I was impressed with the performances of all seven participants in the GOP presidential candidates’ forum last night (transcript here video below). I liked them all, especially when they talked about Obama or Clinton, and I thought they all did well with the exception of the pummeling that Ted Cruz took at the hands of Donald Trump on the matter of “New York values.” Trump administered a beatdown that left Cruz speechless and applauding his opponent. Senator Cruz is a clever guy, but he proved too clever by half in this case.
By the same token, Trump proved too clever by half on the Cruz birther matter. I think it is a bogus and transparently “political” issue. To borrow the wretched cliché (forgive me), it tarnishes Trump’s brand.
Marco Rubio had a good moment blasting our humiliation at the hands of Iran this week. It was probably his best moment last night.
I think the field has narrowed to three or, perhaps, four: Trump, Cruz, Rubio and perhaps Christie, in that order. My guess is that Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich will soon be done. I think the same applies to Governor Christie, much as I like him. (Jim Geraghty checks Governor Christie’s statements of fact last night against his record and finds Christie guilty of falsehoods.)
At the outset of this process, I thought along with many others that the Republican field was strong. It certainly is on the merits by contrast with Hillary Clinton et al. Yet the field has already thinned and I can’t help but see the weaknesses of Trump and Cruz as prospective national candidates. I also can’t help but see the weakness of Rubio among conservative voters on account of his immigration shenanigans. All of this also comports with conventional wisdom and I can only hope it proves wrong as well.
The metaphor is overworked and otherwise tiresome, but last night’s event seemed to me as much of a cage match (real, not pretend) as I have ever seen. Democrats have an unparalleled genius for defamation. In 2012, the Dems’ advertising campaign over the summer may have killed Mitt Romney before he formally picked up the GOP nomination. They could blacken the name even of a man with sterling character. I nevertheless fear that these politically skilled figures are doing the Democrats’ work at least as effectively as the Democrats will.