Crubio’s the one! 44-year-old Cuban-American senators ace GOP debate

Republican presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, left, and Ted Cruz after the Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo. Oct. 28, 2015. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Good morning Austin:

Nobody delivered a knockout punch at last night’s fourth Republican presidential debate, but the Fox Business Network debate did seem to go a long way to clarifying the race.

On the strength of last night’s performances, it appears increasingly likely that the Republicans will nominate a 45-year-old Cuban-American senator for president when they convene in Cleveland in July.

It’s just a question whether it will be Ted Cruz, who will turn 45 on December 22, or Marco Rubio, who won’t reach that milestone until May 28.

Each brings his own distinct strengths.

Pardon me for being so shallow, but Rubio is simply better looking.

He’s got far more of a JFK/New Frontier/Passing-the-torch-to-a-new-generation thing going.

While both Cruz and Rubio attempt to appropriate the sunny Reagan optimism, it seems a far more natural fit for Rubio, while Cruz comes across as a bit mean, with the heart of a killjoy, hardly lovable and, to those who aren’t true believers, barely likable.

On the other hand, even though it is Rubio who has far more experience as an elected official – at both the state and federal level – Cruz comes across as older, wiser, and quicker and more confident on his feet.

Rubio is good at soaring eloquence, but it seems very practiced, canned, rehearsed.

And being “boyish” – an appellation always applied to Rubio but never to Cruz – is both a blessing and a curse.

The turn-the-page, vote-for-the-young-guy could be very effective for Rubio against Hillary Clinton, but he is also more vulnerable than Cruz to being portrayed as a callow youth, not quite read and more vice presidential than presidential material.

One can more easily imagine Rubio than Cruz capturing the national imagination accepting his party’s nomination in Cleveland.

But, I think Cruz is a surer bet to acquit himself well in debate with Clinton, less likely to stumble.

(As for Erickson’s dream team, I don’t think America is ready for an all-Cuban American ticket. A little too Manchurian candidate.)

But Cruz’s biggest advantage is the issue of immigration, where he is a hard-liner far more in sync with the base than Rubio, who, at this point on the issue, is a profile in mush.

Immigration may be the most powerful motivating issue for Republicans – witness Trump’s rise – and if that is your issue and you were watching last night, it would be easy to conclude that, even if you like Trump’s bluntness and bluster on the issue, Cruz can be trusted to more skillfully and artfully make the case you want made.

It is hard to imagine Republicans nominating an unapologetic immigration moderate in 2016, so forget about Jeb Bush or John Kasich.

The pivotal exchange of the night came on immigration.

It was a kind of tag team match pitting Trump and Cruz on one side, and Kasich and Bush on the other.

And, just as in the last debate, when Cruz offered the crispest, most comprehensive attack on alleged media bias among the CNBC moderators, Cruz once again provided the soundbite of the night.

It began with Trump.

BARTIROMO: Mr. Trump, a federal appeals court just dealt a blow to the Obama administration’s plan to prevent the deportation of 5 million people living in this country illegally. The White House is appealing to the Supreme Court. 

At the heart of this issue is the effect that illegal immigrants are having on our economy, what will you do about it? 

TRUMP: I was so happy yesterday when I saw that decision come down. That was an unbelievable decision.

And we don’t have enough of those decisions coming down. He of the executive order, because nobody wants to listen to him, including the Democrats, so he just goes around signing executive orders. That was a great day. And, frankly, we have to stop illegal immigration. It’s hurting us economically. It’s hurting us from every standpoint. It’s causing tremendous difficulty with respect to drugs and what that does to many of our inner cities in particular. 

And it really is — was such an unbelievable moment because the courts have not been ruling in our favor. And it was a 2-1 decision. And it was a terrific thing that happened. 

And I will tell you, we are a country of laws. We need borders. We will have a wall. The wall will be built. The wall will be successful. And if you think walls don’t work, all you have to do is ask Israel. The wall works, believe me. Properly done. Believe me.

BARTIROMO: Can we just send 5 million people back with no effect on economy? 

TRUMP: You are going to have to bring people — you are going to have to send people out. Look, we’re a country…

BARTIROMO: So what will you do?

TRUMP: Maria, we’re a country of laws. We either have a country or we don’t have a country. We are a country of laws. Going to have to go out and they will come back but they are going to have to go out and hopefully they get back. 

But we have no choice if we’re going to run our country properly and if we’re going to be a country. 

Then came Kasich.

KASICH: Well, look, in 1986 Ronald Reagan basically said the people who were here, if they were law-abiding, could stay. But, what didn’t happen is we didn’t build the walls effectively and we didn’t control the border. We need to. We need to control our border just like people have to control who goes in and out of their house. 

But if people think that we are going to ship 11 million people who are law-abiding, who are in this country, and somehow pick them up at their house and ship them out of Mexico — to Mexico, think about the families. Think about the children. 

So, you know what the answer really is? If they have been law- abiding, they pay a penalty. They get to stay. We protect the wall. Anybody else comes over, they go back. 

But for the 11 million people, come on, folks. We all know you can’t pick them up and ship them across, back across the border. It’s a silly argument. It is not an adult argument. It makes no sense. 

Then Bush.

Bush: Twelve million illegal immigrants, to send them back, 500,000 a month, is just not — not possible. And it’s not embracing American values. And it would tear communities apart. And it would send a signal that we’re not the kind of country that I know America is. 

And even having this conversation sends a powerful signal — they’re doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this. That’s the problem with this. We have to win the presidency. And the way you win the presidency is to have practical plans. Lay them out there. What we need to do is allow people to earn legal status where they pay a fine, where they work, where they don’t commit crimes, where they learn English, and over an extended period of time, they earn legal status.

And then Cruz.

CRUZ: I want to go back to the discussion we had a minute ago because, you know, what was said was right. The Democrats are laughing — because if Republicans join democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose.

And, you know, I understand that when the mainstream media covers immigration, it doesn’t often see it as an economic issue. But, I can tell you for millions — of Americans at home watching this, it is a very personal economic issue. And, I will say the politics of it will be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande.

Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press.

Then, we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation. And, I will say for those of us who believe people ‘ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.

I am the son of an immigrant who came legally from Cuba to seek the American dream. And, we can embrace legal immigration while believing in the rule of law – and I would note, try going illegally to another country. Try going to China, or Japan. Try going to Mexico. See what they do. Every sovereign nation secures its borders, and it is not compassionate to say we’re not going to enforce the laws. And we’re going to drive down the wages for millions of hardworking men and women.

From the New York Times coverage of last night’s debate:

In the most substantive Republican debate so far, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Bush, who have been fading in polls, presented themselves as experienced chief executives who had practical solutions to deal with national challenges like immigration. Yet Mr. Trump and another candidate, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, inveighed against what they called amnesty and argued that undocumented workers were driving down Americans’ wages.

While several other candidates, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, received a pass from the moderators on immigration, Mr. Kasich took on the issue directly after Mr. Trump defended his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and to identify and deport some 11 million people.

And, of Rubio, the Times wrote:

Mr. Rubio was not only able to avoid being drawn into the contentious immigration debate, but also repeatedly received questions that allowed him to answer with versions of his stump speech. Even he seemed unable to believe his good fortune when he was asked to make his case against Mrs. Clinton. He chuckled for a moment before unspooling a well-rehearsed argument: why he can prosecute a “generational” case against her.

But Rubio will not be able to sidestep the immigration issue. His now-abandoned efforts on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform remains his Achilles’ heel with the Republican base. He remains very vulnerable to a Cruz attack on the issue if and when it becomes a mano a mano race between them.

There are a little more than 80 days left until the Iowa caucuses, but the four debates are doing a good, if not always fair, job of winnowing the field.

It is, ultimately, a process of elimination.

The relegating of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the undercard debate – just as he was hitting his stride as a candidate – was a gift to the eight remaining candidates on the main stage. He remains, at least theoretically, as the mainstream/establishment candidate if Bush continues to fade, Kasich doesn’t catch on, and Rubio doesn’t claim that mantle.

But, while Christie dominated last night’s early debate, he was still a candidate who had just been demoted, and that’s not really the definition of Big Mo. Everything for him rides on New Hampshire, where he is still well back.

Paul, while more engaged than at previous debates, remains way too out of step with his party on foreign policy to win the nomination.

Kasich is too out of step with his party on domestic policy to be nominated.

Carly Fiorina – sorry – still seems more vice presidential material than anything else.

And Jeb! is hardly living up to family expectations, let alone his exclamation mark.

Carson, who shares the lead with Trump in polls, did well enough last night, and probably reassured the faithful after a week buffeted by coverage of discrepancies in stories he has told and written about himself.

CAVUTO: Dr. Carson, to you. You recently railed against the double standard in the media, sir, that seems obsessed with inconsistencies and potential exaggerations in your life story, but looked the other way when it came to then-Senator Barack Obama’s. Still, as a candidate whose brand has always been trust, are you worried your campaign – which you’ve always said, sir, is bigger than you – is now being hurt by you? 

CARSON: Well, first of all, thank you not asking me what I said in the 10th grade. I appreciate that.

CAVUTO: I’ll just forget that follow-up there. 

CARSON: The fact of the matter is, you know, what — we should vet all candidates. I have no problem with being vetted. What I do have a problem with is being lied about and then putting that out there as truth.

“And I don’t even mind that so much, if they do it about — with everybody, like people on the other side. But, you know, when I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video.

“Where I came from, they call that a lie. And I think that’s very different from, you know, somebody misinterpreting, when I said that I was offered a scholarship to West Point, that is the words that they used. But, I’ve had many people come and say the same thing to me.  That is what people do in those situations.”

“We have to start treating people the same, and finding out what people really think and what they’re made of. People who know me know that I’m an honest person.”

I think Carson’s performance probably settled the nerves of most of his supporters,

But, for those not already on board,  more than one commentator on Fox last night noted that waiting on a Carson answer can be an agonizing and nerve-wracking experience – will he make it or will he plunge into the abyss.

Meanwhile, Trump is doing fine, still riding high, but it does appear that he may, perhaps, just possibly, have peaked. That he has an It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) problem.

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fools gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

OK. So maybe Dylan wasn’t writing a Trump prophesy.

But the results of the most recent Public Policy Polling survey in South Carolina, released yesterday, seem to confirm that, while Trump is still number one in the Palmetto State, his candidacy is not busy being born, it’s busy dying.

PPP’s newest South Carolina poll finds Donald Trump continuing to lead in the state, but that he’s lost about a third of his support since peaking in early September. Trump gets 25% to 21% for Ben Carson, 15% for Ted Cruz, 13% for Marco Rubio, 8% for Jeb Bush, and 5% for Carly Fiorina. No one else gets more than 3% in the Palmetto State- John Kasich hits that mark followed by Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul all at 2%, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum at 1%, and Jim Gilmore, Bobby Jindal, and George Pataki all at less than 1%. There’s a big gender gap with Carson leading Trump 27/19 among women, but Trump leading Carson by an even greater 31/15 margin with men.

Although he’s still out front Trump’s standing has declined a good bit from September- he’s dropped 12 points from when he led with 37% on our poll then. His overall popularity with the Republican base has declined from then as well – he’d had a 64/28 favorability rating, but that’s dropped down now to 53/33. It’s possible the field will have seen some winnowing by the time the race gets to South Carolina and that’s boding a lot less well for Trump now too. In September we found he led Marco Rubio 58/35 in a head to head match up and trailed Ben Carson only 46/45.  Now he can achieve only a tie with Rubio at 46%, and his deficit to Carson is up to 51/38. He also ties Ted Cruz 44/44 in a head to head- the one he does still dominate is against Jeb Bush where he’s up 57/32.

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The only two candidates with any sort of momentum in South Carolina are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are up 9 points from our September poll. Cruz has gone from 6% to 15%, and has seen a 10 point gain in his net favorability rating from +25 (52/27) to +35 (57/22). Cruz is leading the GOP field in South Carolina among voters whose biggest concern is having a candidate who’s conservative on the issues (28% to 23% for Carson and 21% for Trump) as well as among Tea Party voters (32% to 27% for Trump and 18% for Carson). Rubio’s gone up from 4% to 13%, and has seen a 14 point improvement in his net favorability from +24 (53/29) to +38 (60/22). Rubio’s the second most popular of the GOP hopefuls in South Carolina and also the second most frequent second choice at 14%, behind just Carson who’s second choice for 19%. All of those metrics make Rubio a likely beneficiary if anything ever does cause Trump and Carson’s support to come crashing down.

A Rubio-Cruz race could be very tight and exciting.

Here is the Real Clear Politics polling average in Iowa.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.31.31 AM

And New Hampshire

Real Clear Politics New Hampshire polling average

New Hampshire is followed by South Carolina.

Then, on March 1, Texas and a raft of other states, many in the South, where Cruz would have the advantage, and then, on March 15, the Florida primary, which, unlike the primaries that precede it, is winner-take-all.

A huge opportunity for Rubio.

Cruz needs to beware the ides of March.

Real Clear Politics Florida polling average

OOPS

Yes, ladies and gentleman, Ted Cruz last night sought to defy history.
A Texan, running for president of the United States, he was determined to announce his plan to eliminate certain federal agencies and to enumerate them, live, in public, without a net, during a Republican presidential debate.
It’s been tried before, with tragic results.

Not satisfied to simply redeem Texas’ reputation by doing what Rick Perry couldn’t do and name three agencies, Cruz chose to tempt fate, to taunt it, by attempting a virtual triple Salchow.

CRUZ: Today, we rolled out a spending plan. $500 billion in specific cuts — five major agencies that I would eliminate. The IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and HUD — and then 25 specific programs.

Oh. Damn. So close.

Gotta give the guy props for trying.

But really. No harm done.

Perry’s brain-freeze hurt because it fed a narrative that his mental processes generally operated at too low a temperature.

No one doubts Cruz’s intelligence.

And, unlike Perry’s moment, which lasted an eternity and ended with his sheepish “oops,” no one on stage called Cruz on his double count of Commerce, and afterward he laughed it off.

As he told Megyn Kelly on Fox after the debate, “I think the Department Commerce is such a base of cronyism, we ought to eliminate it twice.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.30.10 AM

And the fifth department was Education.

 

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