only due to RNC rules which banned candidates from appearing in “sanctioned debates” if they appeared in unsanctioned debates. If two candidates appeared on stage at the same time answering questions that would be “unsanctioned.” The result was a messy evening that did little to help voters but reaffirmed the kingmaking role of the national party.


Jeb's final thoughts

I plunked my son in front of the television to try to share the good news, but he crawled away from the GOP message, crossed the room, went to the bookshelf and grabbed this biography of PG Wodehouse. A European. This is your future, America. It’s already over.

The forum has finally ended

Not sure how much voters learned in the rather rushed periods that candidates had on stage but one gets the feeling that the debate in Cleveland could be quite interesting once Donald Trump shows up.

Jeb Bush describes his father as “the most perfect man alive.”

Jeb Bush praises Bobby Jindal’s “reforms in Louisiana” on education.

George Pataki says “I don’t think we should change the Second Amendment at all.” This will not go down as the most controversial statement of the evening.

As the Guardian’s Lauren Gambino notes, Chris Christie is not afraid of making self-deprecating jokes.

Christie: “I’m like the bad relative you invite to Thanksgiving. I come early and stay late."

— Lauren Gambino (@LGamGam) August 4, 2015

Chris Christie tells the moderator that he was not ready to serve as president in 2012.


All three senators participating in the forum via satellite feed in Washington, DC were apparently in the same room.

So Rubio, Paul and Cruz were in the same room for the #VotersFirst forum. https://t.co/cPiUVuK5Ea

— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) August 4, 2015

John Kasich touts his record as chair of the Budget Committee in Washington and gives a shout out to former New Mexico senator Pete Domenici.

Santorum citing his record as “a winner,” which sort of hasn’t been true since 2006 and an 18-point margin.

John Kasich makes an awkward joke about LeBron James moderating the GOP debate in Cleveland on Thursday.

John Kasich is touting how successful he was running for re-election in Ohio. He did so in a Republican year against a Democrat who was caught in a parked car at 4AM with a woman who was not his wife.

Rick Santorum again touts his record winning his re-election in Pennsylvania in 2000. Doesn’t talk about his 2006 re-election bid.

Santorum dodges a question about putting a woman on a $20 bill and jokes about Carly Fiorina being put on U.S. currency.

Rick Santorum is now up again at the forum. I spent a day on the campaign trail in Iowa with him in July.

Fiorina: “We have to have the strongest military on the face of the earth, and everyone has to know it.” So essentially the problem our military faces right now is brand awareness.

She also just explained that she started as a secretary and went on to become a CEO and that “This story only happens in America.” Then she mentioned Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a grocer. Okay.


In case you were playing bingo during tonight’s forum, Carly Fiorina became the first candidate to say the word “pornography” (as in, government workers shouldn’t watch it on the job).


I’ve kind of missed some of the New Hampshire Speed Date because my baby started screaming. He can’t formulate words right now, but he started crying when he found out that the Democrats are “turning the American dream into the European nightmare” and that everything is going to be Greece when he grows up.

Lindsey Graham says federal minimum wage should not be increased and goes after Hillary Clinton’s wealth.

Bobby Jindal is rushing through his 30 seconds here. In Iowa, he has been able to do very well in forums but the rush makes it more difficult for him here.

Rick Perry continues to emphasize his success in Texas and the approach he used there.

Rick Perry hammering home that cheap energy + low taxes = wage growth.

— JustinGreen∞ (@JGreenDC) August 4, 2015

Scott Walker: “I didn’t just win three elections in four years in a blue state, I won three elections in four years in a blue state where over four years we had three blue state elections. Thank you. Gracias. Shalom.”

Rick Perry gets asked “what agencies would you eliminate or cut?” He jokes “I’ve heard this question before.”

Scott Walker dodges on raising the age of retirement for Social Security but notes the need for some kind of entitlement reform.

Marco Rubio now takes his 30 seconds to talk about his father’s work as a bartender and hit the portions of his stump speech that we haven’t heard yet.

Ted Cruz is going to make 2016 a referendum on repealing Obamacare. FINALLY. I’m sick of the last six years of these guys horsing around on the Obamacare issue. It’s time to finally cinch ‘em up and hunker down.

Cruz uses his 30 seconds to talk about his father fleeing Cuba for the United States.

There in spirit

Three candidates – Cruz, Rubio and Paul – stayed in DC for the failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. They are appearing at the forum via video feed:

Just skimming his book is going to make Rubio’s campaign sound really repetitive from the get-go. Everything he’s said apart from his medical marijuana remarks is pretty much paraphrased from there.

Rand Paul describes himself as “a different kind of Republican” who leads Hillary Clinton in five states that Barack Obama won when given 30 seconds to talk directly to the audience.

Rand Paul is asked about how philosophy compares to that of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. He immediately says that he is a “constitutional conservative” and launches into talking points.

Round Two of the forum has begun.

The moderator promises shorter questions, whatever that means.


The evening has not exactly been short of cliches spouted by all 14 candidate participating.

Top conservative talk show host Steve Deace points this out:

GOP bylaws since 1989 demand all debates/forums must include the following terms: reform, growth, Reagan. Carry on.

— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) August 4, 2015

Marco Rubio continues to back away from comprehensive immigration reform tonight.

Immigration "cannot be fixed in one massive comprehensive piece of legislation" says Rubio, who co-authored said massive comprehensive bill

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 4, 2015

Waiting in the wings


Marco Rubio’s first question is about marijuana policy and makes clear “I don’t support the legalization of marijuana.”

Ted Cruz says “Washington cartel” with the emphasis and frequency of someone who trademarked it two months ago.

While reporters are wearied of hearing the standard stump speeches of Republican candidates repeated yet again at the forum, this may be the first time many Americans tune in so it’s fresh to them as James Pindell of the Boston Globe points out

This #fitn #VotersFirst forum basically all talking points, but probably new for the country

— James Pindell (@JamesPindell) August 4, 2015

Cruz is now attacking Mitch McConnell, not by name, “as a leader who doesn’t follow his commitment.”

Ted Cruz now gets asked what his Iran deal would like. His response is to attack Obama’s deal with Iran as “catastrophic.” Cruz also stands by his description last week that, if the deal goes through, “Obama will be the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.”

It’s worth noting that Rand Paul has no sympathy for enemy combatants, even if they are U.S. citizens.

Rand Paul says US citizens fighting alongside ISIS should have their citizenship revoked. #VotersFirst

— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) August 3, 2015

Rand Paul is now emphasizing his civil liberties record and the need to uphold the 4th Amendment.

Still not over Walker saying “I’m not a scientist, I’m an eagle scout.” Can we do this for everything now?

“Mr Lund, you owe Comcast Cable $142, but we will accept a late payment of $71.”
“I’m not a mathematician. [weary sincere sigh] I make pizzas.”

George Pataki is talking, but I assume he will stop soon. By December at the latest.

The forum now segues to the three presidential candidates who stayed in Washington for the vote to defund Planned Parenthood today. There is a noticeable lag which matters in a forum that is more speed date than debate.

George Pataki cites his service as Governor of New York to argue he can convince Democrats to vote to repeal Obamacare.

George Pataki suggests that as president, he would be able to convince Democrats to repeal Obamacare. #VotersFirst

— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) August 3, 2015

As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin notes, the moderator hasn’t exactly been making it tough for candidates so far.

Moderator keeps asking candidates two questions, candidates keep answering the easier one, ignoring the hard one. Doesn't work.

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 3, 2015

George Pataki starts off by saying “we should get rid of Obamacare and we should get rid of Common Core” in an attempt to appeal to the GOP base.

Scott Walker is asked “are you anti-union or anti-worker.” Shockingly, his response is “No, I am pro-worker and pro-taxpayer.”

Bobby Jindal’s really taking it to those people who “measure success in the growth of the government.” Those guys are bad. But a big, big unforced error on Jindal’s part to not condemn the Romulans, the Sith, and the bugs in Starship Troopers. (Also bad.)


Scott Walker is now on stage. He is very skilled at both staying on message and talking quickly. Expect his stump speech to be delivered on fast forward.

In a forum that values the ability to speak quickly, Bobby Jindal has a big advantage.

No one. i mean NO ONE, can talk faster than Jindal. This is his moment

— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) August 3, 2015

Like every other candidate, Bobby Jindal uses another line from his stump speech. This one praises Bernie Sanders for being honest about being a socialist, unlike Hillary Clinton.

Bobby Jindal: "Give Bernie Sanders credit -- a least he's honest enough to call himself a socialist." #VotersFirst

— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) August 3, 2015


There’s an irony here in Carly Fiorina taking nearly nearly three of her four minutes of her time to illuminate the problem of merely talking about the status quo without doing anything, then not mentioning anything to do about the bad status quo.

She also dropped your first official “Benghazi” of the night. Finish your drink. I know we didn’t post a list of drinking game rules, but I just assume you made your own.


Carly Fiorina, who is now on stage, is the first candidate to bring up Benghazi and slam Hillary Clinton. She also is the first to go out of her way to praise Joe McQuaid, the publisher of New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader.

The unanimous opinion of the forum so far is that candidates are rushing and that there are no follow up questions. Shane Goldmacher of National Journal sums this disappointment well


— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) August 3, 2015

Jeb Bush takes the first shot at the media of the evening as well. When talking his economic plan, he says “the fact that Paul Krugman disagrees with me warms my heart.”

Jeb Bush seems to somewhat contradict himself about Syria. He says we “don’t need boots on the ground” but that we should deploy Special Forces there.

Bold move by Ben Carson to refuse to speed up the space of his comments to maximize the time allotted. Because there are fewer words per minute, each one is actually MORE meaningful. Also, it’s interesting that the mechanics of his replacement for Obamacare are, evidently, “Pay for health care and try to save money.” My God, why didn’t we try this?

Jeb Bush takes the stage and is the first candidate to praise an opponent. “Senator Graham is absolutely right” says the former Florida governor in response to a question about Homeland Security.

Ben Carson gets the first question about Planned Parenthood of the night. He warns about “the level of depravity we have sunken to as a nation” and says that the organization should not receive federal funds.

Top Republican consultant Stuart Stevens has his own take on the forum so far and the rush of candidates on and off the stage.

Have to say the "40 Year Old Virgin" version of this NH forum was more fun. #speeddating

— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) August 3, 2015

Ben Carson deviates ever so slightly from GOP orthodoxy on Obamacare. Instead of “repeal and replace,” the renowned neurosurgeon says it “needs to be replaced before we repeal it.”

However, Carson is still vague on what he would replace Obamacare with.


Chris Christie says “the war on drugs is a failure” and calls drug abuse “a disease.”


Chris Christie is now on stage and trying quickly give his stump speech on entitlement reform as quickly as he can.

Both Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham have talked about protecting American industry (with Graham specifically focusing on China tweaking their currency). It’s always awkward to watch them walk right up to suggesting that free trade might not always be great, then slink away. The 240 seconds of interview time (or whatever it is) and the 60-second allotments on Thursday are going do vagueness a lot of favors.

Graham says “I’m fluent in Clintonspeak. When Bill says I didn’t have sex with that woman, that means that he did.”

While not on the stage, C-Span’s camera takes a brief shot of John Kasich and Rick Santorum sitting together and smirking about something as Graham talks.


Lindsey Graham gives a hometown shout out to former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg as he rushes to fit in more and more of his stump speech in the five minutes allotted.


Lindsey Graham now argues for “hitting back” against China and says “we’re getting walked all over.” He sounds almost Trumpian in his foreign policy going after how Putin and the Iranians have taken advantage of what he perceives as the weakness of the Obama Administration. The difference, of course, is Graham is a three-term senator with a long and vocal history speaking out on foreign policy issues.

Lindsey Graham gets a question the very instant he sits down on stage and becomes the first candidate of the night to go after China. He won’t be the last.

John Kasich just called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and the Alexander Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill in my pocket just went: “Uh...”

John Kasich dodges a question on NAFTA and urges the need to “protect” workers

Tonight’s forum is already showing how awkward the debate will be on Thursday as candidates only have a few minutes to speak and try to rush in their entire platform in one whole breath. Santorum now rushes off and Kasich comes on the stage in what feels more like a substitution in a football game than a political debate.

Rick Perry took about 0 seconds to pivot from the question about illegals already in the United States to a pre-packaged comment about securing the border, and Carly Fiorina is already totally checked out, looking at her phone. This is how Carly Fiorina can generate enthusiasm across the aisle.

Rick Santorum praises Maine’s controversial governor Paul LePage on stage as he discusses welfare reform.

Perry is off the stage after three minutes and it’s now Rick Santorum in a rather speedy switcharoo.

Santorum immediately pushes his tax plan to incentivize manufacturing.

Perry dodges on reducing legal immigration while pushing for a stronger effort to track those illegal immigrants who have overstayed their visas in the United States.

Rick Perry takes the stage as the forum begins

Perry gets the event kickstarted and the first question is about immigration reform.

Interestingly, all the candidates are sitting in the first row and watching the forum while sitting together.


I’m glad that the candidates are being introduced on a small triangular stage, because that means that, like in the Octagon, it’s more difficult to evade strikes and takedowns.

As Evan McMorris-Santoro from Buzzfeed reports, some candidates are bonding while standing together on stage.

Rick Santorum & Rick Perry kinda bro hugged on stage after Perry stood on his tiptoes for a sec next to the towering Pataki

— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) August 3, 2015


All 11 candidates present are now being brought on stage in alphabetical order so that the audience can give them a round of applause and they can stand awkwardly together to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The audience at St. Anselm is told that “the show will begin momentarily” over the PA system.

It’s a very interesting choice of words for a presidential forum.

I am extremely excited for the 2016 Republican Candidates “Voters First Forum” live on C-Span and broadcast from the KIA Sign-and-Drive Sales Event.

Austin Barbour, a top strategist for a pro-Rick Perry superPAC, tweets that the former Texas governor will be the first candidate to appear on stage tonight

At 7:00 EST @GovernorPerry is up first in the Voters First Presidential Forum live on @cspan

— Austin Barbour (@Austin_Barbour) August 3, 2015

Earlier today …

The forum doesn’t start until 7PM but several new polls have come out tonight.

The most eye popping poll comes from South Carolina where, according to a poll conducted by Gravis, Donald Trump is supported by 34% of Republican primary voters. This is more than the next three Republican candidates, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker combined.

The poll also contains some rather detailed crosstabs which show that Trump is supported by 64.5% of self-identified Hispanics who plan on voting in the Palmetto State’s Republican primary. However, considering that the poll also indicates that 100% of Jewish Republicans in the state will back Chris Christie, it is likely those numbers have a high margin of error.

In another poll released today by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, Trump is in first place among Republican primary voters nationwide with 19% of the vote. He is closely followed by Scott Walker at 15%, Jeb Bush at 14% and Ben Carson at 10%.

Hello and welcome to our coverage of the Voters First Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire, which won’t be a full-fledged debate but will offer a good preview of the fireworks expected in Cleveland on Thursday for the first official 2016 presidential debate.

Tonight, 14 of the 17 Republican candidates for the White House are scheduled to take turns answering questions on stage at Saint Anselm College in a forum broadcast nationally from 7pm ET on C-Span. Eleven of them will be there in person, while senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio will participate remotely from Washington DC. (They couldn’t miss a scheduled vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.)

The only two candidates not participating are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

The event in Manchester will be the largest gathering of presidential candidates so far in the 2016 campaign and allow voters to compare and contrast how each candidate performs while under pressure. Ben Jacobs will be here with your liveblog, Sabrina Siddiqui is in New Hampshire, and Guardian columnist Jeb Lund will be keeping a watchful eye on the candidates.


Ben Jacobs in Washington, Sabrina Siddiqui in Manchester and Jeb Lund

The GuardianTramp

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