MILWAUKEE – Republican U.S. presidential contenders attacked Donald Trump’s views on Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as simplistic and unrealistic, and rival Jeb Bush said the real estate mogul did not grasp “how the real world works.”
Trump, who has led opinion polls in the 2016 Republican race for months, praised Putin’s efforts to fight Islamic State militants and said he would back the Russian leader “100 percent” in that effort.
“If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it,” Trump said during the fourth Republican presidential debate.
“We have to get smart. We can’t continue to be the policemen of the world,” Trump said, adding that the possible bombing of a Russian plane by militants meant “he cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in and we can go in.”
But Bush, a former Florida governor, leaped to question Trump’s understanding of the conflict, saying the billionaire was “wrong on this.”
“We’re not going to be the world’s policemen, but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader,” Bush said, saying Trump’s views of Putin and his policies in Syria were “like a board game. That’s like playing Monopoly or something. That’s not how the real world works.”
Other Republican contenders had few kind things to say about Putin.
“Mr. Trump ought to know that we should not speak to people from a position of weakness,” said former business executive Carly Fiorina.
“I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know that he’s a gangster,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said.
Trump also came under fire for his immigration plan, which would build a wall on the border with Mexico and round up and deport undocumented immigrants.
Ohio Governor John Kasich and Bush both criticized Trump’s plan, which many Republicans fear will alienate Hispanic voters who are vital to winning the November 2016 election.
“That’s the problem with this. We need to win the presidency, and the way you win the presidency is to have practical plans,” Bush said, adding Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s staff was “high-fiving” over the proposal.
A Clinton campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, tweeted during the debate that “we actually are doing high-fives right now.”
Trump and Kasich also clashed after Kasich told the flamboyant billionaire that “False little things, sir, they really don’t work when it comes to the truth.”
Trump replied that he had built a company worth billions of dollars. “I don’t have to hear from this man, believe me,” he said of Kasich, drawing boos from the crowd.
The debate comes at a critical time in the race for the Republican nomination, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Trump fighting to hold their spot atop polls and Rubio trying to build on the momentum of his last strong debate performance.
Carson has faced a rough week of scrutiny about whether he embellished key aspects of his biography, while Rubio, 44, is under pressure to show he can fight off recent criticism of his inexperience as he tries to unseat fellow Floridian Bush as a favorite of the party’s mainstream.
Carson lashed out at his critics and said he did not like being “lied about.” Carson has faced a series of reports in the past week casting doubt on his stories about his violent outbursts as a youth and a scholarship he said he was offered to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I have no problem with being vetted,” Carson said. “What I do have a problem with is being lied about and having that put out there as true.”
Carson, questioned why Clinton had not been subjected to a similar level of media scrutiny.
“We have to start treating people the same and finding out what they really think,” he said. “People who know me know I’m an honest person.”
In an earlier debate on Tuesday involving four lower-polling Republican candidates, several accused the Federal Reserve of keeping U.S. interest rates low for political reasons and one called for replacing Fed chair Janet Yellen.
“The Fed should be audited, and the Fed should stop playing politics with our money supply,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal tried to distinguish himself by repeatedly attacking Christie and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for failing to cut government spending during their tenures as governors.
Christie declined to take the bait, turning the debate back again and again to the need for Republicans to rally around a nominee who can defeat Clinton, who leads in polls.