Yesterday, I heard some pundit on TV say that Rubio and Cruz, having insulted Trump in their stump speeches, would come in last night and elevate themselves in a statesmen-like discussion of policy issues.
Yeah, right, I thought. I was correct:
“Gentleman, gentleman, you’ve got to do better than this,” Chris Wallace implored the candidates after one particularly nasty bout of infighting.
The first half hour of Thursday’s debate was a complete fiasco, marred by insults and shouting over each other.
It will be remembered as the first time a candidate has alluded to his genitals in a presidential debate.
The focus group headed by Republican pollster Frank Luntz described the proceedings as “embarrassing,” “childish,” “sophomoric” and “disgusting.” A former aide to Rick Perry’s presidential campaign tweeted that his party was “committing suicide on national television.”
The debate largely leveled off after the opening, but it was indicative of the state of the GOP race as a whole.
In the end, nothing changed. I am pretty sure of that. And here is why.
Neither Rubio nor Cruz understand HOW to attack Trump.
To attack Trump effectively, you have to understand why people are drawn to him in the first place. Cruz kept attacking Trump as not being a real conservative. Note to Cruz: that’s not why people are drawn to Trump. Trump “tells it like it is”; he’s angry; he’s anti-politician — that is his appeal and it appeals to conservatives, moderates, and even some Democrats. It’s a cross-ideological appeal to emotion and frustration.[UPDATE: Further proof that Trump isn’t trying to run as a conservative came today when he pulled out of CPAC. Why? He doesn’t need them, and in fact, he might have gotten booed]
So the better attack is what Rubio is doing — to say that Trump is a con artist. Or that he just says things but doesn’t think them through. And Rubio would hit Trump on those things last night, but he could never get the knockout blow in, because Cruz would come in and do his “conservative” schtick and/or Kasich would come in and mute the whole thing with his “I’m the adult” posture.
And so Trump lives another day.
The entire debate last night was embarrassing, not just for the GOP, but for America. Remember when Gore debated Bush? Gore sighed loudly and repeatedly in frustration as then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush would make points. The sighs made Gore appear condescending. We’ve come a long way since then, as apparently being a condescending asshole on the debate stage is the only thing that qualifies a person to be president.
Trump has an obvious problem that should be easy to exploit. On the one hand, he is a determined and confident person about what his presidency will do. We WILL build that wall, and so on. On the other hand, he admitted last night to a certain flexibility which has in the past caused him to change his views. And that, I believe, is his Achilles’ heel. Don’t JUST call him a con artist. Call him unpredictable. Call him a loose cannon. Call him unstable. Recognize that the man has a serious personality problem.
Or don’t. It is probably too late. You’re not going to change the minds of those who have already drunk the KoolAid.
On the other hand, the primaries are moving to the midwest, where even the uneducated are more educated. Maybe they will see a walking disaster. But I don’t think last night moved the ball much.
The best tweet of the night was this:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 4, 2016
Hillary’s people know how to use social media.
P.S. Props to Marco Rubio for making a yoga joke on his feet (i.e., it was a pre-planned joke)
P.P.S As moderators go, last night’s Fox debate was the best. They were prepared and that actually cross-examined the candidates, especially Trump. It was the closest to what was in The Newsroom than I have ever seen.