By Olivia Becker and Sarah Mimms
Less than 10 minutes into Thursday night’s Republican debate in Detroit, Michigan, Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for President of the United States, made a joke about the size of his penis.
Trump was responding to cracks Sen. Marco Rubio has made about the size of his hands. The Florida senator had said recently at a rally “you know what they say about men with small hands,” pausing before adding “you can’t trust them.” In recent days, Trump has bragged that his hands are “beautiful,” but on Thursday night, live on Fox News, he took that rebuttal a step further.
“[The implication is] if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee there’s no problem, I guarantee you,” he said.
Despite a fiery debate and increasing concern among the other three candidates that Trump cannot be beat, all four Republicans on the stage Thursday night, including Trump himself, affirmed that they will support the Republican nominee in November, whoever it is.
Trump’s opening joke was by far the most surprising moment of the night. But the debate was not entirely without substance.
Thursday night’s debate took place in Detroit, Michigan, and roughly midway through the debate, Fox News finally addressed the elephant in the room: the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The question was directed solely to Rubio, however, who criticized the politicization of the issue.
Related: Flint’s Water Crisis Will Take Center Stage at Both Democratic and Republican Debates in Michigan
“What happened in Flint was a terrible thing,” Rubio said, blaming both failures at both the local and federal level. However, he added: “The politicizing of it I think is unfair.”
The Democratic narrative around the issue, he argued, makes it seem as if Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and other leaders in Michigan “woke up one day and said, ‘Oh it’s a good idea to poison some kids with lead.’ … It’s outrageous.”
Rubio praised Snyder for taking responsibility for Flint, saying that the federal government is responsible for “helping local communities to respond to a catastrophe of this kind” and to help Michigan “to ensure that something like this never happens again.”
Fox News, as they have in previous debates, went hard after the candidates, asking follow-up questions and forcing them to answer for policy positions in a style that’s atypical for debate moderators. The vast majority of that fact-checking Thursday night was aimed at Trump.
The Fox News moderators pressed Trump on his remarks that he would save $300 billion in Medicare costs, even though it only spends $78 billion a year. They also pressed him to name his foreign policy advisers, a question Trump hasn’t really answered in the past. Trump responded by saying that he respects Richard Haas, a George W. Bush appointee who now heads the Council on Foreign Relations; retired Gen. Jack Keane, who previously served as a vice chief of staff for the Army; and retired Col. Jack Jacobs, who won the Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam.
Related: Donald Trump Has a National Security Problem
Fox then showed three video montages of Trump repeatedly contradicting himself on statements about the US invasion of Afghanistan, accepting Syrian refugees, and whether George W. Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.
But Trump responded by saying that his apparent contradictions are a necessary part of politics. “You have to show some degree of flexibility,” he said.
Trump was typically bombastic during the debate, which, as usual, focused almost entirely on him. Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz played an interesting switcheroo Thursday night. One would jump into aggressive back-and-forth with Trump for several minutes, before the other finally broke in, playing the reasonable one standing above the fray. Then, they’d switch.
Sen. Ted Cruz repeatedly went after Trump, calling on him to release tapes of his interview with the New York Times editorial board following a Buzzfeed report that he suggested to the paper that he may not follow through on his immigration plans once elected president. Rubio has also called on Trump to release the tapes.
Trump admitted that he “may have discussed something like that” with the Times, but added that he would not be flexible when it comes to one of his top immigration policies: building a wall on the US border with Mexico. He also referred repeatedly to Cruz as “lying Ted.”
Trump spent much of the debate attacking Rubio, prodding him on his home state support. Rubio, who has won just one state so far in 2016, needs badly to win Florida in two weeks, but as Trump pointed out many times Thursday night, the Donald is up by 20 points there. “The people of Florida can’t stand him. He couldn’t get elected dog catcher,” Trump said.
Related: After Super Tuesday, Republicans Are Running Out of Time to Stop Donald Trump
In the midst of the back-and-forth between Trump and Rubio, Cruz stepped in to say what was likely on the minds of many viewers.
“Let me ask the people at home, is this the debate you want playing out in the general election?” Cruz asked, to huge applause from the audience.
“The stakes of this election are too high. … The Republican nominee facing a fraud trial,” Cruz added, in reference to the lawsuit over Trump University for fraud, before being interrupted by Trump, who kept calling the suit a “minor” one.
Cruz tried to go on, arguing that in the general election, Hillary Clinton would be able to say that Trump had “supported her four times,” but could barely finish the thought before Trump jumped back in.
“Donald, learn not to interrupt,” Cruz said. “It’s not hard. Count to ten. Count to ten.”
Rubio later stepped into a lengthy and tense Cruz and Trump argument, telling the moderators that he’d like to speak when they were done with their “yoga”. “Well [Trump is] very flexible so you never know,” Rubio quipped.
The passion was not just limited to the candidates. Near constant booing and cheering from a particularly lively audience overshadowed much of the exchanges onstage and at times grew so loud the moderators had to pause.
Related: Breaking: Ben Carson to End His Presidential Campaign in Everything But Name
John Kasich did his best to stay out of Trump-Cruz-Rubio bloodbath.
“I have never tried to go and get into these scrums that we’re seeing here on the stage,” Kasich said. “And, people say everywhere I go, ‘you seem to be the adult on the stage.'”
Kasich may have tried to be the voice of reason, but only when he was allowed to actually speak, which was a rarity throughout the whole debate.
At one point, Kasich tried to point out that he beat Hillary Clinton in a recent poll by more than 11 points. He didn’t get very far before Trump interrupted him twice to point out it was only “in one poll.”
Kasich was later asked about same-sex marriage, following his criticism of business owners who have refused service to gay couples. Kasich said that if individuals are truly being asked to do something “against their deeply held religious beliefs” that they would have to find some kind of solution, but “I’d rather people figure this out without having to put another law on the books. … [Let’s] respect one another, love one another and lift this country.”
“Find another photographer, don’t sue them in court,” Kasich said.
As the debate came to a close, Hillary Clinton who is increasingly likely to face one of these four men in the November elections posted her own debate recap on Twitter. – Vice News