Updated: September 16, 2015 10:06 PM ET | Originally published: September 16, 2015 8:09 PM EDT

aFormer Hewlett Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina came from behind to make a mark in the second Republican debate Wednesday night, as the candidates lined up to spar with frontrunner Donald Trump.

Fiorina received some of the evening’s loudest and most sustained rounds of applause for remarks comparing women’s health organization Planned Parenthood to the Iranian regime, and for an exchange where she momentarily got the better of Trump.

Invited to respond to the real estate magnate’s critical remarks, in a Rolling Stone interview, about her appearance — remarks that Trump has said were in reference to her persona — Fiorina said: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said,” to applause. Trump could only reply that he thought Fiorina was “very beautiful.”

Fiorina also took the opportunity to blast the other female candidate vying for the presidency, Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If you want to stump a Democrat, ask them to name an accomplishment of Mrs Clinton’s,” she said.

Trump, however, was the center of attention right from the get-go at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, with moderator Jake Tapper asking his opponents to comment on whether the candidate should be trusted with nuclear codes if elected.

Several of the candidates promptly took the opportunity to take a swipe at the reality TV star. “Do we want someone with this kind of … careless language to be negotiating with Iran?,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul asked, also criticizing Trump for singling out people for their physical looks.

“I never attacked him on his looks,” Trump fired back, “and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, took a shot of his own —”We don’t need an Apprentice in the White House. We have one right now” — only to be attacked by Trump for his low poll ratings.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s closest rivals, bickered with the real estate magnate over Florida’s refusal to approve casino gambling — something Bush said Trump had pushed for, but Trump denied. “More energy tonight, I like that,” Trump smirked at one point.

The two also clashed on the topic of Bush’s brother former President George W. Bush, who Trump blamed for the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency. “One thing I know for sure about my brother, is that he kept us safe,” Bush said, to loud applause. “You feel safe right now? I don’t feel so safe,” Trump replied.

The debate focused on foreign policy early on. Several of the candidates condemned the nuclear deal with Iran promoted by President Barack Obama but opposed by a majority of Republicans and some Democrats.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz expressed his anger at the folly of negotiating with Iran’s leaders. “If I’m president no theocratic Ayatollah who chants ‘death to America’ would ever be allowed to get a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Only Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended the attempt to build an international coalition to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. “We can project across this globe with unity, not just do it alone,” he said.

Trump touted his ability to build relationships with world leaders, both friends and perceived foes. “I would get along, I think, with Putin,” he said. “Between that, Ukraine and all the other problems, we wouldn’t have the kind of problems we have right now.”

“I’m a very militaristic person,” he said later. “I’m the only person up here who fought against going into Iraq.”

On domestic issues, the candidates broadly espoused pro-life views and castigated Planned Parenthood, the federally-funded women’s health provider that has been criticized over a series of videos released by conservative activists purporting to show the illegal sale of aborted fetuses — and Congress, for its inability to defund the group.

Cruz said Planned Parenthood was an “ongoing criminal enterprise” while Christie turned the heat on Democratic Presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton as being in favor of the “systemic murder” of aborted fetuses. Fiorina gave an emotional condemnation of videos that, she said, showed people attempting to “harvest [the] brain” of an unborn child.

The debate also turned to immigration, a topic on which Trump has stirred up controversy for suggesting illegal immigrants should be deported and pledging to build a wall along the 1,900-mile border with Mexico. Trump outlined again his plan to build the border wall and remove what he called the “bad dudes” in the U.S. illegally.

But Bush took on Trump once again for suggesting his views on immigration were influenced by his Mexican wife, urging him to apologize to her directly. Trump demurred.

“We’re at a crossroads right now,” said Bush, who backs a path for illegal immigrants to gain legal status. “Are we going to take the Reagan approach, the hopeful optimistic approach?” he said. “Or the Donald Trump approach, that says everything is bad, that everything is coming to an end? I’m on the Reagan side of this.”

“He’s weak on immigration,” countered Trump. “He doesn’t get my vote.”

Earlier in the evening, lower-polling candidates sparred in the so-called “undercard” debate. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was judged to have excelled over fellow candidates Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki in the debate, touting his ability to bring parties together by pledging to “drink more” with them on his first day in office.

 

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