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US Politics & Election 2016 : Republican debate: Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich talk immigration, trade, terrorism

'So far I can't believe how civil it has been up here,' Trump says as Miami debate takes different tone

U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz clashed over how to bring more balance into free trade on Thursday at a debate in Miami that was relatively free of the gut-punching attacks that have dominated past encounters.

Trump, the front-runner who could tighten his grip on the Republican presidential nomination battle if he wins Florida and Ohio on Tuesday, insisted he would impose a tariff, as high as 45 per cent, on some imports from countries like China. Trump said his goal is to encourage production of goods on American soil.

"People will buy products from here," Trump said. "We'll build our factories here and we'll make our own products."

But Cruz, looking to emerge as Trump's central challenger and consolidate the anti-Trump vote in the Republican Party, said the New York billionaire's tariff plan would only lead to higher prices for American consumers because the exporting country would increase its prices.

"A tariff is a tax on you, the American people," Cruz said.

The CNN-hosted debate took place at a crucial time, days before primary votes in Florida and Ohio that could catapult Trump even further despite an intense anti-Trump movement by establishment Republicans who are trying to deny him the party's presidential nomination.

Trump on Thursday appeared to begin an attempt to appear more presidential. He has pledged often in the past to do so but never has.

"I would say this, we're all in this together. We're going to come up with solutions, we're going to find the answers to things, and so far I can't believe how civil it has been up here," Trump said.

The early stages of the two-hour debate included a sober discussion of pressing challenges from illegal immigration to reform of social security to free trade deals, a marked departure from the finger-pointing schoolyard taunts that the candidates have engaged in past debates.

Trump said he would pause for a year or two the H1B federal visa program to reduce an influx of foreign workers into the United States, acknowledging he has taken advantage of that visa program in order to bring in foreign workers to work at some of his own resort properties.

He said he would also pause the issuance of green cards, which grant permanent residency in the U.S., for these workers.

Ohio Governor John Kasich emphasized the need to control the U.S. southern border with Mexico to stem illegal immigration. He said he would offer a path to legal status, but not citizenship to the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

"We can't just have people walking in," Kasich said.

Trump got a fresh injection of campaign momentum on Thursday with plans by rival Ben Carson, who is popular with conservatives, to endorse him.

Trump said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who dropped out of the race March 4 after failing to gain traction in early voting states, would endorse him on Friday at an event in Florida. The endorsement could help Trump settle the nerves of those conservative voters who have doubts about whether he truly is one of them.
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