At the CNN GOP debate in Houston, five candidates remained, but only the central trio mattered. The Republican side of the presidential race has come down to a three-man battle, and this debate was all about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio trying — almost too late — to stop some of Donald Trump‘s momentum. Trump knew the evening would be different than the other debates, and his expression in this photo set the stage.
CNN’s announcer phrased the evening’s theme as “an epic battle for the soul of the Republican party,” which could be the most accurate description anyone could make. On Super Tuesday, we’ll receive an indication of whether Rubio and Cruz’s joint attack arrived on time. The GOP has allowed Trump’s campaign to continue unchecked for months under the assumption that he’d eventually burn out or quit the race. That hasn’t happened, and sh*t is getting real, for Trump has an honest-to-god shot at the GOP nomination.
The GOP touched upon many issues, including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, ISIS (in relation to the Apple-FBI issue), healthcare, and world trade. At least an hour — from various sections of the debate — focused on immigration, which we’ll get to soon. First, let’s talk about conflicts or, in one case, a lack thereof. Here’s Ben Carson begging, “Can somebody please attack me?” This is the new “please clap,” which was the beginning of the end for Jeb Bush. Carson’s almost gone, as well.
The attacks that did happen were plentiful. The biggest take from Rubio and Cruz both hopping on Trump is that Trump didn’t have a chance to attack back too much. Instead, he was forced to talk policy, which revealed that Trump doesn’t have much of a policy beyond “the wall” and “making America great again.” A series of questions revealed how Trump’s tax forms will remain undisclosed for awhile. Both Cruz and Rubio say their forms will go public in the next few days. Trump won’t release his because he’s being audited.
Trump confused himself elsewhere, including when he underscored his desire for a “dynamic economy.” Wolf Blitzer tried to get Trump to explain how he’d pay for his proposed tax cuts (in the billions), but Trump couldn’t deliver any solid data. He simply said he’d eliminate the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump also vowed to take out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Further, “we will cut so much, your head will spin.” How will the country manage to do so? Trump can’t elaborate.
More contradictions arrived. Trump stressed how Planned Parenthood has provided wonderful services for millions of women, but he also said he’d defund Planned Parenthood. Trump resolved to never let anyone die on the street for lack of medical attention, but beyond that, he can’t detail how he’d handle healthcare. The same goes for foreign policy and Trump’s claims that “there is nobody on this stage that has done more for Israel than I have.” Trump claims that his skills as a “negotiator” will solve every issue on both the domestic and international levels. Well, his opponents think otherwise.
Marco Rubio vs. Donald Trump
Rubio logged some rehearsal time since his robotic ways revealed themselves in a disastrous New Hampshire performance. He repeatedly smacked at Trump throughout this debate and brought up “Trump University,” which no other candidate has dared to discuss. Trump is currently entrenched within fraud lawsuits over this matter, and Rubio said, “There are people that borrow $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they’re suing him now. And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump.” Trump fumbled a reply: “I’ve won most of the lawsuits.”
Rubio then took up Trump’s tendency to hire illegal immigrants. The New York Times recently published a feature about how Trump turns away American applicants in favor of cheaper foreign labor. Rubio tied this issue to “the wall” and other Trump holdings: “If he builds the wall the same way he built Trump Tower, he’ll be using illegal immigrants to do it.” Rubio continued with the Trump Tower example: “You lied about the Polish workers … Google ‘Donald Trump Polish workers,’ you’ll see it.” Trump uttered a “Yeah, yeah, yeah, 38 years ago.” To which Rubio replied, “Oh, he lied 38 years ago. I guess there’s a statute of limitation on lies.”
On a few occasions, Trump attempted to obliterate Rubio by mentioning Chris Christie’s prior takedown: “I watched [Marco] melt down and it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.” Rubio didn’t take the bait. He continued to hammer at Trump.
Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump
Ted Cruz was persistent in his attacks, but he wasn’t as successful as Rubio. Cruz made the case that Trump is too “malleable,” and Cruz outlined the many times Trump has donated to Democratic campaigns. Cruz also implied Trump is fraudulent (including with his taxes), and Trump paid Cruz back with a series of slams. Trump was brutal: “You don’t have one Republican senator backing you. You should be ashamed of yourself.” And Trump mentioned their Texas tie while saying, “It’s embarrassing to say I’m beating him that badly.” After Cruz said Trump could never beat Hillary Clinton, Trump replied, “If I can’t beat her, you’re really gonna get killed, aren’t you?” Cruz failed to come back and, as a result, made himself look weak. Yet the larger score is how Cruz helped expose Trump’s lack of a defined platform.
Did The Dual Ambush Damage Trump In Any Way?
Again, it may be too late for either Rubio or Cruz to take Trump down before Super Tuesday. Both men dealt significant blows with Rubio coming out as the most rabid candidate of the bunch. In response, Trump called Rubio “a choke artist” and Cruz “a liar.”
Between the three main players, they decided not to respect Wolf Blitzer’s attempts at order. At one point, the closed-captioning could no longer straighten out this mess. This “unintelligible yelling” label sounds about right.
Immigration Stood As The Biggest Issue Of The Night
This issue nabbed a huge portion of CNN’s airtime with Marco Rubio claiming at one point, “We have a party of diversity, not the Democratic party.” Rubio’s claims were tied to the presence of two Cuban-Americans and one African-American on the debate stage, but most of the candidates expressed strong anti-immigration stances.
Much of this subject overlapped with the above attacks, but Trump spent a great deal of time discussing how important “the wall” is. He doesn’t want a Canadian wall even though many threats enter that border. Nope, Trump is all about keeping Mexico and those pesky drugs away from America. Trump also took the opportunity to complain about former Mexican President Vicente Fox‘s statement that Mexico wouldn’t pay for “the f*cking wall.” Trump whined about the “filthy, disgusting word … and he should apologize.” He also kept bragging about the wall growing taller.
On the subject of amnesty, Trump said he’d let the “good ones” back in while Rubio stressed securing borders and brought the discussion back to how Trump hires illegal workers. Likewise, Cruz called out Trump because he “funded the Gang of Eight,” and a “federal court found Donald guilty of an illegal conspiracy.” Rubio added, “Anyone who cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be hiring illegal immigrants.”
Rubio detailed his plan to stop allowing those entering illegally (as toddlers) to stay in the country. Rubio was sympathetic to these people’s plights, but he’s sticking with strict constitutionalism, and he says this executive order (like all of them) should be struck down. Similarly, Cruz promised to round up and deport anyone who’s illegally in the country. The holdout on immigration was John Kasich, who said he wouldn’t approve of tearing apart families and tried to switch the subject to “economic growth.” All night long, Kasich had a problem staying on topic, but he succeeded in pointing out how he’s the only one with governing experience. Very true, but it won’t be enough to save him.
This will probably be the last GOP debate with all five of these candidates in one place. Carson (who made a bizarre comment about “looking at the fruit salad” of any Supreme Court nominee’s life) will likely drop out after Super Tuesday, and Kasich may hang on for a bit longer, but not by much.