MILWAUKEE, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- In the same theater that Teddy Roosevelt once gave a speech with a bullet lodged in his rib, the current group of Republicans vying for the presidency fought each other over taxes, immigration and Russia.
The fourth GOP debate -- and next to last of the year -- benefited from a slightly less crowded stage at the Milwaukee Theater and some heated exchanges between the candidates that could boost some campaigns and sink others.
It was less crowded because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were knocked off the main stage after their poll numbers dropped below the 2.5 percent threshold. Because of fewer candidates, the remaining group had more time to spar with each other and define their positions more clearly than before. Or at least reiterate campaign talking points.
Recent polls also showed former neurosurgeon Ben Carson's struggles with criticism over how true some of his personal biography might be, actually helped his polling with him pulling even with billionaire Donald Trump for the lead. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are getting stronger support, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina have dropped. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, are holding on to the low single digits.
The extra space allowed Kasich and Bush to go after Trump on immigration, Paul and Rubio to spar over Russia, and Bush and Trump to get into it over Russia too.
"If you think walls don't work, all you have to do is ask Israel," Trump said, reiterating his stance on building a wall on the Mexican border. "The wall works, believe me."
But Kasich went after Trump's plan.
"Come on folks, we all know you can't pick [11 million illegal immigrants] up and ship them back across the border. It's a silly argument. It's not an adult argument. It makes no sense."
Trump fired back.
"I've created tens of thousands of jobs. I've built an unbelievable company worth billions of dollars. I don't have to listen to this man," he said.
But Bush, needing a boost in the polls, tore into Trump's plan as well and sided with opinion polls that show Americans generally favor a path to citizenship.
"It's just not possible and it's not embracing American values," Bush said. "What we need to do is allow people to earn legal status where they pay a fine. Where they work. Where they don't commit crimes. Where they learn English. And over an extended period of time, they earn legal status. That's the proper path to make this work."
Paul and Rubio got into a row over military spending, with Paul taking a strict libertarian line on government spending.
"How is it conservative to add a trillion dollar expenditure for the federal government that you're not going to pay for?" Paul asked. "You cannot be a conservative if you're going to keep promoting new programs that you're not going to pay for."
Rubio responded with red meat for the audience.
"We can't even have an economy if we're not safe," he said. "There are radical jihadists in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea. Yes, I know the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power in the world."
The line got thunderous applause, but Paul seemed unmoved.
"I do not think we are any safer from bankruptcy court," Paul said. "As we go further and further into debt, we become less and less safe."
When Trump espoused a more hands-off approach to dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush trounced.
"If Putin wants to go in and knock the hell out of [the Islamic State], I'm all for it, 100 percent. ... We have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren't doing anything. We can't continue to be the policeman of the world. ... We have to start investing money in our country," Trump said.
Bush responded that Trump was "completely wrong."
"We're not going to be the world's policemen, but we sure as heck better be the world's leader," he said.
Then Paul jumped on Bush's stance on no-fly zones in the Middle East, warning a no-fly zone carries the invitation to another war in Iraq.
"You're asking for a no-fly zone in a area where Russia already flies," he said. "Russia flies in that area at the invitation of Iraq. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but you better know what we're getting into. Realize that means we are going to shoot down Russian planes. If you're ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq. I don't want to see that happen. I think the first war in Iraq was a mistake. You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world."
Fiorina tried to jump in, but Trump drew loud boos when he said "Why does she keep interrupting everybody?"
When moderator Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto asked Paul what he would do, he slammed conservative policy that he said led to the build up of the IS.
"I wouldn't arm our enemies. That was the dumbest, most foolhardy notion and most of the people up here supported it."
Here's a collection of other points from the night in Milwaukee.
On the minimum wage:
"I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out and they have to work really hard and they have to get into that upper stratum. We cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world," said Trump.
"Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases," said Carson. "This is particularly a problem in the black community. ...I would not raise it specifically because I'm interested in making sure that people are able to enter the job market and take advantage of opportunities."
"If you raise the minimum wage, you're going to make people more expensive than a machine," said Rubio, again declaring his support for vocational training. "I don't know why we have stigmatized vocational training. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers."
On balancing the budget:
"We would move the Medicare system from a 7 percent growth down to a 5 percent growth. In Ohio, we reduced Medicaid funding for the poor from 10 percent down to 2.5 percent. Didn't cut one benefit and didn't take anybody off the roles. ... We freeze non-discretionary spending for eight years. We also put an increase in defense spending. Our tax cuts balance out and at the end of the day we will get to a balanced budget," Kasich said.
On government regulations:
"I think we need to repeal every rule that Barack Obama has," Bush said. "The regulation of the Internet ... the Clean Power Act ... the Waters of the United States Act, which is going to be devastating for agriculture and many industries, we should repeal that. We should repeal the rules because the economic costs far outweigh the social benefit."
On the Middle East:
"In order to make [radical jihadists] look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate," Carson said. "And you look for the easiest place to do that and it would be in Iraq. Outside of Anbar, there's a big energy field. Take that from them -- we can do that fairly easily -- and then you move on from there. But you have to continue to face them, because our goal is not to contain them, but to destroy them before they destroy us."
"We should have a no-fly zone in Syria," Bush said. "We should have support for the remnants of the Syrian Free Army and create safe zones. You want to deal with the 4 million refugees that are leaving Syria because of the devastation there then we ought to create safe zones for them to stay in the region rather than go to Europe and that requires American leadership."
"China doesn't own the South China Sea and I'd give the president some credit for moving a naval force in there to show we're not going to put up with it anymore," Kasich said. "And the [Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement] is critical to us. Not only for economic reasons and for jobs, but it allows us not only to create economic alliances but also potentially strategic alliances against the Chinese. They're not our enemy, but they're not our friend," he said.
On the big banks:
"I think we should have policies that don't allow them to enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities. I don't want to go in and tear anybody down. That doesn't help us. But what does help us is to stop tinkering around the edges and fix the actual problems that are creating this problem," Carson said.
"I would not bail them out but instead of adjusting monetary policy according to whims and getting it wrong over and over again and causing booms and busts, what the Fed should be doing is No. 1, keeping our money tied to a stable level of gold and No. 2, serving as a lender of last resort. That's what central banks do. It's not a bail out, it's a loan at higher interest rates," Cruz said.
The next GOP debate is scheduled for Dec. 15 in Las Vegas, hosted by CNN and Salem Radio. Wolf Blitzer will moderate and Hugh Hewitt will be one of the panel questioning the candidates.