Where once they were compatriots against the GOP establishment, now they sound like litigants on Court TV, as Marco Rubio pointed out.
Fox Business Network’s coverage of the Thursday night GOP debate from Charleston, S.C., had its moments of extensive policy discussion — like on tariffs and taxes. But those were in the last half hour.
What stood out were the exchanges between Cruz and Trump, who as of now are the two most likely candidates to do well in the early states, including a tiff over “New York values” and 9/11. It had nothing to do with who’d actually be a good president, was fraught with contradictions and is just the type of moment that has proven to make these debates such a big ratings draw this cycle.
As the calendar gets closer to actual voting, what was also on display was acrimony, not just between Trump and Cruz, but Cruz and Rubio and Rubio and Chris Christie. Jeb Bush, whose position as the front runner now seems like eons ago, wouldn’t backtrack from once calling Trump unhinged.
They also competed for the bellicose rhetoric, taking on President Obama’s assertions that the dire warnings of ISIS strength and American weakness were overwrought. Here, his “hot air” was met with the picture of the United States in hot water. “We are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall,” Christie said at one point, although it’s likely that Obama will leave on his own volition, or what presidents usually do when their terms expire.
After all that he’s said and done, it’s hard to believe that a debate moment would threaten Trump’s perch atop the national polls, short of him declaring his support for Hillary Clinton should he fail to become the GOP nominee.
New York, New York
Trump has been playing “Born in the USA” at campaign rallies — the implication being that his nearest challenger Cruz has a “birther” problem, as in there are questions about his eligibility to be president because he was not actually born in the United States but in Canada. Cruz’s response has been to identify Trump’s New York-ness, or “New York values.” What are those? “I think most people know exactly what New York values are,” Cruz said, adding that it includes pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, as well as “focus around money and the media.”
Trump responded by talking about 9/11.
“When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” Trump said.
Cruz wasn’t asked a follow-up question, but Trump came away sympathetic, believe it or not.
Cruz excelled when he handled a question about whether he is eligible to be president. Trump says that it’s a question that needs to be resolved. Otherwise, the Democrats will sue if Cruz is the nominee.
Cruz said that Trump was bringing up these questions because “his poll numbers are falling in Iowa,” before pointing out that the facts of the law were clear, citing past candidacies of John McCain and George Romney and calling Trump’s rationale “extreme.” Under those theories, he said, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified because his mother was born in Scotland.
Cruz was right. Trump didn’t seem to care about the issue before Cruz rose in the polls. “Since September the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have,” he said.
Their exchange got sophomoric enough for Rubio to step in and label it Court TV.
Perhaps on no other issue are GOP candidates as diametrically opposed to their Democratic counterparts as when it comes to the gun issue, a divide that Obama acknowledged in his recent speech and CNN town hall on guns. But Obama’s attempts to refute claims that he’s out to take away people’s guns weren’t to be believed.
“I’m convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun in America, he would,” Rubio said.
In contrast to past campaigns, the gun issue may very well be at or near the top in a general election campaign.
Muslims in America
“We can’t be the stupid country anymore,” Trump said when challenged on his plan to temporarily restrict Muslim travel to the United States. The moderators smartly tried to get all the other candidates on record on whether they would do the same, with most singling out Syrian refugees and what they see as a faulty immigration process.
Bush, however, used it as an opportunity to attack Trump.
“Are we going to ban Muslims from India?” he asked, after arguing that his policy would make it impossible to build coalitions to fight ISIS.
Trump claimed once again that even some of his Muslim friends have thanked him for announcing such a policy. Who are they?
The New York Times reported earlier this week that Cruz did not report a $1 million loan from Goldman Sachs, where his wife works, on his 2012 campaign finance report.
Cruz called the story a “hit piece,” before going into a lengthy defense that had shades of Richard Nixon’s 1952 Checkers speech. But he got laughs as he mocked the New York Times and characterized its stories as unfair to him. His proof? A Frank Bruni column that compared him to a character from the movie “It Follows.”