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Republicans Kicked Off Their First Debate Of 2016 Like They Finished Off 2015: Out-Trumping Each Other On Immigration

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Republicans kicked off their first Presidential debate of 2016 just like they finished off 2015: Trying to out-Trump each other in order to suck up to the anti-immigrant crowd that now makes up their base.  

One of the most heated moments of the night came from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who yet again bickered with each other about flip-flopping on immigration (and the plain truth is, they’ve both done it as Trump has dragged the field further and further to the right).

MSNBC recounts the night below:

The immigration war between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio is now officially in full force.

Portions of the sixth Republican presidential debate on Thursday at times devolved into a lightning round of accusations as both candidates tried to cast the other as a major flip-flopper on immigration.

“Ted Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards, now you say you’re against it. You used to support 500% increase in the number of guest workers, now against it. You used to support legalizing people here illegally. Now against it. You used to say you were in favor of birthright citizenship. Now you are against it,” Rubio fired off.

“That is not consistent conservatism. That is political calculation,” he added.

It’s a complicated wrangling over immigration — between two sons of immigrants, no less — that has been boiling for more than a month.

Indeed, ever since Donald Trump blew up the race and started dragging the party to the right on immigration, Cruz’s position has slowly become more hard-line. The Texas senator made a major reversal in November by proposing restrictions to H1B visa admissions when, just month earlier, he had proposed a massive expansion to the program.

But the mudslinging gets murky when getting down to the details of their record on the issue, and where exactly each candidate stands now on even legal immigration — let alone what they plan to do with the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Rubio faced the brunt of the fire this week. A pair of super PAC ads, one supporting Cruz and another supporting Jeb Bush, ripped Rubio’s record this week. The searing TV spots assailed Rubio as a key architect in the failed 2013 immigration reform legislation and cast him as cozy with President Obama and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer.

During Thursday’s debate, Cruz kept up the heat on Rubio, jumping in at the chance to rake through the coals Rubio’s record as a member of the Gang of Eight pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

“It is also the case that that Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill, it expanded Barack Obama’s power to let in Syrian refugees, enabled the president to certify them en masse without mandating meaningful background checks,” Cruz said. “I think that’s a mistake.”

Rubio said for his part that much has changed since his days on the Senate’s Gang of Eight. But for a candidate who has maintained his support of a green card process for immigrants to become citizens, the Florida senator came dangerously close on Thursday to shutting that option off.

“Whether it’s green cards or any other form of entry into America, when I’m president, if we do not know who you are or why you are coming, you are not going to get into the United States of America,” Rubio said.

But don’t worry, Republicans did manage to get some Latino outreach into the mix: Trump doubled-down on his belief that Cruz — one of two Latinos running for the Republican nomination — isn’t eligible to be President, while Rubio and Christie trashed the nation’s first Latina justice of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor (Rubio accused Christie of liberal positions by supporting her, which Christie said he didn’t do, which is a flat-out lie he has spouted over and over again).

Really, Rubio’s willingness to drag down Sotomayor in his effort to become the first Latino President of the United States is just…something.

Finally, the worst immigration moment of the night came from Rick Santorum — relegated to the “Kids Table” debate earlier that evening thanks to his abysmal polling numbers — who “offered a spirited defense of mass deportations,” saying immigration officials could, uh, “export America” back to Latin America.

From Mother Jones:

When we say we need to send people back, I mean we send people back. Let me just make one point. I was in Storm Lake, Iowa, the other day near a Tyson’s plant. Ninety-one percent of the kids that go to the elementary school there are minority kids. And they said, ‘Well, what are you gonna do with all these people, their families, they’ve lived here a long time.’ I said I’m gonna give ’em a gift. I’m gonna give them the gift of being able to help the country they were born in, and we’re gonna export America. The education they were able to receive, they learned about the English language, they learned about capitalism, they learned about democracy. You want to stop the flow of immigrants? Let’s send 6 million Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans back into their country so they can start a renaissance in their country so they won’t be coming here anymore!

Yeesh. “This is the worst study abroad program ever,” added Mother Jones.

Check out some tweets about the evening below.