The national media, mostly located in New York City, might have a propensity to focus on Donald Trump’s response to Ted Cruz about New York values. Trump completely got the better of Cruz. Cruz knew it too. As the camera moved away, there was a sly smile on Cruz’s face, a knowing tell that Cruz knew Trump got the better of him.
But I think people in Iowa, South Carolina, and elsewhere understood when Ted Cruz stared into the camera and said, “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.” It was a subtle play on Trump saying that not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba. Cruz, not attacking Trump, but relying on Trump’s own words and an interview with Tim Russert both plants a seed of doubt and telegraphs a potential future attack. Cruz went with the Club For Growth strategy against Trump, which has thus far been the only successful way to take on Trump. Cruz just quoted Trump’s own words. That was it.
Cruz, out of the gate, drew blood. First, he went after the President over the Iranian situation, answering a question no one asked. It was a strong, strong answer. Then the birther issue finally came up. Cruz handled it deftly. He quoted Donald Trump from September who said it was a non-issue. Trump had said he had lawyers look into it and Cruz was fine. Cruz, with a lot of humor, pointed out the constitution had not changed since then.
For the first time, Donald Trump was defensive. Cruz drew out of Trump that the only reason Trump was making this an issue was because Cruz’s polling had gone up. It was an admission against Trump’s interests.
Cruz got bogged down in the weeds on several occasions. Marco Rubio got the better of Cruz on the value added tax. Cruz’s answer was too wonky and confusing. Rubio was sharp and clear. Other than his unforced error in the New York response, which really was not that big a deal, Cruz showed he is made of steel on the debate stage and will do what it takes to win. It was not all great for Cruz though. Rubio bested him twice.
Trump, however, really had a great night. He got the better of Cruz in the New York exchange, held his own throughout, and just really did well. I was actually impressed with Trump’s performance. He has continued to improve over time. Cruz showed that Trump can be taken on by using Trump’s own words, but Trump also showed a real flexibility on stage.
Trump showed a lot of humor and made every issue simple. His critics will say he just does not have the depth of knowledge to get in the weeds. Any salesman will tell you to keep it simple. It works well for him.
Jeb Bush came across confused and weak. He stumbled a number of times, got Donald Trump’s plane model wrong, could not remember the model of Boeing jet built in South Carolina, and seemed timid. He is just not a good debater. He relied on other people to namecheck him to get in on the action. He was the Admiral Stockdale of this debate: “Who am I and why am I here?”
Marco Rubio shined in just about every answer. Chris Christie got the better of him in their exchange, but on the facts, Rubio was right and Christie was wrong. Rubio had a lot of passion in denouncing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His line that Clinton “disqualified herself” was spot on and his righteous anger about ISIS played well.
Ben Carson ended stronger than he started the debate, but was largely not very memorable. Most of his foreign policy answers were confused.
Chris Christie helped himself. He came across as likable, strong, and on point. John Kasich continues to be angry.
Lastly, toward the end of the debate, Marco Rubio got the better of Ted Cruz. Rubio turned the tables on Cruz, who had shined throughout the entire debate. Rubio held Cruz to his record. He just started pounding and drew blood. He put Cruz on the defensive knowing Cruz would not have time to respond based on how the clock worked. Cruz looked angry and stumbled defensively as the crowd booed.
It was a really impressive moment for Rubio. Really impressive. Twice Rubio got the better of the better debater.
Cruz, Rubio, and Trump had good nights. Everybody else could stay home next time.