GOP debate: Donald Trump fends off attacks on Trump University, immigrant hires

Donald Trump takes on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz onstage while addressing Mitt Romney's critique, too.

Donald Trump flips back: He's still opposed to high-skilled immigration visas

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Donald Trump suggested during Thursday's debate that he was "softening" his opposition to high-skilled immigration.

It was a flip from an earlier position.

And then, after the debate, he clarified his view - and ended up back where he started.

In a statement late Thursday, Trump said he would "end forever" the visa program for high-skilled workers.

The program is important for Silicon Valley and other high-tech industries, but the H-1B visa system has come under scrutiny as companies downsize and replace American workers with immigrants.

Here's Trump's post-debate statement:

"Megyn Kelly asked about highly skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements," Trump said. 

"I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions." 

Here's the full exchange with debate moderator Megyn Kelly:

KELLY: Mr. Trump, your campaign website to this day argues that more visas for highly skilled workers would, quote, "decimate American workers." However, at the CNBC debate, you spoke enthusiastically in favor of these visas. So, which is it?

TRUMP: I'm changing. I'm changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can't do it, we'll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have.

So, we do need highly skilled, and one of the biggest problems we have is people go to the best colleges. They'll go to Harvard, they'll go to Stanford, they'll go to Wharton, as soon as they're finished they'll get shoved out. They want to stay in this country. They want to stay here desperately, they're not able to stay here. For that purpose, we absolutely have to be able to keep the brain power in this country.

KELLY: So you abandoning the position on your website ...

TRUMP: ... I'm changing it, and I'm softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich make a post-debate case for staying in the GOP race

The candidates trying to topple Donald Trump admit it's a tall order, but Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich aren't ready to call it quits.

Cruz said during Thursday's debate that while Donald Trump is dominating the Republican field, the billionaire has a ceiling of support that he's about to hit.

"It's a little bit celebrity, it's a little bit pizzazz, but I think he has also has a ceiling of 35-40%," the senator from Texas said in a post-debate interview on Fox News. "So the more the field narrows, the more vulnerable he is."

Rubio said Trump is "funny -- he's got these one-liners -- but we're talking the presidency of the United States here."

The senator from Florida defended trash-talking to try to bring him down.

"I don't want to do anything for example that Jesus wouldn't be proud of," said Rubio, who is marshaling resources to win his home state's primary on March 15. "But if anyone deserves to be hit that way, you know Donald has insulted everyone you can imagine. There comes a time you have to stand up."

But Kasich said insults won't work on Trump. "The only way you beat Donald Trump is to show you have a vision bigger than his," he said.

"We're not done yet," added the Ohio governor, vowing to press on to win his own state's primary, also on March 15.

And if the campaign moves to a contested convention in July, he said: "They're going to pick an adult."

Donald Trump says he's staying with the GOP because it's the best route to the White House

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Donald Trump said he's sticking with the GOP even if the party tries to stop him at its convention this summer because he sees the party as the best platform to win the presidential election.

"The best chance of winning is for me to run as a Republican," Trump said during a post-debate interview on Fox News.

"To win is to run as a Republican."

The candidates gave a surprising answer at the end of the GOP debate when Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich all said they would support Trump if he were the party's nominee.

Trump likewise said he would support the nominee if it isn't him.

The Republican National Committee has asked all of the presidential contenders to pledge to support the eventual nominee -- and not to mount an alternative campaign. 

Every other GOP candidate says he would support Donald Trump as the party's nominee

On a day when 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney blistered current front-runner Donald Trump as dangerous and unelectable, each of his GOP rivals said they would back him if he is the party's choice for president.

"I will support Donald if he is the Republican nominee," said Sen. Marco Rubio during Thursday's debate in Detroit.

He said Trump, the GOP front-runner, was preferable to either Democratic candidate: Bernie Sanders because he is socialist and Hillary Clinton because of her email scandal.

Ted Cruz said he would also support Trump, but cast it as a matter of principle.

"I have my word that I would" support the nominee, Cruz said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to win a single nominating contest and is hanging his hopes on his home state's primary later this month, said that he too would support Trump, but that he expected to be the Republican nominee himself.

Trump was asked the same question about his rivals.

"Even if it's not me?" he asked incredulously, before saying that he would support one of his GOP rivals if he fails to secure the nomination.

After a day of intraparty rancor, Republicans agree to support the eventual nominee (even Trump)

Marco Rubio accuses Donald Trump of conning Trump University students

Donald Trump’s explanation of a few of his flip-flops devolved into a heated argument with Marco Rubio over his defunct Trump University at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.

“I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible,” Trump told moderator Megyn Kelly after Fox News showed clips of him taking contradictory stands on Middle East policy.

Rubio pounced. “There’s a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do,” the Florida senator said. “And that’s what Donald has done throughout his career. That’s why Trump University is so relevant here.”

Rubio and Kelly were soon taking turns challenging Trump on former students’ allegations against him in a class-action fraud lawsuit.

“This is a case I could have settled very easily,” Trump said. Many of the students were satisfied with their real estate classes, he said, and the Better Business Bureau gave his school an A rating.

“The rating from the Better Business Bureau was a D minus,” Kelly said.

“It was elevated to an A,” Trump interjected.

Kelly then quoted an appeals court judge in the case saying, “Victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.” Fox News ran a graphic of the quote.

“Give me a break,” Trump replied.

Rubio told the audience he’d spoken with one of the victimized students on Wednesday and accused Trump of refusing to refund the student's money.

“I gave many people their money back,” Trump said as the two began raising their voices and talking over each other.

“He’s trying to con people into giving him their vote just like he conned these people into giving him their money," Rubio said.

“The real con artist is Sen. Marco Rubio,” Trump retorted, citing Rubio's frequent absences from the Senate. “The people of Florida can’t stand him. He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.”

Seriously, can we talk yoga at the GOP debate?

They'll be here all night, folks.

A testy exchange over Supreme Court nominees between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump devolved into a one-liner stand-up routine.

"Donald, please, I know it's hard," Cruz interjected. "Breathe, breathe, breathe. you can do it. Breathe."

As Trump argued on, Rubio jumped in. 

"When they're done with the yoga, can I answer the question?" 

"Well, they're very flexible," he quipped. 

This night has not gone as hoped for Chris Wallace

Ted Cruz says adoption by same-sex couples ought to be decided by the states

Adoption by same-sex couples is not a federal issue, Ted Cruz insisted during Thursday's debate.

"Adoption is decided at the state level," he said in response to a question Thursday about his position on adoption by same-sex couples. "I am a believer of the 10th amendment."

Cruz also said that defining marriage ought to be done on the state level and blasted the Supreme Court for ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. He pledged to defend the rights of those whose conscience does not allow for such adoptions or marriages.

"I will never compromise away your religious liberty," he said.

Ted Cruz uses Detroit's woes to attack liberalism

Donald Trump: The military would follow my orders

Donald Trump rebuffed a former CIA director's opinion that the American military would refuse to follow his orders on how to deal with terrorists because they violate international standards for war.

"They're not going to refuse me, believe me," Trump said, before highlighting the atrocities being committed by the Islamic State extremist group, including beheading and drowning people. "And I'm a leader. I've always been a leader. I've never had a problem leading people. If I say do it, they're going to do it."

Trump was responding to comments by former CIA Director Michael Hayden in February that the armed forces would not obey some of Trump's directives, including to kill the family members of terrorists.

Trump reiterated his support for waterboarding and his stance that he would go further.

"If we want to go stronger, I'd go stronger too," he said.

Trump also reiterated his support for targeting the families of terrorists, repeating a debunked claim that the Sept. 11 attackers sent their wives home before flying planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"The wives knew what was happening," he said. "They watched their husbands on TV."

Is this the debate you want playing out in the general election?

Ted Cruz, punctuating a string of Donald Trump insults over whether Marco Rubio could be "elected dogcatcher" and calling him "Little Marco"

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio attack Donald Trump for hiring foreign waiters at his Palm Beach club

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio pounded Donald Trump in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate for hiring foreign workers to wait tables at his posh private club in Palm Beach, Fla.

Cruz said it showed Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration was “all just rhetoric for the voters.”

Rubio, in turn, said Trump was bypassing Americans and hiring foreign laborers for the short term so that he could hold them “captive.” The foreigners can't seek higher-wage work elsewhere without running into visa trouble, he said.

The senator from Florida also assailed Trump for not having his brand’s ties and other clothing manufactured in the United States. “You’re making your clothes overseas and you’re hiring your workers overseas,” he said.

Trump said he’d employed tens of thousands of people over the years, 98% of them Americans. Very few local residents want the November-to-March jobs waiting tables at his Mar-a-Lago club, he said.

“It has a very short season,” Trump said. “It’s called the season.”

Whenever possible, he said, “we hire people from Palm Beach or West Palm Beach.”

The exchange ended with Cruz again urging Trump to ask the New York Times to release an audio recording of an off-the-record interview in which he reportedly expressed willingness to negotiate on illegal immigration. He questioned whether Trump had been truthful with voters, leading Trump to repeat his answer that he would not request a release of the recording -- and insult the senator from Texas in the process.

“I’ve given my answer, lyin’ Ted,” Trump said.

Early on in the debate, by the numbers

Donald Trump flips on immigration -- now supports bringing in high-skilled workers

Donald Trump made his first about-face on a stated policy issue Thursday -- saying he now supports Silicon Valley firms and others who want to bring in high-skilled immigrant workers.

"We absolutely have to have them," Trump said. 

"I'm softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country," he said.

Trump has tried to take the hardest line among the candidates in blocking immigrants, and the shift quickly exposed him to attacks from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

"You've got U.S. companies that are firing American workers bringing in foreign workers and forcing them to train their replacements," said Cruz, who has proposed a moratorium on the H-1B visa program.

Cruz said the issue is similar to Trump's hiring of lower-skilled foreign workers for the wait staff and other jobs at his Florida resort.

Trump said other hotels "do the exact same thing."

And Rubio argued: "You argue that you're here to fight on behalf of the American worker, but when you have chances to help the American worker, you're making your clothes overseas and you're hiring your workers from overseas."

Of course, Rubio fought to increase the number of high-skilled worker visas during his work on the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill in the Senate.

Donald Trump displays a sudden respect for the media

 (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Donald Trump, pressed to allow the New York Times to release an off-the-record recording where he discusses his immigration views, flatly refused during Thursday's debate because of his respect for the relationship between journalists and their sources.

"I have too much respect for that process to say just release everything," he said during the debate in Detroit. "I would not do that."

Trump's purported admiration for the precepts of journalism is a departure from when he opined about the Fourth Estate just last week, when he said that suing the media should be easier to do.

"One of the things I'm going to do if I win ... I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money," Trump said during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, according to CNN.

"We're going to open up those libel laws so when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post ... writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected," he said at the time. "We're going to open up libel laws and we're going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before."

Marco Rubio challenges Donald Trump to make his namesake clothing line in the U.S.

If Donald Trump is going to "make America great again," Marco Rubio suggested he could start with this: Make his Trump clothing line in the United States.

Trump "has spent a career convincing America he is something he’s not," Rubio lobbed early in the Detroit debate, saying the billionaire got his start with a big inheritance.

"He could start tonight by announcing the Donald J. Trump collection will no longer be made in China but will be made here at home," Rubio suggested.

Trump fired back like he often does: with an insult.

"This little guy has lied so much," Trump said.

"Here we go," Rubio interrupted. "He can't help himself."

When moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump on the idea of moving his clothing manufacturing to the U.S., Trump said he would.

"I will do that," Trump said, before complaining that foreign competitors manipulate their currency. "They make it impossible for clothing makers in this country to make clothing in this country."

Rubio shot back that Trump manufactures the clothes overseas because it's cheaper.

"He launches into this 'little guy' thing. He doesn’t have answers," Rubio said.

"You haven't employed one person," Trump fired back.

"He’s not going to make America great," Rubio said.

"Don’t worry about it, little Marco."

Donald Trump's first exchange with Megyn Kelly: No mention of blood

Donald Trump's opening gambit: Fighting back against insults

The Fox Theater in downtown Detroit, site of Thursday's Republican debate. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) None
The Fox Theater in downtown Detroit, site of Thursday's Republican debate. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Personal insults erupted moments into a Republican presidential debate Thursday night in Detroit as Donald Trump’s rivals fought with new urgency to stop his march to the nomination before it’s too late.

Marco Rubio defended his hammering of Trump over the last week, saying, “If there’s anyone who ever deserved to be attacked that way, it’s Donald Trump.”

Trump, in turn, called Rubio a “little guy” who has lied about his record, and he defended himself against the Florida senator’s double-entendre about the New York billionaire having small hands.

“Are they small hands?” Trump said, holding them up for the audience to see. As for any other part of his anatomy, Trump said, “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

Trump: I do not have small hands

Yup, they went there. 

Thursday's GOP debate picked up almost immediately where the campaign rhetoric had been in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, with vulgar insults playing a prominent role - and, in this case, Donald Trump's added graphic anatomical quip. 

The exchange began when Trump was asked about Marco Rubio in recent days poking fun at the size of Trump's hands, and Trump protesting that they were normal-sized.

“Look at these hands,” he said, holding them up. “Are those small hands?”

He quickly went elsewhere.

Trump said Rubio was implying that his hand size pointed to shortcomings in other parts of his physique - and Trump said that was untrue.

“I guarantee you, there’s no problem,” Trump said, in an oblique reference to his genitals.

Trump also said that this is the first time anyone has raised the size of his hands, which is not true. In 1988, Spy magazine described Donald Trump as “a short-fingered vulgarian.”

By the numbers

How does Clinton or Trump get to 270 electoral votes? Play with our map.

Third debate scorecard: Here's who's winning each round

All things Clinton | All things Trump

Who's endorsing who? Find out which celebrities support each candidate.

Find out which Republicans support Donald Trump

Get free news and analysis in your inbox daily from our political team.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times