Trump blinks: In the face of Cruz’s surge, Donald stands down

Good morning Austin:

Donald Trump blinked at last night’s fifth Republican presidential debate.

TrumpIGetAlong

But here was Trump only two days earlier with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE:  Let’s turn to the campaign.  You lead in almost all the polls, except for a couple in Iowa where Ted Cruz is slightly ahead of you. This week, Ted Cruz apparently told some supporters that he questions your judgment to be president.  

What do you think of Ted Cruz?  

TRUMP:  Well, he is — do you notice he said it behind my back, somebody taped that conversation.  He said it behind my back.  And that’s OK.  

Look, I don’t think he’s qualified to be president.  

WALLACE:  Why not?  

TRUMP:  Because I don’t think he has the right temperament.  I don’t think he’s got the right judgment.  

WALLACE:  What’s wrong with his temperament?

TRUMP:  When you look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there like a — you know, frankly, like a bit of a maniac.  You never get things done that way.  

Look, I built a phenomenal business.  I’m worth many, many billions of dollars.  I have some of the greatest assets anywhere in the world.  You can’t walk into the Senate and scream and call people liars and not be able to cajole and get along with people.  

He’ll never get anything done.  And that’s the problem with Ted.  

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And then here he was about 60 hours later at last night’s debate.

DANA BASH: Mr. Trump, just this weekend you said Senator Cruz is not qualified to be president because he doesn’t have the right temperament and acted like a maniac when he arrived in the Senate. But last month you said you were open to naming Senator Cruz as your running mate.

TRUMP: I did.

BASH: So why would you be willing to put somebody who’s a maniac one heartbeat away from the presidency?

TRUMP: Let me just say that I have gotten to know him over the last three or four days. He has a wonderful temperament.

TRUMP: He’s just fine. Don’t worry about it.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Okay.

Senator Cruz. Senator Cruz, you have not been willing to attack Mr. Trump in public.

TRUMP: You better not attack…

(LAUGHTER)

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

And Cruz didn’t.

BASH: But you did question his judgment in having control of America’s nuclear arsenal during a private meeting with supporters. Why are you willing to say things about him in private and not in public?

CRUZ: Dana, what I said in private is exactly what I’ll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander-in-chief. That is the most important decision for the voters to make. That’s a standard I’m held to. And it’s a standard everyone else is held to.

And I will note, you know, in the whole course of this discussion about our foreign policy threats, it actually illustrates the need for clarity of focus.

You know, my daughters, Caroline and Catherine, came tonight. They’re 7 and 5. And you think about the Los Angeles schools canceling their schools today.

And every parent is wondering, how do we keep our kids safe? We need a commander-in-chief who does what Ronald Reagan did with communism, which is he set out a global strategy to defeat Soviet communism. And he directed all of his…

(CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: I’m answering the question, Dana.

He directed all of his forces to defeating communism.

One of the things we’ve seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won’t even call it by its name.

We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.

BASH: Senator, senator, I just…

CRUZ: And we need to be focused on defeating…

BASH: Senator, a lot of people have seen…

CRUZ: … defeating radical Islamic terrorists.

BASH: … a lot of people have seen these comments you made in private. I just want to clarify what you’re saying right now is you do believe Mr. Trump has the judgment to be commander-in-chief?

CRUZ: What I’m saying, Dana, is that is a judgment for every voter to make. What I can tell you is all nine of the people here would make an infinitely better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Thank you, senator. Thank you.

CRUZ: And there is a real danger, Dana, when people get distracted.

I’m answering the question, Wolf.

CRUZ: There’s a real danger when people get distracted by peripheral issues. They get distracted by democracy building. They get distracted about military conflicts. We need to focus on defeating jihadism. ISIS and Iran have declared war on America, and we need a commander-in-chief who will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

CRUZ: And I will do everything necessary to keep our children safe.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Cruz’s coddling of Trump is an old story.

It is one of the central stories of the campaign – and, if we end up with either Trump or Cruz as the party’s nominee, or a Trump-Cruz ticket – it may prove to have been decisive to the outcome.

Call it craven. Call it strategic.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If Trump is elected president and the world ends in a yuge mushroom cloud, well, Ted Cruz may have — to put it in a Cuban-American idiom — some ‘splainin’ to do. (Though, before passing judgment, I would like to see a thorough analysis of Trump as a sign and instrument of the Apocalypse/End Times/Second Coming.)

But, so far, tactically, it’s worked quite nicely for Cruz.

Of course, what Cruz did to nettle Trump had little to do with anything he had said about Trump and everything to do with Cruz committing the unpardonable sin of surging past Trump in the most recent polls in Iowa, polls being for Trump dispositive of one’s worth and value.

Having been imbued with Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel of success, Trump’s measure of success is success. Winning is success. Leading the polls is, by definition, success. His most withering assault on his opponents is that they are losers.

Here he was going all playground on Jeb Bush when Bush delivered his most calculated line of attack on Trump last night.

BUSH: You’re never going to be president of the United States by insulting your way to the presidency.

TRUMP: Well, let’s see. I’m at 42, and you’re at 3. So, so far, I’m doing better.

BUSH: Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter.

TRUMP: So far, I’m doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You’re moving over further and further. Pretty soon you’re going to be off the end…

But, he can’t do to that to Cruz.

Photo by JustinSullivan/Getty Images)

Photo by JustinSullivan/Getty Images)

Here was Jennifer Jacobs in Monday’s Des Moines Register.

Seven weeks from the caucuses, Ted Cruz is crushing it in Iowa.

The anti-establishment congressional agitator has made a rapid ascent into the lead in the GOP presidential race here, with a 21 percentage-point leap that smashes records for upsurges in recent Iowa caucuses history.

Donald Trump, now 10 points below Cruz, was in a pique about not being the front-runner even before the Iowa Poll results were announced Saturday evening. He wasted no time in tearing into Cruz — and the poll — during an Iowa stop Friday night.

Ben Carson, another “Washington outsider” candidate, has plunged 15 points from his perch at the front of the pack in October. He’s now in third place.

“Big shakeup,” said J. Ann Selzer, pollster for The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll. “This is a sudden move into a commanding position for Cruz.”

Cruz, a Texas U.S. senator famous for defying party leaders and using government shutdown tactics to hold up funding for the Obamacare health care law and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, was the favorite of 10 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in the last Iowa Poll in October. He’s now at 31 percent.

Carson’s zenith was 28 percent in the poll two months ago. Trump’s highest support was 23 percent back in August, when he led the field by 5 points.

And there are signs Cruz may not have peaked in Iowa yet. Another 20 percent of likely caucusgoers say he’s their current second choice for president. Cruz hits 51 percent support when first- and second-choice interest is combined, again leading the field.

With Cruz’s popularity and his debate proficiency, “it’s certainly possible that he could win Iowa big — very big,” said Frank Luntz, a Nevada-based GOP focus group guru who follows the Iowa race closely.

When Ben Carson briefly pulled even with Trump in polls this fall, Trump, seeing an easy mark, went on a savage attack on Carson on Nov. 12  in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Here from Politico:

For nearly nine minutes of his 95-minute speech to a Fort Dodge, Iowa, audience on Thursday evening, Donald Trump laid into Ben Carson, his closest GOP rival, questioning key components of his biography of personal redemption and reenacting his stories in an unorthodox attempt to question them.

“I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand it,” Trump began, discussing Carson’s rise in the polls, remarking that the retired neurosurgeon had said “terrible things about himself” in his book, referring to his 1990 best-selling biography “Gifted Hands.”

 Carson wrote that he was “pathological” and that he had “pathological disease,” Trump remarked, noting that the retired neurosurgeon said those things long before deciding to run for the White House.

“And I don’t want a person that’s got pathological disease, I don’t want it. Now, I’m not saying he’s got it. He said it,” he clarified. “This isn’t something I’m saying — he’s a pathological liar, I’m not saying it. He said he’s got pathological disease. He actually said ‘pathological temper,’ and then he defined it as ‘disease,’ so he said he has ‘pathological disease.’ Now if you’re pathological, there’s no cure for that, folks. OK? There’s no cure for that.”

Hours earlier, Trump compared Carson’s “pathological temper” to that of child molesters on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront.

“That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting,” he said. “You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

He repeated the line to this Iowa crowd, remarking, “There’s only one cure [for child molesters] … We don’t want to talk about that cure.”

“Well there’s two, there’s death and the other thing,” he continued.

The next night was the terrorist attack in Paris, and Carson’s campaign was effectively over, with his slide fueling Cruz’s swift rise.

And, it seems no mere coincidence of timing that, just as it became apparent that Cruz was passing Trump in Iowa polls,  Trump did what he does, seizing control of the campaign and one news cycle after the other by unveiling his call to end all Muslim immigration.

From the December 7 Atlantic:

Donald Trump is now calling for an end to all Muslim immigration into the United States.

In a written statement late Monday afternoon, the Trump campaign said the Republican frontrunner wanted a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” As backing, Trump cited a controversial six-month-old survey from the right-wing Center for Security Policy finding that one-quarter of U.S. Muslim respondents believed that violence against Americans was justified as part of global jihad and that a slim majority “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.

 

From the Hill on December 7.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has surpassed Donald Trump and Ben Carson in Iowa, a new poll finds, giving the Texas Republican his first lead of the cycle in an early voting state.
Cruz, who has been on a sharp upward trajectory in the polls in recent weeks, takes 24 percent of support in the Hawkeye State, according to a Monmouth University survey released on Monday.
Trump is in second place in the poll, with 19 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), at 17 percent, and Ben Carson, who suffered by far the steepest decline of any candidate, clocking in at 13 percent.
Carson — who has been dogged by foreign policy blunders since last month’s terror attacks in Paris thrust national security to the forefront of the GOP campaign debates — is in free fall.
He held a commanding lead in the Monmouth survey of Iowa from late October, taking 32 percent support over Trump, who at the time was a distant second place with only 18 percent support.
Carson has fallen 19 points since then, while Cruz has gained 14 points and Rubio has picked up seven.
Evangelical voters, who make up a strong majority of Iowa caucusgoers, have moved behind Cruz, who now has a two-to-one lead over Carson among this influential bloc.
Cruz takes 30 percent support from Iowa evangelicals, followed by Trump, at 18 percent, Rubio, at 16 percent, and Carson, at 15 percent.
Last month, Carson had a two-to-one lead over Trump among evangelicals in the state, taking 36 percent support. Carson has lost 21 percent of his evangelical supporter in just over a month, according to Monmouth.
So, am I suggesting that Trump came up with his “ban on Muslims” as a way to trump Cruz and regain his advantage in Iowa?  Yeah. Sure. Why not? Of course.

Every bit of Trump’s experience this cycle is the more outrageous he is, the better he does; that that which doesn’t kill him, makes him stronger, and nothing he does seems to hurt him at all, let alone kill him.

But last night, confronted by a rising Cruz, standing right next to him, Trump zagged in the other direction. He was amicable instead of confrontational.

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From Katie Glueck at Politico:

Donald Trump was supposed to attack Ted Cruz on Tuesday night. Instead, he gave him a backstage back rub.

Speculation had mounted in the run-up to the last GOP debate of the year that the long-held truce between Trump and Cruz would finally crack now that the Texan has taken the lead in Iowa. But Cruz refused repeatedly to criticize the poll leader. And that left Trump, who often describes himself as a “counterpuncher,” with no openings to exploit.

When pressed on Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country – a position the Republican field has eagerly dismissed, Cruz opted instead for a joke from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandfather. “He said, all horse-thieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horse-thieves,” Cruz said, going on to note that there are “millions of peaceful Muslims” without directly addressing Trump or the immigration halt.

And when asked about his questioning, at a private fundraiser, of Trump’s judgement, the senator pivoted to say all candidates would be judged on their commander-in-chief credentials.

That left little for Trump to work with after days of seemingly spoiling for a fight. On Sunday, the real estate developer dished combative tweets – “I was disappointed that Ted Cruz would speak behind my back, get caught, and then deny it. Well, welcome to the wonderful world of politics!” And he called Cruz “a little bit of a maniac” for his confrontational style in the Senate.

But Cruz just wouldn’t take the bait, opting instead to turn down the heat with humor. His team made it clear for days that their candidate was not eager to argue with Trump at the debate.

That put Trump in an uncommon position, sparring with a rival who wouldn’t take a swing. But he seemed to know it walking in. He was seen on camera briefly rubbing Cruz’s shoulders as he greeted the Texas senator before the debate began.

So when asked about calling Cruz a maniac, Trump went for the laugh. “He has a wonderful temperament. He’s just fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Now, it is possible that this was simply strategic on Trump’s part.
From Kirby Goidel, a professor of political communication at Texas A&M:
Donald Trump emerges without getting hurt which is a win, and you can start to see the possibility of a Trump/Cruz ticket. 

But University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus gave the advantage to Cruz:

The debate was high risk for Cruz as the surging candidate but was able to survive and advance.  He weaved through issues and attacks with the finesse of an iron fist in a velvet glove.
 
Trump was as erratic as usual, not the least of which was his capitulation of his “maniac” comment about Cruz.

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“He was with me when nobody else was,” Trump said of Cruz after last night’s debate.

“What an inside deal, a total inside deal,” Joe Scarborough said this morning on Morning Joe of the Trump-Cruz non-aggression pact.

He also likened it to the Shake and Bake from Talladega Nights.

But I tend to agree with Elizabeth Williamson in the New York Times:

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, egged on by CNN moderators, engaged on immigration, defense funding and border security. But again, the enduring image was of Mr. Trump, grimacing and shrugging clownishly as he declined to call Mr. Cruz a “maniac,” as he did last week, or to go after him in any substantive way. He may live to regret pulling those punches come Feb. 1 in Iowa. 

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