And then there were four. At last night’s GOP debate, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was treated to a “Cuban sandwich,” as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) spent yet another debate going after him.
They were aided by direct questioning from the Fox News panelists: Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly. The odd-man-out, Governor John Kasich, held his own but really was a side show. One could not help thinking, watching what could only be called as a spectacle, that if there ever was any gravitas in the process, it’s definitely gone now.
I will leave it to a roundup of California politicos below to opine on the winners and losers – but I will make two observations. The first is that while I have said that this is the “temperament primary,” with voters attracted to style over substance, this debate demonstrated that to an unfortunate extreme. Trump, under scrutiny, demonstrated that he is pretty shallow in his policy positions.
The second is that right now – really – is when Marco Rubio should probably consider a graceful exit, lest history show that he was the proximate cause of Trump’s coronation. His Minnesota victory hardly bolsters confidence that he could overcome his deficit in delegates in relation to Cruz, let alone Trump.
Arnold Steinberg, GOP Strategist and Pollster
Cruz and Rubio “won” by focusing more on Trump than each other, but the real winner tonight was Hillary Clinton. Also, Cruz and Rubio should have compared Trump’s refusal to release his New York Times immigration transcript with Hillary’s refusal to release her Wall Street speech transcripts. Cruz and Rubio don’t explain the Trump negatives lucidly: for example, Trump for weeks has excused his eminent domain-for-private gain by talking about eminent domain for highways. That’s not the issue! Trump declines his income tax returns’ release by saying they won’t show his net worth, but that’s not the issue!
Kasich seems self-serving, but perhaps his positive spin helped him marginally. The unknown is whether some of Trump’s voters were finally dislodged rather than emboldened. Perhaps so, but enough to affect March 15 first place showings? Surely, the undecideds are moving against Trump. But consider the debate backdrop. Romney went at Trump the way he failed to go against Obama, and from Utah. It should have been elsewhere and with young conservatives. Other anti-Trump attacks are uncoordinated and clumsy. One of the “national security conservatives” from the interventionists was on CNN hours before the debate, attacking Trump stupidly: he cited the very points that attract conservatives to Trump, i.e. that Trump would put U.S. interests first, and make other nations pay for part of the defense costs.
Diane Harkey, Vice Chairman of the State Board of Equalization
It was not a good night for The Donald, he was ruffled and angered by tough questions. Cruz was forceful and on point: his “take a breath, you can do it,” to Trump was the best line of the night. Rubio was very effective, and pointed out inconsistencies, waffling and a lack of specifics in Trump’s policies. Kasich was eloquent: no one challenged him, so he continued to look like a statesman.
James Lacy, Publisher, California Political Review
Trump answered Megyn Kelly’s muddled tripartite audio/visual setup question about Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria both logically and well. Cruz and Rubio diminished themselves by focusing not so much on policy as on the negative campaigning nuances on Trump, but it was good to hear they will support the nominee no matter what. Kasich reached to be the adult, but sounded more often like a moderator on Divorce Court. No game-changing performances — Trump remains the solid leader.
Harmeet Dhillon, Vice Chairman, California Republican Party
I’m disappointed to see the gutter level insults, rudeness, talking over each other, and general lack of civility we have seen to an increasing degree in this campaign. Ted Cruz kept it clean and was very disciplined, focused, and on message. Kasich aimed for loftier principles — he seemed to be at a different event altogether than the other three. And Rubio scored some direct hits on the Trump University, and lack of specificity on foreign policy from Trump. It was a riveting to watch, and not always in a good way.
Bruce Bialosky, Columnist and founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of CA
This debate seemed to me to be the least consequential of the ones to date. Trump attempted to tone down his rhetoric except during small portions of the debate. He still remains a featherweight during these debates regarding his knowledge of policy and his ability to express that in a coherent manner. He has little ability to dismiss a political opponent in a Christian manner, despite his professing to be so. Rubio appeared less graceful because of his commitment to confront Trump. The winner here was Cruz, who stuck mostly to message with “Trump the loser.”
Joel Pollak, Editor-in-Chief, Breitbart California
I gave everyone a “B.” They all made their best case for themselves, but they each had some stumbles. Special commendation goes to Marco Rubio for his outstanding defense of his party on the Flint water crisis. It was an unusually generous and calm response that showed rare presidential form, instead of cheap shots.
Celeste Greig, Publisher, The Greig Report
Another GOP debate again proved that Mr. Donald Trump is still the front-runner regardless of all the insults and personal attacks that he has received from his opponents. Tonight was no exception, as he handled himself very well by being more calm, especially about the size of his hands, and answering all the questions quickly.
Sen. Marco Rubio is still “adorable and cute,” but not ready for prime time, and he cannot stop Mr. Trump. His sound bites were childish. However, he does have knowledge on national security issues. Sen. Ted Cruz sounded smart and less combative, but repetitive again about abolishing the IRS (which is NOT going to happen — President Ronald Reagan campaigned to get rid of the Departments of Education and Energy, and was NOT able to do so). Gov. Kasich was more professional, repeating his executive experience in government, and did not engage in big personal attacks.
Foc News proved once again that they are anti-Trump, Chris Wallace was well prepared with his graphics, and Megyn Kelly had her usual smirk. Losers? Once again (third time), Mitt Romney.
Shawn Steel, Republican National Committeeman from California
The Cubans pounced on their prey. Trump stumbled a little but stood firm. We saw a gentler and almost kinder and reasonable and flexible Trump tonight. Marco had the bad luck of suffering a cold. Ted spoke like a moderator and enjoyed one of his best performances. Kasich’s voice could be heard, but it sure looks awfully late.
Reed Galen, Political Consultant and Strategist
Cruz found his form. Kasich made some points. Trump was at his Trumpiest. Rubio faded too often for too long. The crowd was ridiculous.
Sam Sorbo, Actress and Talk Show Host
The moderators allowed the participants to talk all over and interrupt each other – annoying.
The insults continued, but eventually conversation turned toward policies and issues – gratifying.
Rubio won points on yoga reference and then (cleverly) tied it to Donald’s “flexibility.” – #Bonus!
Cruz brought up the failings of Detroit’s (Democrat) leadership and the inflexibility of his principles. – #Character
Trump was forced to defend (changing) immigration policies and how nice it would be to “get along” with Russia. #StillTheLeader
Kasich said some good (forgettable) things. But he is an adult, and he is in the room. – #NearlyIgnored
And Fox, also on the debate stage (no kidding), aired a Kasich video pushing a Trump-Putin ticket! – #Immoderators
Tom Tucker, Founder, California New Majority
Governor Kasich had a great debate tonight; he finally got away from his redundant “resume” chatter. He was able to showcase his knowledge of issues, and his impressive approach to solving problems domestically and internationally. He was well-received by the audience, and he very positively re-introduced himself tonight. He needs to speak more about “what I am going to and how I am going to do it.” I believe that he won the debate.
Senator Rubio did quite well when he was not being baited into confrontation. He has matured impressively as the season has progressed. He has a nimble mind, an excellent understanding of the issues, and a winning personality. He was at his best when debating issues, and his worst when drawn into “playground bullying.” He, too has an excellent understanding of the issues.
Senator Cruz has an excellent understanding of the issues, and is very intelligent. He comes across as very “hard core” in his beliefs, which precludes him from appearing thoughtful: “My way or the highway.” He will appeal to only a limited audience. I don’t believe that he can win a national election. He did reasonably well tonight, but not enough to move the needle.
Mr. Trump was challenged by some excellent questions from Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly. He is very light on specifics and issues, which is unacceptable. He appears to change his positions on a whim, which he could not deny. His talking points “don’t have any meat to them.” His answers to questions and challenges were weak; it felt like he was “losing steam.” His playground bullying is getting tedious. His non-traditional campaign has created a major change in the Presidential race, but he needs to “amp it up” to close the deal. Time for his “next act.” This was his poorest showing.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.