UPDATE: 10:40 p.m. EST -- During Wednesday night's Republican town hall on CNN, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz devoted considerable time to attacking Republican front-runner Donald Trump, but Cruz agreed with the businessman on at least one issue: Both support keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
“Assad’s a bad man,” Cruz said. But if we topple Assad, ISIS [the Islamic State group] will take over Syria.”
On the campaign trail, Trump has echoed a similar sentiment regarding the threat of the Islamic State group in Syria. “Assad is bad,” Trump said in October. “Maybe these people could be worse.”
Cruz was the last of three Republican candidates -- following Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- to sit down with CNN moderator Anderson Cooper for the town hall forum. The remaining three GOP candidates -- Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- will appear in a similar CNN town hall Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, Carson, Rubio and Cruz answered questions on a range of topics, from Cooper and from South Carolina voters. Cruz faced criticism for declaring that access to schools is the most pressing civil rights issue. "I think school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century" Cruz said.
The Republican presidential hopeful’s declaration was slammed by social media users. “Not police brutality/justice reform/or funding public schools?” one Twitter user responded.
Cruz has said while on the campaign trail that the opportunity for students to choose their schools will help alleviate poverty.
— Skylar Ezell (@Skylar_Writer) February 18, 2016
Ted Cruz just said that school choice is the "biggest civil rights issue of the 21st century".
You have got to be kidding.
— Blake Smith (@Blake_Smith93) February 18, 2016
— JackiSchechner (@JackiSchechner) February 18, 2016
UPDATE: 9:40 p.m. EST -- Throughout his segment of a CNN town hall, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke at warp speed Wednesday evening, responding to questions about race relations in the United States and President Barack Obama's plans to visit Cuba.
In discussing racial issues in America, moderator Anderson Cooper asked Rubio whether he has experienced racism. The Republican presidential candidate said that as a 7-year-old child, he was taunted by children in his neighborhood who told him to go back to his country (Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants). "That disturbed me as a young child," Rubio said.
He added that he saw it not as a problem with the country, but with the kids. "I never saw it as a reflection of America," Rubio said, but acknowledged that other people have seen systematic racism in the United States, adding: "That does not mean I deny that people in the country have had a different experience."
The senator also responded to news that Obama would travel to Cuba next month -- a trip that Rubio said he staunchly opposed. "It's not just a communist dictatorship," Rubio said. "It's an anti-American communist dictatorship."
UPDATE: 8:29 p.m. EST -- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Americans need to look past any mistrust of the government, especially when it comes to cybersecurity issues, during a CNN town hall forum Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina.
In the case of the San Bernardino, California, attack, where tech company Apple has been reluctant to cooperate with the FBI to hack a gunman's cell phone, the retired neurosurgeon urged more collaboration between the private and public sectors. Earlier in the day, Apple CEO Tim Cook said a move to access data on the attacker's iPhone would be "an overreach by the U.S. government."
"The interesting thing is that Apple and probably a lot of other people don't necessarily trust the government and there's probably very good reason not to trust the government, but we are going to have to get over that because there are tremendous threats," Carson said.
However, Carson said that perhaps Apple could hold off until 2017 to join forces with the government. "Apple needs to sit down with trustworthy members of the government, but that might not be until the next election," Carson said.
With South Carolina's Republican primary scheduled for Saturday, the six remaining Republican candidates will sit down individually to answer questions from voters at CNN town hall forums to be held in the state Wednesday and Thursday nights. Each candidate will be able to make their pitch for the party's presidential nomination without any interruption from their rivals.
In Wednesday night's event, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were invited to appear in Greenville starting at 8 p.m. EST, while businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will participate in a similar forum Thursday at 8 p.m. EST in Columbia.
However, Trump also was planning to appear on MSNBC on Wednesday, apparently in a bid to upstage Carson, Cruz and Rubio.
Unlike a sanctioned debate, the town hall events will prevent any spats from playing out onstage, as the candidates will be questioned separately. This does not mean the forum will be free of political attacks: In recent days, the candidates have been on the offensive in South Carolina. For example, Cruz held a news conference Wednesday to level insults at Trump for sending him a cease-and-desist letter, while Trump has made a point at his rallies to call the Texas senator "a liar."
Trump leads the polls in South Carolina. The latest poll from CNN, released Tuesday, showed Trump with 38 percent of support, while Cruz had 22 percent from Republican primary voters in the state. Rubio followed with 14 percent.
Because Trump received a Thursday evening time slot, the businessman will appear on MSNBC's competing town hall 8 p.m. EST Wednesday.
The town hall forums will be held back-to-back, just a few days ahead of Saturday's GOP primary in South Carolina. CNN host Anderson Cooper has been tapped to moderate the forums.
South Carolina will hold its Democratic primary on Feb. 27.