The debate last night was as expected a slugfest between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, with Ben Carson and John Kasich largely bystanders. It looked like Cruz and Rubio had decided to join forces and attack Trump rather than each other (maybe they met in a closet before the debate to plan their strategy) and they did manage to land some blows on him. This report from the Guardian suggests that Trump stumbled but similar instant judgments have proved in the past to be not good predictors of his fortunes.
Whether the debate will salvage the chances of Cruz and Rubio and change the dynamic of the race before the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1 is doubtful. By this time, I suspect that people who are paying attention to the nomination race have had their opinions cemented and it will become harder and harder to change them, requiring some major upheaval. A new Bloomberg poll of the so-called SEC states in the Bible-belt of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, all of whom vote on Tuesday, showed Trump with a solid lead.
During the debate Trump, Rubio, and Cruz exchanged a lot of insults and the quality of some of the exchanges can be seen in this clip where the exchanges were downright silly, though entertaining
Trump called Rubio a “choke artist” (I first heard it as “joke artist”) and Cruz a “liar” and a “basket case” who has not a single friend in the US Senate where he works and none of whom have endorsed him. And to back up that claim, senator Lindsey Graham gave a speech around the same time where he said that, “If you kill Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial is at the Senate, no one will convict you.” Mind you, Graham is talking about a member of his own party in a body where the rules of decorum require people to speak politely and address each other as ‘honorable’ even when they hate each other’s guts.
As expected, the audience seemed hostile to Trump and in favor of Rubio, suggesting that the Republican party had stacked it, but Trump was unfazed and fed off their dislike and whenever they signaled disagreement with what he said, he smiled and said they were all lobbyists. Trump also strongly defended Planned Parenthood for providing important health services to women even though he opposes their abortion work. He also said that he would not let people die in the streets for want of health care, something that Ted Cruz is eager to do. Trump also emphasized the need to be more even-handed on the Israel-Palestinian issue if you wanted to negotiate a peace while Rubio boasted about his slavish devotion to Israel and described Palestinians as murderous brutes.
I thought the moderators did not give nearly enough time to Ben Carson or John Kasich though the latter fared a little better than the former. It is true that the debate format that allowed someone time to respond whenever another speaker invoked their name meant that the top three, who were attacking each other, got to have many back-and-forth exchanges. This resulted in Carson at one point plaintively bleating, “Will someone please insult me?” which got a big laugh. Even when the moderators asked these two a direct question, one got the impression that they were going through the motions, with no interest in the answer or any follow-up, like a parent trying to reassure a less-favored child that they were being given equal attention.
Here are some exchanges. Please note while watching that these three people are vying to be president.
Here is a great clip that captured the essence of the night.