Coasting past the Malachi Crunch. On the Houston debate.

Good morning Austin:

Oh man.

What a mess, though maybe unavoidable if Trump is to be kept from taking over the Republican Party

I’m only sorry that former President George H.W. Bush had to see that.

The former president and his wife, Barbara, were in the audience at last night’s debate at the University of Houston in their hometown.

It had to be bittersweet to begin with because of the absence of their son, Jeb, who dropped out of the race after Saturday’s loss in South Carolina. But, by the time it was over, they were probably relieved he wasn’t in the middle of this any more.

After last night’s debate, Dr. Ben Carson complained that it was World Wrestling Federation.

“It was reminiscent of the old wrestling Malachi Crunch,” said Chris Cuomo on CNN.

What’s that?

Here’s the definition from the Urban Dictionary:

1. Demolition Derby maneuver in which two contestants working in tandem crash into an opponent simultaneously from opposite sides, thereby creating the effect of a trash compactor. Coined in an episode of Happy Days, when the Malachi Brothers execute this maneuver on Pinky Tuscadero’s car at the climax of the demolition derby. Pinky survived.

2. Any wanton attack that involves a two-pronged blitzkrieg by equal forces, converging on an incapacitated target.

3. Lascivious maneuver in which a female with ample bosom attacks a passed-out concert-goer with said bosoms, placed on either side of said concert-goers head, and subsequently crushing that head.

OK. Well, let’s put aside definition 3 and concentrate on 1 and 2.

Ted Cruz, but especially, Marco Rubio, came loaded for bear Thursday. Flanking Trump, they mounted by far the most withering, sustained assault on Trump of any debate.

“Cruz and Rubio worked together to bring down the 800-pound gorilla,” said Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who was in the spin room for Rubio after the debate. But, while Villalba believes that the performance will catapult Rubio past Trump and toward a strong second-place finish in Texas, I am not so sure.

My guess is that Rubio still places third in Texas, behind Cruz in first and Trump in second, and that his performance last night is akin to what Chris Christie did to him at the Manchester, N.H., debate, damaging Trump’s standing while ultimately undermining his own long-term prospects.

He, like Cruz, needs a two-person race with Trump. Each needs the other out of the race, and as soon as possible, to demonstrate that they can win, one-on-one against Trump.

The best thing that could happen for Rubio is for Super Tuesday to establish him as Trump’s most formidable opponent. The absolute best thing would be to knock Ted Cruz out of the race. For that happens, he needs Cruz to lose in Texas. But, if anything, last night’s debate, by tarnishing Trump,improved Cruz’s prospects of winning Texas, even if it might also improve Rubio’s finish. But, if Cruz wins Texas, there is almost no chance of his leaving the race anytime soon.

TRUMP: Here’s a guy — here’s a guy that buys a house for $179,000, he sells it to a lobbyist who’s probably here for $380,000 and then legislation is passed. You tell me about this guy. This is what we’re going to have as president.

RUBIO: Here’s a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?

TRUMP: No, no, no.

RUBIO: Selling watches in Manhattan.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: (Inaudible) I took…

RUBIO: That’s where he would be.

TRUMP: That is so wrong. We’ll work on that. I took $1 million and I turned into $10 billion.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 5.53.59 AM

RUBIO: Oh, OK. One million.

TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million…

RUBIO: Better release your tax returns so we can see how much money he made.

TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million, I turned it into $10 billion…

RUBIO: Oh, he doesn’t make that money.

TRUMP: … more than $10 billion.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 5.46.30 AM

From David Farenthold and David Weigel in the Washington Post.

In the 10th Republican debate, Donald Trump was finally treated like a front-runner: He was relentlessly attacked, sometimes on the same personal terms that Trump has hurled at others.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) sought to turn Trump’s biggest strength — his business record — into a weakness, casting him as a shady actor who peddled a “fake” university and used undocumented immigrants on a major project.

“If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be? Selling watches in Manhattan,” Rubio said at one point. He began and ended the debate with veiled jabs at the way the reality TV star has changed this race: “The silliness. This looniness!” Rubio said in his closing statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) criticized Trump for his changes of position on political issues, and at one point even seemed to intimate he needed medication to stay calm.

“Donald, you can get back on your meds now,” Cruz said at one point. “You can relax.”

Trump responded with equally personal attacks on the two senators, deriding Rubio as someone who was easily rattled and Cruz as a friendless outcast in the Senate, who used dirty tactics on the campaign trail.

“This guy’s a choke artist,” he said, meaning Rubio. “And this guy’s a liar,” he said, meaning Cruz.

This debate, held in Houston and broadcast on CNN, was the last chance for Rubio and Cruz to undermine Trump before the vital Super Tuesday primaries next week. And in battling Trump, the two were battling each other: Each wanted to show GOP donors that he was the strongest opponent for Trump and cause a consolidation that would force the other man out.

And, from Alexander Burns in the New York Times:

It was the messiest and most confrontational debate of the Republican presidential primary, repeatedly descending into free-for-alls of cross talk and name-calling.

And for Donald J. Trump’s opponents, it may have been the best debate of the race.

With the Super Tuesday primaries next week, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida finally laced into Mr. Trump, battering him for his business deals, his thin knowledge of policy and what they characterized as his political opportunism.

The debate revealed the acute urgency each candidate now feels in making his case, and captured how Mr. Trump’s opponents are approaching what may be their last really good chance to slow his political momentum.

We haven’t hit bottom yet

Even by the standards of 2016, this was a nasty debate. Mr. Trump has set the standard for personal vitriol in the campaign, and he lived up to it in Houston, mocking Mr. Rubio as a clumsy “choke artist” and once again calling Mr. Cruz a liar to his face.

But for once, Mr. Trump’s opponents reciprocated — especially Mr. Rubio. The Florida senator caricatured Mr. Trump as a dunce on policy who repeats five canned lines over and over, and said that Mr. Trump would have amounted to little without inheriting a fortune from his father.

Should the race ever narrow to just Mr. Trump and either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Cruz, it could showcase a level of raw political violence unlike any recent presidential primary campaign.

“This was a pitiful display of political discourse,” said David Gregory on  CNN.

“I love you brother but your big brain is getting in the way,” said Cuomo.

“Marco Rubio brought the heat. I’m not sure he’s the beneficiary of anything he did last night,” said Michael Smerconish. “I think he was doing Ted Cruz’s dirty work.”

Bright and early today Rubio was on Today.

There is no way we are going to let a con artist take over the conservative movement and Donald Trump is a con artist. His target audience are working people who are really struggling  in this economy but he has spent a career sticking it to working Americans.

We are not going to turn the conservative movement over to a con artist.

Trump, meanwhile, may have taken it on the chin, but after the debate, he didn’t sound beaten up or defeated.

“I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the debating  process,” he said. And, he said, pointing to his big lead in the polls, his job is “to coast and head to the clubhouse.”

It may prove a very sound strategy.

From Bloomberg Politics:

Donald Trump holds a substantial lead in the southern region where Republican voters have their say on March 1, displaying remarkable strength for a twice-divorced New Yorker in Bible Belt states home to some of the nation’s most conservative voters.

An online Bloomberg Politics poll shows the billionaire is backed by 37 percent of likely Republican presidential primary voters in the seven states surveyed, while Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are tied at 20 percent.

Trump beats both Rubio and Cruz in hypothetical, one-on-one matchups in the region, weakening the argument that the front-runner’s march toward the nomination would be slowed if it were only a two-man race.

 

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