GREENVILLE, S.C. – Three days before South Carolina Republican voters cast their primary ballots, Republican presidential candidates Wednesday grounded their messages to a town hall audience in the Bible passage “By their fruits ye shall know them,” with Ben Carson defending his lack of political experience while Sen. Marco Rubio, the youngest GOP candidate, focused on his national security expertise.
Carson, the first candidate to answer questions at the CNN town hall Wednesday night, quoted Matthew 7:20 explicitly as he made the case to voters that he had the experience to be president despite never having held elected office.
“What I think you need to look at is the course of a person’s life,” he said. “Go back and see, what kinds of things have they had to face? What kinds of things have they had to overcome?”
Those questions set the tone for the night, as all three candidates delved into their own records and those of their opponents.
Rubio, who at 44 is the youngest candidate seeking the Republican nomination, was forced to defend his youth when an audience member compared him to President Barack Obama, who also ran for president in his first term in the Senate.
“I know I haven’t lived as long as some of the people running for president,” Rubio responded, “but no one running as a Republican has shown better judgment or has more experience on national security or on foreign policy than I do.”
He then went on the offensive, reiterating his claim that rival Sen. Ted Cruz has lied on the campaign trail about Rubio’s record on immigration. He also implied that the Cruz campaign tried to use a fake Facebook post to trick voters into thinking Rep. Trey Gowdy had withdrawn his endorsement for Rubio.
“When it’s about your record, you’ve got to clear it up,” Rubio said. “These things are disturbing and they need to be addressed.”
Cruz defended his attacks by encouraging voters to go to his website and watch clips of Rubio statements about immigration in past interviews.
He also addressed similar attacks from Donald Trump, who did not attend Wednesday night’s town hall. Cruz said he “laughed out loud” when he got a cease and desist letter from the Trump campaign on Tuesday. The letter claimed that a Cruz campaign ad, which features recordings of past interviews with Trump in which the real estate mogul says he is pro-life, is “completely disingenuous” and “replete with outright lies.”
“It is quite literally the most ridiculous theory I’ve ever heard that telling the voters what Donald Trump’s actual record is is deceitful and lying,” Cruz said.
While Trump has said he has “evolved” in his stance on abortion, Cruz told the upstate South Carolina audience that his position has been consistent, adding that “on the question of life, a record matters.”
“Every Republican candidate says they support life, marriage and religious liberty,” Cruz said. “That’s what you say when you’re running as a Republican candidate for president. My suggestion is don’t listen to what any of us say. Instead, follow the biblical test. You shall know them by their fruits.”