It featured a nasty spat between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over the "birther issue"; a firefight over immigration between Marco Rubio and Cruz; Jeb Bush insulting the pair as "back bench senators"; Trump blasting Jeb as a weakling; Chris Christie reviling President Barack Obama as a "petulant child"; and moderator Maria Bartiromo asking Ben Carson to opine on whether Hillary Clinton is an "enabler of sexual misconduct."
The GOP debate — the sixth of this election cycle — aired on Fox Business from North Charleston, South Carolina. The event showcased a smaller slate of candidates: just seven left standing, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina did not make the polling cutoff for the main event. (Fiorina nonetheless caught the attention of the Twitterverse by trolling Clinton during the undercard debate: "Unlike another woman in this race," the failed tech exec said, "I actually love spending time with my husband.")
Entering debate night, Senator Ted Cruz had a big target on his chest. Cruz has surged in Iowa polling, challenging Trump for frontrunner status. This has spurred Trump (and even a non-trolling constitutional scholars) to question whether the Canada-born Cruz meets the constitution's "natural-born citizen" requirement for the White House. More trouble for Cruz: The New York Times reported Wednesday that the self-styled anti-establishment senator received more than $1 million in low-interest loans from Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Citi to fund his 2012 Senate run — financing he did not list on federal campaign disclosures.
Trump, by contrast, entered debate night buoyed by a new NBC poll showing him with a 13-point national lead over Cruz. Better news for Trump: He's no longer the frontrunner the majority of the GOP can't stomach. In the same poll, 65% of Republicans now say they could embrace Trump as the party's nominee, up from just 23% back in March.
The Thursday debate wasn't just heated, it was downright weird. And, dragging on almost two-and-a-half hours, it offered nearly every candidate a chance to say something disqualifying.
Here, the 28 most WTF moments from Thursday's Republican debate:
1. Ted Cruz on how why he would have gone to war this week after U.S. sailors were briefly detained for straying into Iranian waters: "If I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees. And any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America."
2. Chris Christie blasting Barack Obama's overly optimistic State of the Union speech: "On Tuesday night, I watched storytime with Barack Obama — and it sounded like everything was going amazing."
3. Jeb Bush, mixing up Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations with U.S. foreign policy, in an attack on Clinton: "She wants to continue down the path of Iran, Benghazi, the Russian reset, Dodd-Frank, all the things that have — that have gone wrong in this country, she would be a national security mess."
4. Marco Rubio on what he would give ISIS radicals captured on the battlefield: "They are getting a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."
5. Trump on immigrant doctors from Syria: "That could be the great Trojan horse."
6. Ben Carson, receiving his first question after 15 minutes of debate: "I didn't expect a question this early on; I was going to ask you to wake me up when the time came."
7. Cruz on why he hid $1 million in Wall Street financing from voters: "I made a paperwork error."
8. Cruz on why Trump is making birther attacks now, after he argued last fall that there was no controversy over the senator's citizenship: "Since September, the Constitution hasn't changed. But the poll numbers have."
9. Trump on why he's gone birther on Cruz: "I win. I choose him as my vice presidential candidate, and the Democrats sue because we can't take him along for the ride. I don't like that. OK?"
10. Christie bragging about how he preserved New Jersey residents' right to own a rifle that can pierce armored vehicles: "I have vetoed a .50-caliber rifle ban."
11. Rubio on Obama and the second amendment: "I'm convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun in America, he would."
12. Trump on his temper: "I will gladly accept the mantle of anger."
13. Cruz on Obama and the terrorists: "We have a president... who acts an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism."
14. Cruz defending his attacks on Trump over New York values: "Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan, I'm just saying."
15. Ted Cruz chiding the competition as posers on gun rights: "Everyone is going to say they support the second amendment. Unless you are clinically insane that's what you say in a primary."
16. Trump on whether he's rethinking his ban on Muslims: "No."
17. Trump on why not: "I want security ... People come in, they live, they shoot."
18. Trump, elaborating: "We can't be the stupid country any more."
19. Jeb on Trump's anti-Muslim plan: "Every time we send a signal like this, it's a signal of weakness not strength."
20. Trump body-slamming Bush: "We don't need a weak person as president of the United States. Because that's what we'd get with Jeb."
21. Trump on the attack this week in Jakarta: "Indonesia: bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb."
22. Trump on America's true victims: "The police are the most mistreated people in this country."
23. Rubio on America's most famous whistleblower: "Edward Snowden is a traitor, and if we get our hands on him and I'm president, he's going to be tried for treason."
24. Christie, after Rubio asked for a chance to circle back to a question on Social Security and Medicare: "You already had your chance, Marco. You blew it."
25. Christie on Obama, cops and weed: "This is a guy who just believes law enforcement are the bad guys… a guy who doesn't enforce the marijuana laws because he doesn't agree with them, and he lets the states do whatever they want on a substance that's illegal."
26. Trump on the fate of his company if he wins: "If I became president, I couldn't care less about my company. It's peanuts. I have Ivanka and Eric and Don sitting there. Run the company kids, have a good time."
27. Cruz after Marco Rubio unloaded a barrage of attacks on him as a flip-flopper: "I appreciate your dumping your oppo research folder on the debate stage."
28. Cruz on Black Lives Matter: "I want to speak to all of those maddened by political correctness, where Hillary Clinton apologizes for saying all lives matter. This will end. It will end on January 2017."