Today there will be another Republican debate at 9:00pm ET in Houston, Texas and aired on CNN. It will be the last debate before a slew of contests to be held on Tuesday, March 1 and there is no doubt that Donald Trump hopes to run the table of 12 primaries and three caucuses. Trump leads in the polls everywhere except Texas and Arkansas where Ted Cruz has leads. Texas is the big prize because if Trump can defeat Cruz in his home state, that will be a crushing blow and likely force the latter’s exit from the race.
The party establishment may actually welcome Cruz’s departure, because apart from hating his guts (everybody hates Cruz), they seem to think that having just one candidate opposing Trump (ignoring the campaigns of Ben Carson and John Kasich that are going nowhere) gives them the best chance of stopping him, even as they plan for the eventuality that even this last-ditch strategy will fail.
The Washington Post editorial board, a reliable barometer of establishment views, has come out today with an extraordinary editorial demanding that Trump be somehow stopped and rebuking the Republican party for its failure to do so. If that was not enough as a sign of desperation, we have a Republican congressman circulating a letter for his colleagues to sign imploring Cruz and Rubio to agree to be on a joint ticket for the presidency and vice-presidency so as to stop Trump. This will never happen because each will want the other to step down from the presidential race.
So far, Rubio has carefully avoided attacking Trump and the latter has refrained from attacking him in return. But at some point that détente will come to an end, perhaps at the debate tonight, and when that happens, Rubio will lose badly. It will be a reprise of the Trump-Cruz relationship that was all cozy and friendly until it suddenly turned nasty. Trump now mocks Cruz for being a “soft, weak, little baby”, not to mention “unstable”, a “basket case”, and a “nasty person who lies a lot” (which is true actually) and the crowd loves it.
The Republican party base clearly seeks an authoritarian leader and they gravitate towards those who exude toughness and winning and Trump boasts of both. You can bet that Trump will similarly mock Rubio’s youth and inexperience and lack of accomplishments. All Trump will have to do is ask Rubio to name a single accomplishment he has to his name and Rubio will flounder because he really has none and anything he says will be mocked, while Trump can point to the primaries he has won, the things he has built, the deals he has made, and the money he has amassed. These may demonstrate nothing about his ability to be president but who cares? They are concrete (in the case of buildings, literally as well as figuratively) and make for good debating points, which is what this campaign is all about.
Trump can also ridicule Rubio for the fact that he has demonstrated himself to be a highly scripted robot who, while able to speak quickly and fluently, cannot think for himself. Trump himself speaks at length without notes or a teleprompter and although he does have the basics of a stump speech, he never gives the same speech twice. He apparently varies it a lot, sensing the mood of the crowd and changing things as necessary.
Maybe the Republican party will once again stack the debate audience with people who are against Trump and will boo him. But that does not seem to faze him and he even turns that to his advantage by using it to denigrate the party establishment. Why the party thinks that Rubio will fare better than their other fallen standard bearers is a mystery. Perhaps they have no choice if he is the last one standing. But Trump currently has a huge 44-28% lead over Rubio in his home state of Florida.
Even Stephen Colbert cannot believe that the party establishment is betting on Rubio to save them.