Mister One on One
Super Tuesday ended up not being quite so super for anyone in the GOP primary. Donald Trump was supposed to break out and put the race away, and instead lost 4 states, won 3 more by narrow margins, and looked very much like like a beatable frontrunner, including a 17-point thumping in the biggest state in play. Ted Cruz saw his “SEC firewall” melt, finished third with fewer votes than Marco Rubio across the South, and faces a long march into far unfriendlier territory. Rubio narrowly lost Virginia after staking much of his Super Tuesday campaign on staging yet another of his furious late comebacks there, got clobbered in the delegate race even in states where he got a lot of votes, and generally continued his pattern of closing well without quite putting away his opponents. John Kasich lost his shot at his first primary win, losing Vermont by 2.3 points, and finished dead last behind Ben Carson in 7 out of 11 states. And Carson, despite finally cracking the elusive 10% barrier in two states, won delegates only in Virginia and was finally compelled to conclude he must drop out.
Let’s take a look at the lessons of Super Tuesday, as well as what they tell us about the GOP’s best choice for consolidating behind a single anti-Trump candidate, which now seems as if it will not happen until after Armageddon Tuesday on March 15. I continue to believe, for reasons both quantifiable and unquantifiable, that Marco Rubio is the best man for the job.
Marcomentum, Big Texas and the Anti-Trump Turnout Boom
All the talk heading into Super Tuesday was about Donald Trump’s “ceiling”: would he remain stuck at about a third of the vote, as he was in the first three states, or would he start cracking the 40% thresholds that signalled a “jailbreak” of follow-the-frontrunner voters to Trump?
Trump did manage to hit full jailbreak status in two states, Massachusetts (49%) and Alabama (43.4%), and perhaps more distressing to the anti-Trump forces, got close in two other states whose politics are less of a one-party cesspool, Tennessee (38.9%) and Georgia (38.8%). But his overall share of the vote was 34%; in five states he fell below a third of the vote (Arkansas, Vermont, Oklahoma, Texas and Minnesota), in the last three of those below 30%. Of his seven wins, three were by fairly close margins of victory:
Virginia: 34.7% to Rubio’s 31.9%, a margin of 28,918 votes. John Kasich, who finished fourth, drew 96,519 votes in Virginia (9.4%), and Ben Carson, who finished fifth, got 60,093 (5.9%); it’s not hard to see that the minor candidates made the difference, especially Kasich, whose appeal is so different than Trump’s (Kasich is pitching to voters who are both ideologically and temperamentally moderate, while many of Trump’s voters are the former but few are the latter).
Arkansas: 32.8% to Cruz’s 30.5, a margin of just 9,271 votes. Carson, who finished fourth, got 23,173 votes (5.7%), while Kasich got 15,098 (3.7%). Again, even before you discuss the Rubio/Cruz divide, it’s clear that the minor candidates were a drag on the anti-Trump movement.
Vermont: 32.7% to Kasich’s 30.4%, a margin of 1,424 votes. Carson, who finished fifth, got more than that – 2,544 (4.2%).
So on top of the four states where he was beaten, including a 17-point loss to Cruz in Texas and a 15-point loss to Rubio in Minnesota, Trump has hardly put this race away. If you could combine the Rubio and Kasich votes and the Cruz and Carson votes, Super Tuesday would have looked like this:
Texas: Cruz 47.9%, Trump 26.7%, Rubio 22.0%
Oklahoma: Cruz 40.6%, Rubio 29.6%, Trump 28.3%
Arkansas: Cruz 36.2%, Trump 32.8%, Rubio 28.6%
Alaska: Cruz 47.3%, Trump 33.5%, Rubio 19.2%
Virginia: Rubio 41.3%, Trump 34.7%, Cruz 22.8%
Minnesota: Rubio 42.4%, Cruz 36.3%, Trump 21.3%
Vermont: Rubio 49.7%, Trump 32.7%, Cruz 13.9%
Georgia: Trump 38.8%, Rubio 30.0%, Cruz 29.8%
Tennessee: Trump 38.9%, Cruz 32.3%, Rubio 26.5%
Alabama: Trump 43.4%, Cruz 31.3%, Rubio 26.5%
Massachusetts: Trump 49.3%, Rubio 35.9%, Cruz 12.2%
If we had those results, all the talk Wednesday morning would have been about a Trump collapse. Now, obviously you can’t just allocate the minor candidates’ support like that going forward – some will go unpredictably between Rubio and Cruz, some to Trump, and – this is important to remember – some will just stay home, because they were just personally loyal to Ben Carson or because Kasich is selling a pure-moderation message that none of the other candidates are selling. It is probably the case, for example, that a good number of Kasich’s New England open-primary independent supporters would just not have voted in the Republican primary if the choices were Trump, Cruz or Rubio; a significantly higher percentage would probably have skipped it if the choices were just Trump and Cruz, given how many Kasich-style moderates regard both of them with roughly equal horror. But as Sean Trende has demonstrated with a deep dive into the exit polls I won’t rehash here, the demographic profiles of Kasich and Rubio supporters in this race are pretty closely aligned, as are the demographic profiles of Cruz and Carson supporters. Leon made the same point this morning in sketching out what Cruz would need to do in order to be the anti-Trump candidate.
Also, for all the talk about Trump driving the record-breaking turnout we’ve seen in state after state so far – Vermont and New Hampshire are the only states where turnout wasn’t up at least 20% from 2012 – there is another side to the story: in the 11 Super Tuesday states, even if you don’t count a single vote for Trump, turnout was 119.1% of 2012 turnout in those states (thus, up 19.1%); across all 15 states to vote so far, the figure is 113.3%. That’s partly due to a turnout boom for favorite son Cruz in Texas (up 43.1% without Trump voters) and significantly due to having a contested election in Virginia, where Mitt Romney’s opponents failed to make the ballot in 2012 (up 151.9%). But anti-Trump – or at least non-Trump – turnout has been greater by itself than 2012 turnout in six other states as well: Iowa (+16.4%), Nevada (+22.9%), Oklahoma (+15.1%), Arkansas (+79.4%), Minnesota (+81.5%) and Alaska (+10.6%). Whether those are voters coming out because they want to stop Trump or because they are excited by his opponents, that’s great news for the GOP’s chances of surviving Trump’s attempt at a hostile takeover.
Another sign that Trump can be taken – but that time is starting to run short – is that yet again, he fared relatively poorly among late-deciding voters. On the other hand, he did not do as poorly with late deciders as he did in Iowa or South Carolina, and he actually won them in Massachusetts and Alabama, as he had in New Hampshire), leading to his jailbreak wins there. Rubio, meanwhile, remains easily the best closer in the bunch: he’s now won late-deciding voters 7 times, winning them by double-digit margins in Nevada and Virginia and beating Trump by double-digit margins in Iowa, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Cruz won late deciders in Texas and Tennessee, Kasich in Vermont:
Note that we don’t have entrance/exit polling for Rubio’s win in Minnesota or Cruz’s in Alaska, both caucus states.
The late charge accounts for Rubio’s fairly persistent overperformance of his polls:
Rubio outperformed his RCP average in Minnesota (14 points), in Virginia (10 points), in Oklahoma (5 points), in Arkansas (2 points), in Vermont (2 points), in Tennessee (2 points), and in Georgia (1.5 points).
That’s reason to be optimistic about Rubio going forward as the standard-bearer of the anti-Trump faction, but it’s also worrisome how far ahead Trump has been with the two-thirds or so of the electorate in each state that decided their votes more than a week in advance (Cruz in Texas is the only candidate besides Trump to win early deciders, and the massive size of his lead with them suggests that perhaps Rubio would have been wiser not to bother contesting Texas, where he got over half a million votes and 4 delegates).
The good news for Rubio is that yet again, he proved the breadth of his appeal across the map. He continues to be the only candidate besides Trump who is running a 50-state campaign. With all the votes counted aside from a few very late precincts in Arkansas and Minnesota, we can see that outside of Cruz’s home state of Texas, Rubio got 114,000 more Super Tuesday votes than Cruz did – 1,373,308 votes at last count (24.0%) to Cruz’s 1.258,940 (22.0%). That’s swamped by Cruz’s big showing in his home state, where he got nearly as many votes (1,239,158) as Trump and Rubio combined (1,259,669), such that if Trump ends up with the nomination, Texas Republicans may be printing “Don’t Blame Me, I’m From Texas” bumper stickers, and justifiably so. But it underlines the extent to which Ted Cruz depends on a particular type of voter that may be harder and harder to find in the states ahead of him than the states behind. Texas really is different.
Let’s break down the voting so far by region, grouping states that may have something politically in common. The largest region to vote so far is the South, the states below DC and east of Texas: Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. This region is now pretty far into being done voting; Louisiana votes March 5, Mississippi and Kentucky on March 8, Florida, North Carolina, and Missouri March 15, and only one culturally quasi-South state left after Armageddon Tuesday: West Virginia May 10.
Then we have the Southwest, of which Texas and Oklahoma voted on Tuesday; Arizona votes March 22, New Mexico on June 7 at the very end.
New England is three states in – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont – with Maine voting March 5 and Rhode Island April 26.
Two Upper Midwest states have voted, Iowa and Minnesota, both caucus states; Wisconsin votes April 5.
Two states in the West have voted, Nevada and Alaska, both caucus states; Hawaii votes March 8, Oregon May 17, Washington May 27, and California June 7.
The other regions aren’t in play yet:
The Great Plains states start March 5 in Kansas, followed by North Dakota on April 1, Nebraska May 10, and South Dakota June 7.
The Atlantic Northeast states, DC on March 12 and then New York April 19, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware April 26.
The Mountain states were supposed to begin Super Tuesday, but Colorado cancelled its voting and Wyoming pushed back its delegate selection to March 12; Idaho kicks off March 8 followed at long intervals by Utah March 22 and Montana June 7.
The territories start March 6 in Puerto Rico, and the others (all small) vote between March 12-19.
And of course the Midwest, which begins with Michigan March 8, Illinois and Ohio march 15, Indiana May 3. Along with the Northeast, California and Florida, the Midwest is highly likely to decide the nomination.
So how have the candidates fared in these regions?
Cruz’s entire popular vote lead over Rubio consists of his margin in Texas. He has cleaned up two states in the Southwest, but Arizona is the only big delegate prize left there, and Rubio just snagged the endorsement of New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez.
If you had told me a few months ago that Rubio would get nearly 100,000 more votes than Cruz in the South, I’d have been sure that we’d be talking today about the Cruz campaign in the past tense. Rubio finished well ahead of Cruz in Virginia, and beat him very narrowly in South Carolina and Georgia. That was largely due to Trump eating into what was supposed to be Cruz’s voters, killing Cruz’s plan for an early knockout blow. Of course, this primary season has laid waste to a lot of plans (both Cruz and Rubio at various times floated the idea of South Carolina being a critical early win), and here we are. The March 5-15 states left in the South will likely go a very long way towards determining which of Rubio or Cruz stays in this race to the end.
Cruz also pulled just slightly ahead of Rubio in the Upper Midwest, by 59 votes pending the final vote tally in Minnesota, so that’s more or less a wash. We have not yet had a primary in the Upper Midwest, although Wisconsin is more similar to Minnesota than to Iowa, and the last two Marquette polls had Rubio running a little ahead of Cruz but Trump starting to widen his lead.
On the other hand, boding poorly for Cruz’s ability to go national, he has been a complete non-factor in the New England states, whereas Kasich – who has finished behind Ben Carson in 9 of the 12 states outside New England – has won just 5.3% of the vote outside those states and 3.3% in the Upper Midwest despite being the most Midwestern guy in the field.
The West is the hardest to figure, since we have two small, oddball caucuses to work with, one of which (Nevada) was dominated by the fact that Trump owns a huge Vegas casino and is one of the state’s most prominent employers.
The geographic case for Rubio is simply that he’s the only guy besides Trump who doesn’t have to write off any regions. The downside of that, so far, is that in a divided field he’s been stretched thin in ways that don’t help him accumulate delegates; in South Carolina, Texas and Alabama he got a combined 827,633 votes (22.3%, 17.7% and 18.6%) and got a grand total of 5 delegates to show for it, because South Carolina was winner-take-all and Texas and Alabama had 20% minimum thresholds for getting any statewide proportional delegates. Rubio got more actual votes in Georgia than Cruz, but lost the delegate race to him there, 18-14. He could face the same situation in Louisiana, if the early polling is suggestive (it may not be).
Demographics and Ideology
Let’s return to a point I made in the wake of South Carolina: Ted Cruz’s success in the early states has been really, really, really dependent on (1) Evangelical Christian voters and (2) self-described “Very Conservative” voters. And neither of these groups is likely to be anywhere as prevalent once we get past March 5.
Here’s a weighted average (by the size of each state’s vote) of what the exit polls show us about Cruz’s dependence on Evangelicals, highlighting in the third column the % of each state’s voters who were Evangelical in the exit poll samples (again, we have no exits for Minnesota or Alaska):
That looks pretty lopsided – Cruz runs about even with Trump with about a third of Evangelical Christians, with Rubio drawing a little under 20% and Kasich a rounding error. Among non-Evangelicals, however, Rubio runs six points ahead of Cruz, who drops to a little over half of Trump’s vote, and Kasich draws the difference between Rubio and Trump.
But wait! You will notice that there was one very large group of non-Evangelicals Cruz did manage to do well with: Texans, who gave their hometown hero 31%. (I should note that even if he doesn’t win the nomination, Cruz’s powerful showing in the Texas primary should deter anyone from challenging him in 2018 on the theory that Texans might have soured on him). If you look at the 12 states outside Texas where we have exit polls, Cruz only cracks 20% of the vote in one of them (Alabama – which among the 9 states where the exit poll question has been asked so far, is the only one where more voters would prefer deporting illegal immigrants to ‘amnesty’).
While Cruz supporters may object to separating out Texas, the simple fact is that the pattern is really consistent outside Texas, and Texas only votes once. In the rest of the states, he barely runs ahead of Kasich with non-Evangelical voters, and runs more than 10 points behind Rubio, while Rubio runs only 4 points behind Cruz with Evangelicals. Plus, he does even worse with non-Evangelicals in non-Southern states, even border-South states like Virginia. Cruz simply has not solved this problem, and given Trump’s strength outside of the Evangelical vote, it would seem rather risky to pick Cruz as the chief vessel for the anti-Trump vote headed into a whole bunch of states where his core voting bloc is a lot smaller part of the electorate (sort of like how Bernie Sanders ran into a completely predictable buzzsaw when he got out of states with an overwhelming number of white liberals):
If you’re wondering, those numbers probably do understate the Evangelical vote a bit – comparing the projections I drew on for my last post to actual results:
That’s good news for Cruz, but it may not be enough – massive Evangelical turnout helped him pull away from Rubio in Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas, but still didn’t carry him to victory against Trump.
Then there’s the ideological splits, with Texas:
…and without Texas:
It’s the same pattern: Cruz did vastly better with “Somewhat Conservative” and Moderate voters in Texas than in the other 12 states, and when you back out Texas, you see that Ted Cruz voters are from Mars, John Kasich voters are from Venus…and Rubio occupies the sweet spot in the middle (a nicely habitable planet), beating Kasich with the moderates (where Cruz is in single digits), getting about half of Cruz’s vote with the Very Conservative voters (where Kasich is roadkill), and getting more of the largest group – the Somewhat Conservative voters – than Cruz and Kasich combined. And outside Cruz’s 57-23 margin in Texas, he only beats Trump by a point among the one group he has to depend on.
Cruz has unsurprisingly done best in states where Very Conservative voters are around 40% of the vote – his wins have come in Iowa (40%), Texas (39%), Oklahoma (43%) and Alaska (no poll). Among the upcoming states for which we have 2012 exit polls from contested primaries/caucuses (i.e., before Santorum dropped out and effectively ended the race), most of them will have more moderate electorates. Share of Very Conservative voters, 2012 exit polls:
Again, these are mostly not good numbers for Cruz, even assuming a bit of an upward shift.
Completing the exit picture, let’s look at party self-ID, bearing in mind that this may vary from actual registration (even closed primaries like Oklahoma feature people who don’t call themselves Republicans:
…and without Texas:
You can see once again that Cruz’s candidate profile looks quite different in Texas than everywhere else. His showing with independents varies a lot because, well, Massachusetts independents are pretty moderate, whereas, say, Nevada independents trend libertarian. Closed primaries are likely to hurt Trump, as Neil Stevens showed in detail earlier today, but it’s far from clear that they help Cruz more than they help Rubio. What is clear is that they starve Kasich of oxygen; while he did well with Republicans in Vermont and passably in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, his ability to even appear on the map in places like Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia depends on independents. Which also suggests that Kasich’s inevitable departure from the race may not leave a whole lot of voters on the table in the 26 (out of 40) remaining contests with closed primaries or closed caucuses.
Many of us had hoped that Super Tuesday would winnow the field a good deal more, because Trump’s success thus far has depended on a divided opposition, and the longer he can sustain that (as Romney did in 2012), the more he builds the psychology of a winner. It now looks as if that will have to await Florida and Ohio on Armageddon Tuesday, unless something really surprises us before then. As Phil Klein has illustrated, the calendar slows a lot after that, giving the remaining contender(s) a lot more time to pound Trump, slow his march to 1,237 delegates, and possibly either get their themself or (much more likely) throw this to a contested convention where the party will have a final chance to come together and save itself from Trump and certain defeat.
Rubio will – as he has on several occasions – now have to prove himself again, starting Saturday (where Kansas may be his best bet, although we have little useful polling, and Rubio is further ahead of Cruz in the one poll we have for Kentucky) and running through Florida. But on the morning of March 16, we’ll be looking once again for an opportunity to end Trump’s ability to win with 34% of the vote. It won’t be easy to convince two of the three candidates to leave, and it may be especially challenging for Rubio to do because playing chicken, not making deals and frustrating the Republican Party are three of Ted Cruz’s favorite pastimes. Which is why Rubio will really need to put on a convincing showing that his ability to compete in more places and with more groups than Cruz is a vital asset.
The case for Rubio being the guy who can ‘unite the clans’ and beat Trump is fairly straightforward: Cruz has no record of competing for the Kasich voters (or the similar voters who make up a faction of Rubio’s base), and Kasich has no prayer of getting Cruz’s voters. Cruz abandons blue areas like New England and probably a lot of the Northeast; Kasich abandons most of the rest of the country other than Ohio. Rubio fights everywhere. Cruz’s argument is that a lot of his voters, but not Rubio’s, would go to Trump – but as with the Carson voters, voters who are released from the guy they were backing are apt to be persuadable, and Rubio has the best record of closing well with late deciders, and would benefit from staging a one-on-one race where (as has only just happened since Nevada) some serious fire is concentrated on Trump. And certainly Rubio can present a very vivid contrast to Trump.
The theme of Trump’s campaign has been his ability to avoid a one-on-one race. The theme of Rubio’s, as in his 2010 Senate race, has been all his opponents’ fear of the potential of finding themselves one-on-one with him.
It’s still the best way to beat Trump: rally around one guy who can play on the whole map, with the whole party.
Donald Trump did not like getting humiliated by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the last debate in Houston, and you know how we know that he knows he got humiliated? Because he’s doing what glass-jawed bullies always do when you hit them back – whining like a baby and threatening to run away like a coward:
Trump on Friday night hinted he had thought about skipping another GOP debate, as he lamented the events as “a terrible waste of time.”
“Aren’t these debates ridiculous, though?” Trump asked supporters at a rally in Oklahoma City, according to Business Insider.
“How about if I don’t do the next debate? Yes?” he added, before quickly deciding: “Ah, no, I’ll do it.”
The billionaire businessman said debates are repetitive and predictable.
“How many times can you say the same thing over and over? I can give you the answers of the governor, the two senators,” he said. “I can give you every single answer. I can also say Ben [Carson] will complain about not being asked a question. And he’s right! It’s not fair.”
Trump ran away once before, at the Iowa debate, because he was scared of Megyn Kelly – or perhaps just put out that a smart, attractive woman was neither intimidated nor wowed by him. Now, he gets his head handed to him by two sons-of-Hispanic-immigrant Senators who had the effrontery to not inherit $200 million, and he whimpers about “unfair” and talks about running away again.
Remind me why anyone even pretends to think this guy could stand up to Hillary Clinton? Marco Rubio didn’t give up when he had one bad debate. Reagan in ’84 and George W. Bush in 2004 didn’t give up when they had one bad debate. Even Barack Obama in 2012 didn’t give up when he had one bad debate. But Trump is made of more delicate stuff. He couldn’t even say no to Hillary when she asked him for donations, because he was too frightened to take the Koch brothers’ path of standing up to public vilification for putting their money where their principles are. Trump may have a few right-wing instincts to go with his lifelong social liberalism and love of big government, but he has the backbone of a jellyfish.
Tonight America finally got to see the most talented conservative debaters in the business – Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – team up to attack Donald Trump as an ill-informed, empty-talking-points-dependent blowhard and lifelong liberal Democrat who doesn’t take a punch well. Cruz was pretty close to his A game, which is very good indeed, getting better as the night went on; Rubio was spitting straight fire from the starting gun, mocking Trump with ease and contempt and a smile on his face. If anyone who watched this debate still votes for Trump, we really have no excuse for becoming France, and we should turn in Old Glory right now and seek a retirement home for former great powers that no longer care about freedom and the Constitution.
Rubio, other than a few minutes with Chris Christie (a man who never once had the stones to turn his formidable guns against Trump) has had a marvelous string of debate moments, but tonight was a Rubio we have not seen before, and he took it to another level, making complete fools of people who claimed as late as this afternoon that Rubio would not attack Trump tonight. Instead, he seems to have decided to lull Trump into a false sense of security by holding his fire until he could see the whites of Trump’s eyes. Rubio went hard after the contrast between his own humble origins and Trump’s rich-kid silver-spoon upbringing (and what a mockery it makes of Trump’s claim to be the working-class hero), sneering that if Trump hadn’t inherited so much money he’d be selling watches on the street in Manhattan. Trump was reduced to sputtering that he only got a one million dollar loan from his daddy:
RUBIO: Here’s a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?
TRUMP: No, no, no.
RUBIO: Selling watches in (inaudible)
TRUMP: (Inaudible) I took…
RUBIO: That’s where he would be.
TRUMP: That is so wrong. We’ll work on that. I took $1 million and I turned into $10 billion.
RUBIO: Oh, OK. One million.
TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million…
Rubio laughed at Trump, and not for the last time, and Trump spent a whole lot of the debate with a sour look on his face and his chin raised in the air, the unmistakable look of a man who is not enjoying being mocked by his social inferiors. Rubio bored in on this contrast in talking about immigration and how Trump’s record is nothing like his rhetoric:
And so even today, we saw a report in one of the newspapers that Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled.
My mom and dad — my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead.
A second thing that both Rubio and Cruz did in different ways to counteract Trump’s incessent lies and habit of yelling over people who get too close to exposing them was to dare the voters to go Google what they were talking about. Rubio did this twice with Trump’s hiring of illegal Polish immigrants, and Cruz did it with Trump’s general election poll standing against Hillary, specifically referencing RealClearPolitics.com’s poll averages.
A third important thing was that Rubio laid off Cruz almost entirely, except to defend himself. And Cruz launched far fewer attacks than before against Rubio, although almost all his weakest hits against Trump were when he tried to shoehorn 2-for-1 attacks on Rubio into his answers. Cruz demolished Trump on electability, which if you’d asked at any point in this campaign would have been the last thing you’d expect Ted Cruz to be talking about at a debate on the eve of Super Tuesday:
You know, it’s interesting — Donald went — went on — on an extended tirade about the polls, but he didn’t respond to any of the substance. He has yet to say — he can release past year’s tax returns. He can do it tomorrow.
He doesn’t want to do it, because presumably there’s something in there…
CRUZ: … that is bad. If there’s nothing, release them tomorrow.
CRUZ: They’re already prepared. The only reason he’s not releasing them…
TRUMP: You — you don’t…
CRUZ: … is because he’s afraid that he will get hit.
TRUMP: I’m not afraid (inaudible).
CRUZ: You know, Marco made reference earlier to the litigation against Trump University. It’s a fraud case. His lawyers have scheduled the trial for July.
I want you to think about, if this man is the nominee, having the Republican nominee…
… on the stand in court, being cross-examined about whether he committed fraud. You don’t think the mainstream media will go crazy on that?
And on substance, how do we nominate a candidate who has said Hillary Clinton was the best secretary of state of modern times, who agreed with her on foreign policy, who agrees with Bernie Sanders on health care, who agreed with Barack Obama on the Wall Street bailout?
BLITZER: All right (ph)…
CRUZ: If — we’ve got to win this election, and we can’t do it with a candidate who agrees with Hillary Clinton and can’t take it to her and beat her on the debate stage and at the polls.
BLITZER: Mr. Trump. Mr, — hold on. Mr. Trump — Mr. Trump…
TRUMP: … first of all, he’s talking about the polls. I’m beating him awfully badly in the polls.
CRUZ: But you’re not beating Hillary. You’re not beating Hillary.
TRUMP: Well, then, if I can’t — if — hey, if I can’t beat her, you’re really going to get killed, aren’t you?
[TRUMP, attributed on the rush transcript to CRUZ]: So — so let me ask you this, because you’re really getting beaten badly. I know you’re embarrassed — I know you’re embarrassed, but keep fighting — keep swinging, man (ph). Swing for the fences.
Let me just tell you — let me just tell you, the Trump University case is a civil case. Not a — it’s a civil case. It’s a case where people want to try and get — it’s a case that is nonsense.
It’s something I could have settled many times. I could settle it right now for very little money, but I don’t want to do it out of principle. The people that took the course all signed — most — many — many signed report cards saying it was fantastic, it was wonderful, it was beautiful.
As — and believe me, I’ll win that case. That’s an easy case. Civil case. Number two, as far as the taxes are concerned, I’m being audited. It’s a very routine audit, and it’s very unfair, because I’ve been audited for, I think, over 12 years.
Every year, because of the size of my company, which is very, very large, I’m being audited — which is a very large company.
BLITZER: Thank you.
TRUMP: I’m being audited 12 years in a row, at least.
Now, until that audit’s done, and I don’t think anybody would blame me, I’m not giving it…
CRUZ: … the years you’re not being audited? Will you release those years?
BLITZER: Gentlemen, gentlemen, thank you.
TRUMP: (inaudible) audited for those years.
CRUZ: Which years? Which years are you being audited?
Probably the single best moment of the debate was when Rubio basically ripped out Trump’s intestines, wrapped them around his neck and set them on fire over healthcare after a typical Trump answer that blamed Cruz and Rubio for writing Obamacare (editor’s note – lol) and making it too friendly to the insurers (one of several times Rubio openly mocked Trump for not knowing what he was talking about):
RUBIO: You may not be aware of this, Donald, because you don’t follow this stuff very closely, but here’s what happened. When they passed Obamacare they put a bailout fund in Obamacare. All these lobbyists you keep talking about, they put a bailout fund in the law that would allow public money to be used, taxpayer money, to bail out companies when they lost money.
And, we led the effort and wiped out that bailout fund. The insurance companies are not in favor of me, they hate that. They’re suing that now to get that bailout money put back in.
Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…
TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…
RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump?
RUBIO: What is your plan on healthcare?
TRUMP: You don’t know.
TRUMP: … The biggest problem…
RUBIO: … What’s your plan…
TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…
RUBIO: … What’s your plan…
TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….
RUBIO: … We already mentioned that (inaudible) plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…
TRUMP: … You don’t know much…
RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…
TRUMP: … The lines around the states…
RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…
TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…
RUBIO: … Alright, (inaudible)…
TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.
RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…
TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.
RUBIO: So, that’s the only part of the plan? Just the lines?
TRUMP: The nice part of the plan — you’ll have many different plans. You’ll have competition, you’ll have so many different plans.
RUBIO: Now he’s repeating himself.
TRUMP: No, no, no.
(LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
TRUMP: (inaudible) I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago…
RUBIO: … I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago…
TRUMP: I watched him meltdown on the stage like that, I’ve never seen it in anybody…
BASH: … Let’s stay focused on the subject…
TRUMP: … I thought he came out of the swimming pool…
RUBIO: … I see him repeat himself every night, he says five things, everyone’s dumb, he’s gonna make America great again…
BASH: … Senator Rubio…
RUBIO: … We’re going to win, win win, he’s winning in the polls…
BASH: … Senator Rubio, please.
RUBIO: … And the lines around the state.
RUBIO: … Every night.
BASH: Senator Rubio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell the truth, I tell the truth.
BASH: Senator Rubio, you will have time to respond if you would just let Mr. Trump respond to what you’ve just posed to him…
RUBIO: … Yeah, he’s going to give us his plan now, right? OK…
BASH: … If you could talk a little bit more about your plan. I know you talked about…
TRUMP: … We’re going to have many different plans because…
BASH: … Can you be a little specific…
TRUMP: … competition…
RUBIO: … He’s done it again.
TRUMP: There is going to be competition among all of the states, and the insurance companies. They’re going to have many, many different plans. BASH: Is there anything else you would like to add to that…
TRUMP: No, there’s nothing to add.
TRUMP: What is to add?
It got even better than this later when Cruz and Rubio went at Trump simultaneously, despite Wolf Blitzer’s desperate efforts to rescue Trump and throw some questions to the two pointless “candidates” at the edges of the stage – Rubio at one point interjected with perfect comedic timing in an exchange where Cruz had Trump spluttering about his support for socialized medicine:
RUBIO: Well, can I just clarify something?
BLITZER: Gentleman, please.
RUBIO: Wolf, no. I want to clarify something.
BLITZER: Gentlemen please. I want to move on.
RUBIO: This is a Republican debate, right? Because that attack about letting people die in the streets…
Both Rubio and Cruz battered Trump on his “negotiation” mantra, Cruz whacking him for being an unprincipled dealmaker who financed John Kerry and Jimmy Carter, Rubio for thinking he could do business with the Palestinians like he was negotiating a lease:
BLITZER: We’re going to get to North Korea in a moment. But Senator Rubio, what’s wrong with the U.S. being an honest broker in a negotiation, as Mr. Trump is proposing?
RUBIO: Because — and I don’t know if Donald realizes this. I’m sure it’s not his intent perhaps. But the position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position. And here’s why. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith. The Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple efforts to make peace, very generous offers from the Israelis. Instead, here’s what the Palestinians do. They teach their four- year-old children that killing Jews is a glorious thing. Here’s what Hamas does. They launch rockets and terrorist attacks again Israel on an ongoing basis. The bottom line is, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, given the current makeup of the Palestinians, is not possible.
And so the next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I’m not — I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, I’m not on either side.” I will be on a side. I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East.
BLITZER: Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: I’m a negotiator. I’ve done very well over the years through negotiation. It’s very important that we do that. In all fairness, Marco is not a negotiator. I watched him melt down and I’ll tell you, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. He’s not going down — excuse me…
RUBIO: He thinks a Palestinian is a real estate deal.
TRUMP: … wait a minute, and these people may even be tougher than Chris Christie. OK?
RUBIO: The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.
TRUMP: OK, no, no, no — a deal is a deal. Let me tell you that. I learned a long time ago.
RUBIO: A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?
TRUMP: You are not a negotiator. You are not a negotiator.
TRUMP: And, with your thinking, you will never bring peace. You will never bring peace…
RUBIO: … Donald, might be able to (inaudible) Palestinians and Arabs, but it’s not a real estate deal…
TRUMP: … Excuse me, I want to be able to bring peace…
BLITZER: … Senator.
TRUMP: He will never be able to do it. I think I may be able to do it, although I will say this. Probably the toughest deal of any kind is that particular deal.
If anything, all of these exchanges were more devastating to watch live than they read on paper.
(Irony is truly dead if Donald Trump can go on about how “demeaning the neighbors” is a bad thing, or ramble about how the problem with our healthcare system is that we have borders that prevent competition).
Did any of this mean anything? Will it matter? Well, only the voters can decide. But the two best conservatives in the field acted like it tonight, and exposed the GOP frontrunner as an ignorant, thin-skinned fraud who belongs in the other party’s debate. No supporter of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz could go home disappointed tonight: they held nothing back and left it all on the floor. They were commanding, they were eloquent, they were funny, they were informed, they spoke from the heart about America’s promise and its challenges, and a spoiled rich kid blustered at them out of his overblown sense of entitlement that they should sit down and get out of his way.
If that doesn’t make a difference, maybe America isn’t really meant to have two parties anymore.