Top quotes from the GOP candidates’ town hall

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SOUTH CAROLINA  — The six remaining Republican presidential candidates are delivering their closing arguments to South Carolina voters via a pair of CNN town hall events in Greenville and Columbia in the days before Saturday’s potentially pivotal primary.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — in that order — are up first, taking questions on Wednesday night at a forum hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Here are their most memorable lines so far. (For up-to-the-minute updates, follow our live blog.)

Ben Carson

Ben Carson at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina.

Ben Carson at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina.

On whether Apple should aid federal investigators in hacking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, Carson said, “There’s probably good reason not to trust the government, but we’re going to have to get over that.”

On whether he would, in the last year of his own presidency, pick a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “I probably would take the opportunity to nominate someone. Doesn’t necessarily mean that person will be acted on or confirmed. Why not do it?”

On how the social safety net used to work: “If someone got killed by a bear, everyone took care of their family.”

On defending gun rights: “We’ve had guns for hundreds of years and we’ve been free for hundreds of years. I think there may be a correlation.”

On what would qualify him, as president, to deal with national security emergencies: “I can guarantee you I’ve had more 2 a.m. phone calls than anybody else, all the rest of them put together — had to make life and death decisions, had to derive information frequently from interns or residents who didn’t know a lot, but you still have got to manage to get the right information and make the right decisions.”

On how he would get his message out in a rowdy general election fight: “I had a program at the hospital where I’d bring in 800 students at a time, frequently elementary students, and you would say, ‘How are you going to be able to speak to 800 elementary students and keep them quiet?’ You know what: By speaking softly. Because then they’d say, ‘Oh, what’s he saying?’ And they would shut up.”

Marco Rubio at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina on February 17, 2016.

Marco Rubio at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina on February 17, 2016.

Marco Rubio

Responding to President Barack Obama’s comments that the senator was “running away” from an immigration reform bill he once supported, Rubio said, “President Obama has no standing to talk about immigration.”

On whether he’d visit Cuba as president: “Not if it’s not a free Cuba. And I’ll tell you, the problem with the Cuban government is that it’s not just a Communist dictatorship, it’s an anti-American Communist dictatorship.”

On Obama: “He is worse in his seventh year than he was in his first.”

On his foreign policy bona fides: “I have a record of good judgment on those issues. In 2011, when Moammar Gadhafi was facing his overthrow in Libya, I argued that if that became a protracted conflict it would leave a vacuum that would be filled by jihadists and that’s exactly what happened.”

After applauding police officers, on race relations: “I personally know someone who happens to be a police officer and a young African-American male who told me that he’s been pulled over seven, eight times in the last few years and never gets a ticket. What is he supposed to think? … And here’s the bottom line: Whether you agree with (African-Americans who feel mistreated) or not — I happen to have seen this happen — but whether you agree with them or not, if a significant percentage of the American family believes that they are being treated differently than everybody else, we have a problem.”

On his concerns with vetting Syrian refugees: “You can’t just call up 1-800-Syria and ask them, do you know so and so and do you know who they are and why they’re coming?”

On the diversity of his campaign: “I got the endorsement of a governor of Indian descent, who endorsed a presidential candidate of Cuban descent, and tomorrow we’ll be campaigning alongside an African-American Republican senator.”

Asked if he liked EDM (electronic dance music) or has ever been to a rave: “I’ve never been to a rave. No! It’s a Republican primary, Anderson!”

Ted Cruz at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina on February 17, 2016.

Ted Cruz at CNN Townhall in Greenville, South Carolina on February 17, 2016.

Ted Cruz

On what did when he got a cease-and-desist letter from Trump: “I laughed out loud.”

On Trump threatening to sue: “I don’t think anyone is surprised that Donald is threatening to sue people. He’s done that most of his adult life.”

On the Obama administration’s decision to open up relations with Cuba: “I think it’s a real mistake. I think the President ought to be pushing for a free Cuba … My family has seen firsthand the evil and the oppression in Cuba. We need a president who stands up to our enemies.”

Clemson University or the University of South Carolina?: “On this I’m going to shamelessly waffle and say I love them both.”

Asked if he likes to sing, Cruz (briefly) channeled Stevie Wonder: “I just called to say I love you, I just called to say I care.”

On requiring women to register for selective service: “If I am elected president we will not be drafting our daughters into combat on the front lines.”

On questions about his citizenship: “It was the act of being born that made me U.S. citizen.”

On Trump bringing a lawsuit: “You can never write off the possibility of Donald Trump suing you.”

Explaining why Obama should not nominate a replacement for Scalia: “I think that hearing would end up very politicized. I don’t think it’d be fair to the nominee … I think this is a matter of policy — that during a lame-duck period, we should not be confirming a Supreme Court nomination.”

On Rubio’s strategy in immigration fight: “Marco followed the same strategy as Donald, just screamed liar, liar, liar.”

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