GOP debate 12 was a welcome relief from the Jerry Springer Show-inspired spectacle last week. All four Republican candidates pulled back from the attacks and genital jokes of the eleventh debate and concentrated on policy. The question is, did it change anything? Perhaps not.
Each candidate had a different goal. Trump seemed to be playing a “prevent defense,” trying to hold the lead he has in the big states coming up on Tuesday. Cruz was trying to unify the party behind him, while Rubio returned to giving substantive answers rather than the gutter-type attacks that drove down his support over the past few weeks, and Kasich was trying win his home state of Ohio.
In tone, Donald Trump’s performance was a major change from the previous eleven debates. He acted presidential and didn’t spew the “Ted the liar”- and “little Marco”-type insults that dominated his style in previous debates. Clearly he was trying to unify the party and even spoke to that point in both his introduction and closing remarks. Trump may even have made some of the #NeverTrump people reconsider their stance, unless of course they listened to what he was saying.
There is an old adage in public speaking: If you look like you know what you are talking about, people will believe you. Trump certainly proved that yesterday. Some of his answers gave the distinct impression tha he had little idea of what he was talking about. His answer to almost everything was “We will negotiate better.” When that didn’t work he relied on “waste, fraud, and abuse,” which is the political version of the weather (everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it).
Trump seemed clueless on foreign policy, especially about Cuba, leaving Rubio an opening to make him look foolish. On the other hand, weak answers on the violence at his rallies and about Muslims hating America were low-hanging fruit for the other candidates. But instead of seizing the opportunity, Trump’s opponents allowed him to get away with his answers.
The Florida primary on Tuesday is Marco Rubio’s last hope. If he doesn’t win his home state’s 99 delegates, his very slim chance to stay in the race will be over. Rubio delivered a clear and decisive win, although it’s likely too little, too too late.
Rubio’s best moment during the debate was regarding Cuba, a very important issue in Florida. After Trump gave a weak answer about closing the American embassy in Cuba (we need to negotiate better and don’t want Cuba to sue the U.S.), Rubio responded with a monologue that was sure to please the hometown crowd:
All right, first of all, the embassy is the former consulate. It’s the same building. So it could just go back to being called a consulate. We don’t have to close it that way. Second of all, I don’t know where Cuba is going to use, but if they sue us in a court in Miami, they’re going to lose. Third, on the issue of a good deal, I know what the good deal. I’ll tell you what the good deal now, it’s already codified. Here’s a good deal — Cuba has free elections, Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out, Cuba has freedom of the press, Cuba kicks out the Russians from Lourdes and kicks out the Chinese listening station in Berupal Cuba stops helping North Korea evade U.N. sanctions, Cuba takes all of those fugitives of America justice, including that cop killer from New Jersey, and send her back to the United States and to jail where she belongs. And you know what? Then we can have a relationship with Cuba. That’s a good deal.
Ted Cruz gave good answers on Social Security, trade, and tariffs. He gave specifics on how to fix the economy and deal with taxes. His number one goal was to get all the non-Trump voters to unite behind him, which he alluded to often.
He hit Trump hard on foreign policy especially, for example Trump doesn’t want to cancel the Iran deal. “The answer is not to yell China bad, Muslim bad,” Cruz said at one point. “One concern I have with Donald is although his language is quite incendiary, when you look at his substantive policies on Iran, he has said he would not rip up this Iranian nuclear deal. I think that’s a mistake. The Ayatollah Khomeini wants nuclear weapons to murder us.”
Cruz criticized Trump’s desire to remain neutral in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute based on the war on terror:
I’ll give you another example, dealing with Islamic radical terrorism. On Israel, Donald has said he wants to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians.
As president, I will not be neutral. And let me say this week, a Texan, Taylor Force. He was an Eagle Scout, he was a West Point graduate, he was an Army veteran. He was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist this week in Israel, and I don’t think we need a commander in chief who is neutral between the Palestinian terrorists and one of our strongest allies in the world, the nation of Israel.
He also related Trumps stance to that of Obama and Clinton:
We get billions in intelligence resources, billions in military resources. And the Palestinian Authority that Donald, along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say they want to treat neutrally, the same as Israel. The Palestinian Authority is in a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization.
There was nothing wrong with Kasich’s performance at the debate, but as usual there was nothing very right about it either. His strategy seems to be to hang in there, try avoid make mistakes, and position himself as the “adult in the room.” The problem with that is everyone was acting like an adult last night.
The biggest loser was CNN. Not the questioners who did a great job, but the network itself, which lied by stating the debate was starting at 8:30 p.m., but ran filler until the actual 9 o’clock start time.
If one examined Trump’s answers, he clearly lost the debate. However, in the end it probably will not matter. Trump’s answers really don’t matter, and neither do his scandals. His supporters are not as stupid as many portray them, but they are being led by their passionate hatred of the beltway brand of politics, not the details or Trump’s lack of knowledge.
Cross-posted at The Lid