Donald Trump has come under fire again at the latest Republican debate, after a day in which the GOP’s veteran politicians urged voters to desert him.
The front-runner in the Republican race was on the defensive in Detroit as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz piled in.
Donald Trump admitted he had changed his stance on issues but said flexibility was a strength.
Senior Republicans say Donald Trump is a liability who would lose the election.
The debate hosted by Fox News began with Donald Trump being asked about an attack earlier in the day by Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, who accused the businessman of bullying, greed and misogyny.
Donald Trump dismissed Mitt Romney as a “failed candidate”, but he immediately found himself on the defensive from Marco Rubio.
The Florida senator said he was “not going to turn over the conservative movement to someone who thinks the nuclear triad is a rock band from the 1980s”.
In one of the most bizarre moments, Donald Trump defended the size of his hands and then quipped about another part of his anatomy.
There were plenty of personal insults from Donald Trump, who labeled the Florida senator “little Rubio” and the senator from Texas as “liar Ted”.
Donald Trump was forced to explain a civil lawsuit involving the collapse of Trump University.
He said he would win the case but Marco Rubio said he was trying to “con people into giving him their vote, just like he conned people into giving him their money”.
Donald Trump was also challenged by the Fox News panel for changing his stance on Syrian refugees, the war in Afghanistan and President George W. Bush.
He replied: “I have a very strong core. But I’ve never seen a successful person who wasn’t flexible, who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility.”
Hours earlier, Mitt Romney led growing calls by leading Republicans against a Donald Trump nomination.
Calling him a “phony” and a “fraud”, the former Republican presidential candidate said Donald Trump’s policies – like the deportation of undocumented migrants and banning Muslims from entering the US – would make the world less safe.
Others like Paul Ryan, John McCain and a host of national security committee members have also attacked Donald Trump since he cemented his front-runner status earlier in the week on Super Tuesday.
Republicans in four states – Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine – go to the polls on March 5 and Donald Trump is hoping to get a step closer to earning his party’s nomination.
Donald Trump, a billionaire with no experience of political office, has won 10 of the 15 states that have voted so far, with his promise to “make America great again”.
His supporters value his perceived authenticity and business acumen, and say he is the strong leader the country needs.
With the effective departure of Ben Carson this week, the field of Republican candidates – once 17-strong – has now been narrowed to four.
The debate, sponsored by Fox News, was the first time Donald Trump had faced his rivals since winning seven states on Super Tuesday.
It also brought him face to face with presenter Megyn Kelly, whom he dismissed as a “bimbo” after they clashed in the first primary debate.
This time Donald Trump was all smiles and he complimented her looks when he took her first question.
In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton has 10 states, five more than rival Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will take to the debate stage in Flint, Michigan, on March 6.
Donald Trump’s absence the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses was mocked by his rivals, who tried to fill the space vacated by the frontrunner’s boycott by attacking each other on immigration and other issues.
The New York billionaire decided to withdraw after Fox News refused to drop debate host Megyn Kelly, whom he accused of bias.
Donald Trump held a rally nearby – in honor of war veterans – that threatened to overshadow the debate itself.
On February 1, voters in Iowa are due to pick their presidential nominee for each party.
Days ahead of that critical test, Donald Trump’s absence on the stage in Des Moines was keenly felt by his seven rivals in the race to be Republican presidential nominee.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz addressed it with humor in the opening minutes by throwing mock insults at his rivals.
“I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly, and Ben [Carson], you’re a terrible surgeon,” he said.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also poked fun at Donald Trump – his chief tormenter in previous debates – by saying how much he missed him.
Elsewhere in Des Moines at the same time, Donald Trump led a raucous rally in honor of the country’s war veterans.
“When you’re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights,” he said, referring to his row with Fox.
Fox News released a statement saying that Donald Trump offered to appear at the debate if the broadcaster contributed $5 million to his charities, but they refused.
Data released by Google after the debate suggested that search interest in Donald Trump still far surpassed the other candidates.
Many observers on social media thought the event was duller without Donald Trump.
Some of the night’s most heated moments were provided during exchanges about immigration.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were both forced to explain video clips of previous statements that appeared to be at odds with their hard-line campaign pledges.
They then turned on each other, with Marco Rubio saying immigration was “the lie that Ted’s campaign is built upon”.
An Iraq war veteran who came to the US from Mexico as a child appeared via YouTube to tell the candidates that “some of the comments in this campaign make us question our place in this country”.
Jeb Bush applauded Dulce Candy and said “we should be a welcoming nation”.
The Iowa caucuses on February 1 are seen as the first real test of the election campaign, and the beginning of a series of state-by-state contests to choose delegates for both Republicans and Democrats.
Unlike a primary, which is a traditional election featuring secret ballots on polling day, the caucuses in Iowa are meetings of registered party voters and activists where they discuss the candidates and then vote.
Donald Trump has announced he will boycott the final Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses.
The Republican presidential hopeful accused Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, whom he has clashed with in the past, of being a “lightweight”.
The unexpected move prompted his closest rival, Senator Ted Cruz, to challenge him to a one-on-one debate.
Donald Trump’s campaign manager announced the decision on January 26, with just 48 hours to go before the debate.
Corey Lewandowski said immediately after the press conference: “He will not be participating in the Fox News debate Thursday.”
The announcement followed a press conference in which Donald Trump lashed out at Megyn Kelly, claiming she had been “toying” with him.
Donald Trump said he intended to hold a separate Iowa event at the same time as the debate to raise money for wounded veterans. Iowa hosts the nation’s opening presidential primary contest on February 1.
“With me, they’re dealing with somebody that’s a little bit different,” he said.
“They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. Let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”
On Tuesday night’s airing of her Fox News show, The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly said the debate would “go on with or without Mr. Trump”.
A Fox News spokesperson said Donald Trump was still welcome to participate in the debate but would not be allowed to “dictate the moderators or the questions”.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) said the decision was up to Donald Trump.
“Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate, but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what’s in their best interest,” said RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer.
Donald Trump had added an element of unpredictability to the Republican contest, and helped generate big ratings in the previous six Republican presidential debates.
His decision leaves seven other candidates in the debate: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
Donald Trump, who is in a tight race with Ted Cruz, has garnered media attention with provocative actions and statements, including a call for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
Donald Trump has attacked Ted Cruz over his birth in Canada in the latest Republican debate for White House hopefuls.
The Republican front-runner said Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s birth in Canada raised questions about his presidential eligibility: “There’s a big question mark over your head.”
The constitution mandates the president be a “natural born citizen” of the US.
Issues of national security, the economy and foreign policy have also played heavily in the debate.
In the polls, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are leading the five other candidates who were also on the stage in North Charleston.
The debate came just two weeks before the first real test of the campaign, when voters in Iowa pick their Republican and Democratic choices for president.
The event hosted by Fox Business Network came after days of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump taking shots at each other, shattering a months-long period of goodwill between the two men.
The start of hostilities began a week ago when the billionaire businessman started raising questions about whether the Texas senator’s birth in Canada put his eligibility in doubt.
However, on the debate stage on January 14, Ted Cruz said there was “zero chance” of a lawsuit succeeding, because the constitution’s definition of “natural born citizens” included people born to an American parent.
Ted Cruz was born in Calgary to an American mother and a Cuban father.
Donald Trump stood firm, noting that a Harvard law scholar had raised doubts and Ted Cruz could face lawsuits by Democrats wishing to challenge his qualification.
They also argued over the meaning of “New York values”, which Ted Cruz threw at the New York billionaire as a slur on his conservative credentials.
Donald Trump said that was an insult to the “great people” who pulled together after the 9/11 attacks.
After the debate, Donald Trump told reporters: “I guess the bromance is over.”
All the candidates targeted leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who was repeatedly attacked for her time as Secretary of State.
The primary contests, in which each party picks their nominee for president, begin in February and the presidential election is in November.