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Undercard GOP debate: Jindal attacks, Christie won't be baited, and more takeaways

Undercard GOP debate: Jindal attacks, Christie won't be baited, and more takeaways
Rick Santorum, left, speaks as Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal listen during the Republican presidential debate for lower-polling candidates Tuesday in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

1. Bobby Jindal attacks.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has had little luck gaining traction in the 2016 campaign. But he did produce one memorable line Tuesday night, when he mocked Chris Christie's description of himself as a tax-fighting, fiscally conservative governor in New Jersey.

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"I will give you a ribbon for participation and a juice box," Jindal said of Christie's record in New Jersey, as he sought to make the case that he's accomplished more than the others on stage. Jindal attacked his rivals relentlessly. He accused Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee of allowing spending to continue to rise in their states unchecked. "Just sending any Republican [to the White House] is not enough," Jindal said. "Under your leadership in New Jersey, your budget has gone up 15%. You've had nine credit downgrades."

2. Christie won't be baited.

Christie made clear that he's confident he won't compete in the undercard debates for long. He took the posture of a front-runner. He refused to indulge Jindal in a tit-for-tat. Instead, he complimented his rival, telling the crowd that Jindal has been a great governor. Christie focused all his attacks in one direction: Hillary Rodham Clinton's.

"Hillary Clinton is coming for your wallet, everybody," Christie said. "Don't worry about Huckabee or Jindal. Worry about her."

At one point, Christie declared that the candidates were wasting precious time debating the finer points of their records as governor. "If I go to New Jersey, they will call me lots of different things," Christie said to Jindal. "But 'liberal' is not one of them."

3. Cautious moderators.

After the last debate, hosted by CNBC and roundly ridiculed by Republicans, the moderators in this one took a lower-key approach. There were no "gotcha" questions. There was little sparring with the candidates. They kept the discussion focused on bread-and-butter tax issues: income tax rates, road tax issues, the viability of a flat tax. When Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Gerald Seib had the nerve to ask the candidates to name one Democrat they could work with in Congress to move their agenda forward, the candidates derided and then ignored the question.

4. Lindsey Graham is missed.

In previous undercard debates, the presence of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina brought noticeable foreign policy expertise into the conversation. Graham got knocked out of this round due to his poor showing in the polls. And his absence revealed a lack of sophistication among the other candidates when the discussion turned to foreign affairs. It was replaced with bluster. Christie said that the first thing he would do as president would be to fly Air Force One over disputed Pacific territories where China claims to own the airspace and the surrounding waters. He also vowed cyber-warfare should the Chinese continue hacking American computer systems. "If the Chinese commit cyber-warfare against us, they are going to see cyber-warfare like they have never seen it before," Christie said, vowing to hack into secret government accounts so records of how the Chinese government spends its money can be disclosed to the Chinese public.

5. A hard line on immigration.

Huckabee was asked to expand on previous remarks in which he cautioned that the U.S. should not open its doors to Syrian refugees. He responded with another of the night's memorable lines, warning that opening America's borders to refugees may be well intentioned but is dangerous. He suggested that operatives from the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS, would slip through. "Are we going to open the doors so ISIS people will come in?" Huckabee said. "Will we give them a good place to stay, a sandwich and medical benefits?"

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