Without Trump, the thrill is gone

GOP 2016 Debate.JPEG-07d4e

Good morning Austin:

I gotta tell you.  Last night’s debate really left me conflicted.

I thought Megyn Kelly was great.

 

megyn-5

Alfred Hitchcock would have loved Megyn Kelly

And I really missed Trump.

Why can’t we all get along?

Call me shallow, but without Trump, the debate was sort of dull. Kind of a dud.

I doubt the debate fundamentally altered the race.

Maybe Trump, by his absence, was merely eating up the clock in a contest in which the polls find himself a little ahead of Ted Cruz. Cruz has the compensating – or perhaps more-than-compensating – advantage of a superior ground game.

I doubt Cruz lost any of his faithful last night. But I think his performance was off and not very appealing. He missed an opportunity to present himself as the commanding alternative to Trump as front runner.

He didn’t advance his agenda of leaving the audience convinced that this was down to a two-person race between him and the absent Trump.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio talk after a Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio shake hands after the Republican presidential primary debate on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

From Rich Lowry at National Review, which devoted its last issue to denouncing Trump.

If Jeb got running room with Trump not on the stage, Cruz was denied oxygen. It certainly feels like he’s running behind here (although his internals evidently still have him ahead) and he was loaded for bear for Trump.
Plus, Cruz perhaps does best in close combat, and there is great opportunity in being able to stand up to and best the Alpha Dog. Without Trump, Cruz was a little at sea. In his tussle with Chris Wallace over the rules, he let too much of his prickly argumentative side show.
His riff about how all the other candidates had been invited to attack him was ill-conceived. Cruz was trying to repeat his triumphant catalog of loaded questions from the CNBC debate, but it is one thing to do that in defense of the other candidates; it is another to do it trying to make yourself out as a victim.

He followed it up with an attempted joke at Trump’s expense about leaving if the questions were too too tough that fell flat. The rest of Cruz’s night was good (and particularly admirable on ethanol), but in Trump’s absence a test for Cruz was if he could establish a frontrunner-worthy sense of dominance, and he didn’t.

From Jonathan V. Last at the Weekly Standard. Cruz Flails at Trumpless Debate:

With Donald Trump skipping the debate to consort with Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum (because he cares so very much about veterans), Ted Cruz had a golden opportunity to make a strong closing pitch to Iowa voters. He missed it.

Cruz started out strong, with a clever line about Trump’s patois. But after that he failed to hammer home the difference between himself and Trump. Instead, he was dragged into debates about foreign policy and budget bills and immigration poison pills. Maybe Iowa voters will absorb the contrast—that Cruz has a grasp of policy and Trump doesn’t implicitly. But maybe not.

As a tactical matter, it wasn’t a bad performance from Cruz. He held his own against the other six candidates on stage. His ethanol answer—which at this point has been honed to a razor edge—was exceptionally good. And he probably helped himself more than a little in his long exchange with Rubio on immigration. But as a strategic matter, what Cruz wanted to do was to present himself as a commanding, steady figure. Instead, he got steamrolled by Chris Wallace in the first half and then found himself arguing with Rand Paul—currently at 3.9 percent in the RealClear Iowa average—over who was the more genuine libertarian. That’s not the fight Cruz needs to be having four days before the caucus.

In several spots Cruz reminded people that he is a lawyer, to a fault.

He didn’t come off well when he tried to grab some time from moderator Chris Wallace.

CRUZ: Chris? Chris I was mentioned in that question.

BUSH: No, you weren’t. Your name wasn’t mentioned, Ted.

CRUZ: … Actually, I was…

BUSH: … Chris, keep it coming…

WALLACE: … I don’t think that your name was mentioned…

CRUZ: … Chris, your questions that you…

WALLACE: … Sir, I think — I think the question was…

CRUZ: … What was your question…

WALLACE: … It’s not my question that you get a chance to respond to, it’s his answer.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: You don’t get 30 seconds to respond to me…

CRUZ: … Your question was you have disagreed…

(AUDIENCE REACTION)

WALLACE: … You don’t get 30 seconds to respond to me…

CRUZ: … (inaudible) opening statement.

WALLACE: … If I could go on. Sir, I know you like to argue about the rules, but we’re going to conduct a debate…

BUSH: … Thank you Chris…

WALLACE: … Governor Bush…

CRUZ: … This entire question was an attack, but that’s (inaudible)

And, as Lowry notes, his attempt to reprise his successful riff about how the moderators were attempting to unnecessarily pit the candidates against one another seemed merely self-serving and defensive when, in fact, those other candidates – especially Marco Rubio and Rand Paul – didn’t need any prompting to go after Cruz.

CRUZ: Chris, I would note that that the last four questions have been, “Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted…”

CRUZ: Let me just say this…

WALLACE: … It is a debate, sir.

CRUZ: … Well, no, no. A debate actually is a policy issue, but I will say this. Gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question I may have to leave the stage.

(APPLAUSE)

A debate actually is a policy issue?

Huh? I think this was Ted Cruz, champion college debater, making an inside debate point, but I didn’t get it.

And, while the Cruz folks believe that every time the conversation turns to immigration, they win, the exchanges with Rubio and Paul on immigration were revealing in a way that did not redound to Cruz’s benefit.

From Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin in the New York Times:

DES MOINES — The Republican presidential candidates competed vigorously to fill the vacuum created by Donald J. Trump’s boycott of Thursday night’s debate, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida trading ferocious attacks on immigration and taking fire from rivals seeking advantage in the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, who are behind Mr. Trump in the Iowa polls and hoping for surprise finishes here, were repeatedly confronted with pointed questions about their views and Senate votes on providing citizenship or legal status to immigrants who are in the country illegally. But it was Mr. Cruz who was hit hardest on the issue, as Mr. Rubio teamed up with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky to portray him as an opportunist.

“Everybody’s for amnesty except for Ted Cruz,” Mr. Paul said, turning Mr. Cruz’s favorite shibboleth against him as he denounced the “falseness” that he said Mr. Cruz perpetrated. “That’s an authenticity problem.”

Mr. Rubio was even harsher as he tries to upset Mr. Cruz here and finish in second place, which could strengthen his position against Mr. Trump in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

“This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on,” Mr. Rubio said, seizing on a brutal compilation of video clips that the Fox News debate moderators had shown, highlighting Mr. Cruz’s apparent shifts on immigration.

Mr. Cruz struck back by getting nearly as personal with Mr. Rubio. “I like Marco,” he said, unconvincingly. “He’s very charming. He’s very smooth.” However, Mr. Cruz added, when Mr. Rubio came to the Senate, he backed off his hard-line stance on immigration and supported an overhaul favored by the Republican Party’s “major donors because he thought it was politically advantageous.”

Here’s more from Rubio”s back-and-forth with Cruz:

RUBIO: … no, I understand, but let me respond. I was mentioned on this — in this answer, and so I’m going to respond this way.

This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on, and Rand touched upon it — that he’s the most conservative guy, and everyone else is a — you know, everyone else is a RINO.

The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you’ve been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes. Ted, you worked for George W. Bush’s campaign…

(BOOING)

You — you — you helped design George W. Bush’s — you helped design George W. Bush’s immigration policy. And then, when you got to the Senate, you did an interview with CBS News — I (ph) wasn’t even part of the video — where you said, on the issue of people that are here illegally, “we can reach a compromise.”

And then in the committee, you said, “I want to bring people out of the shadows.”

(BELL RINGS)

Now you want to trump Trump on immigration. But you can’t — we’re not gonna beat Hillary Clinton with someone who’s willing to say or do anything to win an election.

KELLY: Go ahead, Senator Cruz.

(APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: You know, I like Marco. He’s very charming. He’s very smooth. But the facts are simple. When he ran for election in the state of Florida, he told the people of Florida, “if you elect me, I will lead the fight against amnesty.”

When I ran in Texas, I told the people of Texas, “if you elect me, I will lead the fight against amnesty.” We both made the identical promises. But when we came to Washington, we made a different choice.

Marco made the choice to go the direction of the major donors — to support amnesty because he thought it was politically advantageous.

With the movement base, Cruz wins on immigration vis-à-vis Rubio. A few key words – amnesty, Gang of Eight, Chuck Schumer – are all that’s required. But he cannot compete with the blunderbuss simplicity of Trump’s build a wall, make Mexico pay for it, ban Muslim immigrants.

But Cruz’s case that he led the opposition to amnesty is too cute by half.

From Josh Feldman at Mediaite

Kelly turned to Cruz to confront him about a bill he pushed years ago that appeared to support legalization. She ran clips of Cruz making statements that seem to contradict his current claims that it was a “poison pill” to kill immigration reform.

Cruz continued to insist he introduced amendments to “fix problems with the bill” and said he did NOT support the rest of the bill.

But it was all too lawerly.

As Megyn Kelly told Cruz on her post-debate show, for a guy running against the Washington cartel, his play-acting at the time that he was sincerely trying to improve the immigration legislation he now condemns, when in fact he was actually trying to kill it, sounds a bit too “cartelly.”

Rubio, Paul and, subsequently Cruz, were all elected  to the Senate as tea party heroes. It’s one thing for Cruz to attack a creature of Washington like Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Cruz called a liar on the Senate floor.

But he is running for president as the only one who kept faith with the movement, and the combination of Rubio and Paul both expressing their irritation with Cruz’s preening purity rang true.

From University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus:

Overall it was pretty subdued affair, proving that Donald Trump is right:  it’s boring without him.  The biggest targets ended up ISIS and Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump as expected.   

It was Ted Cruz’s moment to shine but he came off as too lawyerly and strident.  Substance-wise, Ted Cruz was on point.  Cruz got tough on national security issues, talked about military readiness.  Some of the immigration tet-a-tet winged him.  Style-wise he came off as unlikable and strident.  This might be a rare case where a candidate’s likability factor hurts their vote share.  Rand Paul, fan club filling the hall, most likely to strike against Cruz on security but Cruz didn’t take the bait.  

Marco Rubio won, slightly by default.  He did a good job channeling the JFK-Reagan nexus, but not as well as debates past.  Rubio charged up the ISIS rhetoric, prodded the strengths of the US military, countered only by Paul on respecting civil rights. 

Christie come in at a close second, again railing against the Washington double speak and playing up executive experience in the wake of 9/11. 

The moderate lane got a little more crowded as several candidates merged in.  John Kasich pleaded for support from across the aisle.  Christie much the same.  Bush talked up building consensus.  All looking past Iowa to New Hampshire where prospects are better.

Reader Comments 0

0 comments