Bullied pulpit. How Ted Cruz was out-debated by Trump and Carson but still came out ahead

Good morning Austin:

Ted Cruz may be the best debater among the Republican field of presidential candidates, but it certainly wasn’t in evidence Saturday night at the last debate before the New Hampshire primary.

Cruz managed to be bullied by Donald Trump and, more remarkably, cowed by Dr. Ben Carson in what was the debating equivalent of a shark being swallowed whole by a guppy.

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It was a sight to behold, and it all happened in the two opening sequences of the riveting, rat-tat-tat debate at Saint Anselm College.

But, very fortunately for Cruz, his early humiliations were obscured by Marco Rubio’s stunning exhibition of the rhetorical technique known as epimone – the persistent repetition of the same plea in much the same words.

Or, as New Jersey Gov. Christie, Rubio’s tormentor Saturday night, put it when Rubio repeated four times in almost precisely the same words – This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he’s doing:

CHRISTIE: There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.

Well, I don’t know about that. But, at least Rick Perry only said “oops” once.

The theory behind Rubio’s line is that Obama is not proof that America shouldn’t elect another first-term senator as president, but proof that an ideological president with very little experience can wreck America, and that an inexperienced president of the opposite but equally strong ideological persuasion can restore America.

Well. Why not?

Rubio can be persuasive. He had managed to spin his third-place finish in Iowa into something better than Cruz’s first-place finish and Trump’s second-place finish, vaulting him, it seemed, into second place in New Hampshire, with a bullet.

The debate would appear to have, at the very least, slowed Marcomentum.

This was very good news for every other candidate, very much including Cruz.

Coming off his Iowa victory, Cruz had wanted the nominating contest to be seen as a two-man race between him and Trump. Rubio’s rise was ruining that narrative, and more than any other candidate, Rubio was the mainstream/establishment candidate with the most potential to compete with Cruz for more conservative/tea party voters.

New Hampshire is not crucial to Cruz, as long as he doesn’t drop off the map. What’s critical is the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20, and the last thing Cruz wants to contend with there is a surging Marco Rubio.

So, thanks to Christie and Rubio, Cruz emerged from Saturday night better off than he went in.

But it wasn’t pretty.

The debate got off to kind of a slapstick start when Carson failed to hear his entrance cue.

But, once that was behind them, the first question  from moderator David Muir was to Trump about Cruz’s acerbic comments earlier in the week that, were Trump president, we might awake one day to find that he had nuked Denmark.

 

MUIR: So let’s get started. We welcome you all to the debate stage here tonight. We’re going to tackle the issues Americans are most concerned about, the economy, ISIS, Homeland Security. And here in New Hampshire, some of the most heated rhetoric yet over who is best suited to step in on day one, who has the experience, who has the temperament to be commander-in-chief.

Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz has said about you right here in New Hampshire this week, quote, “I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable with someone who behaves this way, having his finger on the button. We’re liable to wake up one morning, and if he were president, he would nuke Denmark.” Saying, quote, “That’s temperament of a leader to keep this country safe.”

I wanted to give you the opportunity to respond to this and to tell the American people tonight why you do have the temperament to be commander-in-chief.

TRUMP: I actually think I have the best temperament. I built a massive corporation. I employ thousands and thousands of people. I’ve gotten along with people for years and years, have tremendous relationships with many people, including politicians on both sides. And no matter how you cut it, when I — when I came out, I hit immigration, I hit it very hard. Everybody said, “Oh, the temperament,” because I talked about illegal immigration.

Now, everybody’s coming to me, they’re all trying to say, well, he’s right, we have to come to him. I hit other things. I talked about Muslims. We have a problem. Nobody else wanted to mention the problem, I brought it up. I took a lot of heat. We have to have a temporary something, because there’s something going on that’s not good. And remember this, I’m the only one up here, when the war of Iraq — in Iraq, I was the one that said, “Don’t go, don’t do it, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.” So, I’m not one with a trigger. I’m not one with a trigger. Other people up here, believe me, would be a lot faster.

But I’ll build the military stronger, bigger, better than anybody up here, and nobody is going to mess with us. That, I can tell you.

(APPLAUSE)

MUIR: Mr. Trump, thank you. I want to bring this to Senator Cruz, then.

Because Senator, you did said of Trump’s behavior this week, that’s not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe.

Why not?

CRUZ: Well, you know, David, the assessment the voters are making here in New Hampshire and across the country is they are evaluating each and every one of us. They are looking to our experience. They are looking to our knowledge. They are looking to our temperament and judgment. They are looking to our clarity of vision and our strength of resolve.

The world is getting much more dangerous. We’ve had seven years with Barack Obama in the oval office, a commander-in-chief that is unwilling even to acknowledge the enemy we’re facing. This is a president who, in the wake of Paris, in the wake of San Bernardino, will not even use the words radical Islamic terrorism, much less focus on defeating the enemy.

I am convinced every individual standing on this stage, would make a much better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

(APPLAUSE)

And the primary voters are making the assessment for each of us, who is best prepared to keep this country safe, to rebuild the military, to rebuild our Navy, our Air Force, our Army, our Marines, and to ensure that we keep America safe.

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MUIR: Senator Cruz, I did ask about Mr. Trump. You said he doesn’t have the temperament to be commander-in-chief. Do you stand by those words?

CRUZ: I think that is an assessment the voters are going to make. And they are going to make it of each and every one of us. They are going to assess who is level-headed, who has clear vision, who has judgment, who can confront our enemies, who can confront the threats we face in this country, and who can have the judgment when to engage and when not to engage — both are incredibly important for a commander-in-chief, knowing how to go after our enemies.

In the case of Iran, for example, who has the clarity of vision to understand that the Ayatollah Khamenei, when he chants, “Death to America,” he means it. We need a president with the judgment and resolve to keep this country safe from radical Islamic terrorists.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. We’re going to continue on this notion of readiness and experience. I’m going to come back.

TRUMP: Am I allowed to respond? I have to respond.

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MUIR: If you would like to respond, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: First of all, I respect what Ted just said, but if you noticed, he didn’t answer your question. And that’s what’s going to happen — OK.

(APPLAUSE)

That’s what’s going to happen with our enemies and the people we compete against. We’re going to win with Trump. We’re going to win. We don’t win anymore. Our country doesn’t win anymore. We’re going to win with Trump. And people back down with Trump. And that’s what I like and that’s what the country is going to like.

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On Wednesday, Cruz is mocking Trump as unstable.

On Saturday, standing next to Trump, he passes on the question of Trump’s temperament, suggesting instead that a fellow Republican who might nuke Denmark in a fit of pique is still way better than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, for whom Denmark is actually his vision of a democratic socialist paradise.

Meanwhile, Martha Raddatz, another of the moderators, posed a question to Cruz that went to his military temperament.

RADDATZ: Senator Cruz, you advocate what you call carpet bombing, or saturation bombing, to defeat ISIS, citing the more than 1,100 air attacks that the U.S. carried out during the first Gulf War in 1991.

Explain how a strategy to defeat a standing army would work against an unconventional terrorist group that is now hiding amongst the population.

CRUZ: Well, sure. It starts with a commander-in-chief that sets the objective. And the objective has to be utterly and completely destroying ISIS. Obama hasn’t started with that objective and everything else flows from there.

Once you set that objective, we have the tools to carry that out. The first tool is overwhelming air power. It is one of the blessings of the United States of America, having the greatest military on the face of the earth, is we have the ability to use that air power.

As you know, in the first Persian Gulf War, it was 1,100 air attacks a day. Obama is launching between 15 and 30. Now, when I say saturation carpet bombing, that is not indiscriminate.

That is targeted at oil facilities. It’s targeted at the oil tankers. It’s targeted at command and control locations. It’s targeted at infrastructure. It’s targeted at communications. It’s targeted at bombing all of the roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa. It’s using overwhelming air power.

You know, couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a facility is open called Jihadist University. Now, the question I wonder, why is that building still standing? It should be rubble. And if you had a president…

(BELL RINGS)

(APPLAUSE)

CRUZ: … although I will say this. I would be willing to wait until freshman orientation before launching those bombs

Clever line, but ….

From the New York Times Frank Bruni after a previous Republican debate on Dec. 15:

Someone needs to explain carpets to Ted Cruz.

They’re continuous stretches of material, usually rectangular, sometimes round. They’re not staggered, interrupted, with stops, starts, holes and sharp jags so that they smother and blot out only the evil bits of floor but leave adjacent, innocent ones untouched.

When you call for carpet bombing, as Cruz did again on Tuesday night, you are not outlining a strategy of pinpoint targeting or of any discernment.

You are sounding big and bold and advocating something indiscriminate. That’s the nature of a carpet. You can’t pretend otherwise.

Unless you’re Cruz, who can pretend just about anything.

“You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops,” he said, as if there’s no mingling and the fighters of the Islamic State are somehow clustered apart from everyone they control, extinguished with the mere dropping of a rug.

“The object isn’t to level a city,” he added, never specifying how he would separate the good edifices and actors from the bad.

That’s some magic carpet.

Back to the debate. The second round of questions, after Trump-Cruz, were Carson-Cruz, with equally devastating results.

MUIR: Dr. Carson, on the day of the Iowa caucuses, the Cruz campaign sent out messages and voicemails saying, quote, “Breaking news. Dr. Ben Carson will be planning to suspend his campaign following tonight’s caucuses. Please inform any Carson caucus-goers of this news.”

But as we can all see, you are still standing here tonight. Late this week, your campaign sent this e-mail, quote, “This kind of deceitful behavior is why the American people don’t trust politicians. If Senator Cruz does not act, then he clearly represents D.C. values.”

What kind of action do you think Senator Cruz should take?

CARSON: Well, you know, when I wasn’t introduced No. 2, as was the plan, I thought maybe he thought I already had dropped out. But…

(APPLAUSE)

But you know, today is the 105th anniversary, or — 105th birthday of Ronald Reagan. His 11 Commandment was not to speak ill of another Republican. So, I’m not going to use this opportunity to savage the reputation of Senator Cruz.

(APPLAUSE)

But I will say — I will say — I will say that I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me that they thought that after having hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers and college students who sacrificed their time and were dedicated to the cause — one even died — to think that I would just walk away ten minutes before the caucus and say, “Forget about you guys.”

I mean, who would do something like that? Now, I don’t think anyone on this stage would do something like that. And to assume that someone would, what does that tell you? So, unfortunately, it did happen.

It gives us a very good example of certain types of Washington ethics. Washington ethics. Washington ethics basically says, if it’s legal, you do what you need to do in order to win. That’s not my ethics. My ethics is, you do what’s right.

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MUIR: Senator Cruz.

(APPLAUSE)

MUIR: Dr. Carson, thank you.

Senator Cruz, you have said that Dr. Carson and his wife have become friends of yours. I’m curious as why you didn’t call ahead of time to either the doctor or his wife or have your campaign check in with the other campaign before sending out those messages.

CRUZ: Ben is a good and honorable man and Ben and Candy have become friends. He has an amazing life story that has inspired millions, including me. When this transpired, I apologized to him then and I do so now. Ben, I’m sorry.

Let me tell you the facts of what occurred for those who are interested in knowing. On Monday night, about 6:30 p.m., CNN reported that Ben was not going from Iowa to New Hampshire or South Carolina. Rather, he was, quote, “Taking a break from campaigning.”

They reported that on television, CNN’s political anchors, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer, said it was highly unusual and highly significant. My political team saw CNN’s report breaking news and they forwarded that news to our volunteers, it was being covered on live television.

Now, at the time, I was at the caucuses, I was getting ready to speak at the caucuses just like Ben was, just like everyone else was. I knew nothing about this. A couple hours later, I found out about it. I was told that Ben was unhappy. I called him that evening because I respect him very, very highly. I didn’t reach him that evening.

(BELL RINGS)

I reached him the next day and apologized. He asked me then, he said, Ted, would you make this apologize in public? I said, yes, I will. And I did so. I regret that subsequently, CNN reported on that — they didn’t correct that story until 9:15 that night. So from 6:30 p.m. to 9:15, that’s what CNN was reporting.

Subsequent to that initial report, Ben’s campaign put out a statement saying that he was not suspending his campaign. I wish that our campaign staff had forwarded that statement. They were unaware of it, I wish that they had, that’s why I apologized.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you.

We’re going to move on here. Back to the issues…

CARSON: Since I was mentioned…

CARSON: Since I was mentioned…

MUIR: Dr. Carson, please.

CARSON: This is great you guys. I want you all to mention me when you say something.

(LAUGHTER)

In fact, the time line indicates that initial tweet from CNN was followed by another one within one minute that clarified that I was not dropping out. So, what happened to that one, it is unclear. But the bottom line is, we can see what happened, everybody can see what happened and you can make your own judgment.

MUIR: Dr. Carson, thank you. Thank you, doctor.

What the Cruz campaign did to Carson was pretty low on the continuum of dirty tricks.

If a 1 is removing a rival’s lawn sign, and a 10 is the Watergate break-in, this was probably a 2 or 3.

And, for a little context, here is a recent story from the Kansas City Star about Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign manager.

Roe’s ride to the top of the political consultant class has been two decades in the making — and bumpy.

He’s not well known to the general public, although that’s changing. His name increasingly pops up in campaign profiles in national publications. Rolling Stone magazine is sniffing around.

But Roe is more famous in his home state of Missouri than many of the politicians he’s put in office. For much of the 21st century, his bare-knuckle, politics-ain’t-beanbag approach has defined the electoral landscape in the state.

Roe has routinely battled Democrats. In 2006 he mauled Democrat Sara Jo Shettles’ campaign for Missouri’s 6th District House seat, held by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves. A Roe-produced ad linked Shettles with “smut” because she sold ads for a company that published an adult magazine.

Shettles had nothing to do with the adult publication, and she remains bitter about her experience with Roe.

“It’s a game to him,” she said. “He’s done rotten things to people with long-lasting impact.”

In 2008, Roe demolished former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes’ congressional campaign against Graves by linking her with the “San Francisco values” of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Roe once ordered aides to comb through opponents’ trash, looking for campaign fodder. He hired operatives to track candidates with video cameras, leading some to complain of unnecessary provocation and to file complaints with police.

Roe has long defended such tactics.

“These are not prom-queen elections,” he said in 2007. “Who’s elected, what their values are, all that determines the direction of the nation.”

And those who have worked on those campaigns, and others, insist Roe’s efforts are not out of bounds.

“Jeff Roe is not a villain in somebody’s melodrama,” said Woody Cozad, a lobbyist and former director of the Missouri Republican Party. “Politics in Missouri have been pretty rough from the get-go.”

Yet Roe has had serious run-ins with Republicans as well.

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In 2014, at least two GOP candidates for Missouri governor — Catherine Hanaway and Tom Schweich — tried to hire Axiom for their campaigns. Hanaway won the competition.

In February 2015, Roe drafted and aired a radio ad on Hanaway’s behalf, comparing Schweich with fictional deputy sheriff Barney Fife. A few days later Schweich took his own life.

(Listen to the ad here. it’s pretty creepy.)

Friends say Schweich’s fragile mental state played a major role in that tragedy, and inaccurate claims that Schweich was Jewish concerned the state auditor. But some Schweich associates believe he was particularly worried about Roe — he kept a computer file, friends say, of information he believed damaging to the consultant.

Roe’s radio ad, the friends say, played a part in pushing Schweich over the edge.

“The commercial had no factual basis whatsoever. None. Zero,” Missouri Sen. Mike Parson, a Republican, said at the time. “It speaks volumes as to how far out of hand things have become, to base attacks on someone’s appearance, and to make reference to one being small.”

Former U.S. senator Jack Danforth of Missouri, a Republican, called the ad’s producers bullies, and he has not changed his mind.

In other words, what Cruz did to Carson at the caucuses was bean bag.

The problem for Cruz is not so much what his campaign did as who it did it to.

Ben Carson marches to the beat of his own drummer. That’s what the people who love him love about him. And Carson is beloved by the Republican rank-and-file, most of whom may not vote for him, but who nonetheless treasure and admire him, and are very protective of him.

Carson, like a normal human being and not a candidate for president, wanted to go home to sleep in his own bed and get some fresh clothes, before returning to the campaign trail. Yes, he could buy new clothes, he said, but, he said, that’s not how he operates. The assertion here by U.S. Rep. Steve King, Cruz’s Iowa patron, that Carson should have realized that new clothes cost less than the jet fuel to fly home, misses the point.

My own theory is that when he was packing for his last trip to Iowa, he took his lucky sweater out of his checked bag to put it in his carry-on, got distracted, left it on the bureau, and had to go through the caucuses missing it every day.

He had to go home to retrieve it. You can’t just go out and buy a new lucky sweater.

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In early November, Carson surged into first in national polls, passing Trump.

Trump took care of that with what appeared at the time as a somewhat unhinged tirade against Carson, mocking the mild-mannered Carson’s claim to having tried to stab a friend in his youth, calling Carson “pathological,” and asking, “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

Carson’s campaign never recovered.

To put this in teen movie terms, Carson is the quiet, innocent, pocket-protected nerd, and Trump the Big Man on Campus bully. But, more often than not, in  those high school movies, the bully and the nerd end up reconciled. Enter Cruz, the smart-but-devious debate club/chess club champ, who takes advantage of the nerd, only to find that he is now under the protection of the reformed bully.

It was Trump who raised the question of Cruz doing Carson dirty to a higher level, and for his own purposes, to explain away his second-place finish.

But Carson seized the moment Trump afforded him with unexpected skill. Indeed, I think his mild-in-manner filleting of Cruz was as skillful as Christie’s more bombastic take-down of Rubio.

From Elizabeth Wiliamson, an editorial writer with the New York Times

Mr. Carson declined to “savage” Ted Cruz’s reputation — a reputation that’s been pretty well savaged by Ted Cruz’s own actions. But he did wonder aloud why “members of his team thought so little of me to think I would just walk away ten minutes before the caucus,” when so many volunteers in Iowa had committed their time and efforts to him. He mentioned that one of those volunteers had died. The Cruz team knew exactly what they were doing, he said, and it was a Washington-style trick.

The bombastic Mr. Cruz was visibly cowed. Calling Dr. Carson “a good and honorable man,” Mr. Cruz said that “when this transpired, I apologized to him then and I do so now. Ben, I’m sorry.” Good start, but then he reverted to classic Cruz, blaming CNN for the error, and saying it was hours before his campaign was able to learn the truth.

Mr. Carson pressed for a chance to respond. CNN, he said, had tweeted the accurate story of his trip home within a minute (actually, the reporter appears to have followed up his initial tweet with a clarification two minutes later). Voters, he said, can judge who’s right for themselves. It was a moment that showed, after months of blunders, a quality that helped make Mr. Carson an early frontrunner. And it shows why Ted Cruz has earned a reputation, both in the primary and in the United States Senate, as a politician who will say anything to win.

And, of course, Trump, who spoke last, following Cruz’s closing statement, had the last word.

CRUZ: You know, every candidate running for president says they will stand up to Washington. The natural follow-up question is when have you ever stood up to Washington.

Last week we saw a powerful illustration of that. I campaigned in the state of Iowa four-square against the ethanol mandate, something everyone said was political suicide. My two leading competitors both attacked me for it. The governor of the state said vote for anyone but Cruz, and lobbyists spent millions of dollars in attack ads, but I stood and said we should have no mandates, a level playing field, and the people of Iowa put country and our children above the cronyism and corporate welfare…

(BELL RINGING)

CRUZ: … We can turn this country around if we get back to the Constitution. And, I will always stand with the American people against the bipartisan corruption of Washington.

(APPLAUSE)

MUIR: Thank you. Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: That’s because he got Ben Carson’s votes, by the way …

The debate was followed by Saturday Night Live, which opened with a mock ad in which “Sen. Ted Cruz (Taran Killam) explains how he managed to win the Iowa caucus despite his many off-putting qualities.”

Killam’s impersonation of Cruz isn’t very good. He hasn’t captured Cruz in look, voice or mannerisms. The bit wasn’t particularly funny. But for Cruz, it can’t help.

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