Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, their campaigns in danger of extinction within a month, came out swinging at Donald Trump tonight. Many of their lines of attack have not been used in previous debates, as far as I can recall. Here is a list of tonight’s attacks, new and old, that I compiled:
Trump has hired illegal workers and was fined $1 million for doing so.
Trump ran a “fake university” and is being sued for fraud over it.
Trump has bankrupted companies.
Trump inherited $200 million.
Trump cuts deals with leftist politicians, including Harry Reid.
Trump has no real plan for how to replace Obamacare.
Trump supported socialized medicine.
Trump isn’t doing well in head-to-head polling against Hillary Clinton.
Trump won’t release his tax returns.
The mainstream media will pick Trump apart over his taxes and his “fake university.”
Trump can’t exploit Clinton’s weaknesses, such as the Clinton Foundation, because he has been friendly with Clinton and contributed to her Foundation.
Trump is neutral as between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump now claims he opposed overthrowing Qaddafi, but there is video showing that he supported the military action against him.
Trump handled some of these attacks reasonably well, but struggled to cope with others. For example, his answer on hiring illegal immigrants was that “it worked out fine.” Actually, as noted, it worked out with a fine, a rather hefty one against Trump.
Trump struggled most conspicuously when he was asked about his plan to replace Obamacare. All he could say, and he said it repeatedly, that he would break down barriers to selling insurance across state lines.
Trump’s repetition, and his failure to come up with anything else, enabled Rubio skillfully to execute the move Christie so effectively used against him just before the New Hampshire primary — taunt him for repeating himself. Well done, Senator Rubio.
Will any of this change the trajectory of the race for the nomination? It would be rash to say yes, given all that Trump has survived this season. Keep in mind that Jeb Bush, when his campaign was facing extinction, roughed Trump up some before the South Carolina primary. Trump continued to flourish while Bush, if anything, lost popularity.
Tonight, Trump was roughed up more than a bit. Yet he stood in there and at times gave as good as he got.
He also used all the extra speaking time he accumulated by being “mentioned” to repeat the themes that have worked so well for him to date. I thought he was particularly effective when he talked about bad trade deals.
If I had to guess, I’d say that tonight may well hurt Trump in terms of his ability to win primaries in a two-man race. But Trump probably needs to begin faltering before we get to that point, or else he may have a virtual lock on the nomination by the time it’s down to two candidates.
Whether this debate will cause such a faltering is questionable. But all Cruz and Rubio can do is “swing for the fences,” as Trump put it. Tonight they swung hard.
Here’s candidate-by-candidate look at the debate:
Donald Trump: See above.
Marco Rubio: A very good night for the Florida man, I think. Any notion that he’s robotic and can’t think on his feet has surely been vanquished by this performance. His financial backers will be hugely encouraged and some big potential contributors may now be willing to jump in on his behalf.
Ted Cruz: He too was effective in his attacks on Trump. Where Rubio ridiculed the billionaire, Cruz cross-examined him. Both approaches are good because, substance aside, they make Trump look, if not small, then less large.
At this stage of the race, however, it was important for one or the other of Cruz and Rubio to be seen as the better Trump-baiter. Tonight, I’d give the edge to Rubio because he seemed to rattle Trump more and probably had the most memorable moment when he taunted Trump for coming up empty on health care.
John Kasich: He may have had the best night of all. The Ohio governor took no fire. He stayed above the fray. He reinforced his image as a compassionate problem-solver.
Kasich is playing to a limited portion of the Republican electorate. It’s too limited to nominate him, but perhaps not too limited to prevent him from having a few good primaries — or at least to persuade him that he might have them, thereby keeping him the race.
Ben Carson. He scarcely got a question. At one point, Carson was reduced to asking that one of the other candidates mention him, so he could speak. But even when he was mentioned by Trump as a victim of dirty campaigning by Cruz, he still didn’t get to say anything.
The reason no candidates mention Dr. Carson, except as a victim, is that he poses little to anyone in any state. He is irrelevant, and doesn’t seem to realize it.
That’s kind of sad, no?