New York Times
By Alexander Burnes
February 26, 2016
It was the messiest and most confrontational debate of the Republican presidential primary, repeatedly descending into free-for-alls of cross talk and name-calling.
And for Donald J. Trump’s opponents, it may have been the best debate of the race.
With the Super Tuesday primaries next week, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida finally laced into Mr. Trump, battering him for his business deals, his thin knowledge of policy and what they characterized as his political opportunism.
The debate revealed the acute urgency each candidate now feels in making his case, and captured how Mr. Trump’s opponents are approaching what may be their last really good chance to slow his political momentum.
We haven’t hit bottom yet
Even by the standards of 2016, this was a nasty debate. Mr. Trump has set the standard for personal vitriol in the campaign, and he lived up to it in Houston, mocking Mr. Rubio as a clumsy “choke artist” and once again calling Mr. Cruz a liar to his face.
After Mr. Cruz referred to someone as a “crazy zealot,” Mr. Trump leveled a literal schoolyard taunt, and asked if Mr. Cruz had been talking about himself.
But for once, Mr. Trump’s opponents reciprocated — especially Mr. Rubio. The Florida senator caricatured Mr. Trump as a dunce on policy who repeats five canned lines over and over, and said that Mr. Trump would have amounted to little without inheriting a fortune from his father.
Should the race ever narrow to just Mr. Trump and either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Cruz, it could showcase a level of raw political violence unlike any recent presidential primary campaign.
With Trump, what you see is what you get
Mr. Trump has assumed an imposing front-runner’s position, achieving the kind of political stature that might prompt another candidate to reach for the dignity and gravitas Americans typically expect from a president.
Not him. His sales pitch has evolved little since the day he began his campaign, and he made no effort Thursday night to project the comportment or depth of knowledge that voters view as presidential.
Challenged on health care, Mr. Trump reiterated a vague set of promises to replace the Affordable Care Act by making “many plans” available to consumers. When Mr. Rubio suggested that Mr. Trump lacked an understanding of peace negotiations in Israel, Mr. Trump insisted, “A deal is a deal.”
Mr. Trump’s supporters may be indifferent to his limitations as a candidate, but his obvious discomfort handling policy questions and his apparent unwillingness — or inability — to elaborate on his ideas, may further unsettle Republicans already concerned about his capacity to compete in a general election.
Rubio and Cruz figured out how to attack
Mr. Trump’s opponents have struggled to make a sustained case against him, experimenting with a range of punchy attack lines that failed to stick.
A different dynamic governed Thursday’s debate. As Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz assailed him, they often used similar or even identical language and themes. After Mr. Rubio attacked Mr. Trump for having paid a hefty fine for hiring illegal workers, Mr. Cruz took up the same set of facts as a cudgel. Both men raised the issue of Trump University, a defunct educational company over which Mr. Trump is currently being sued.
Their shared purpose was to question Mr. Trump’s credentials and alarm voters about his vulnerabilities in a general election. “They’re going to pick apart his taxes,” Mr. Cruz said of the Democrats. “They’re going to pick apart his business deals.”
Citing the Trump University lawsuit, Mr. Cruz asked voters to imagine “the Republican nominee on the stand in court, being cross-examined about whether he committed fraud.”
Mr. Trump responded by talking over his rivals, but he will certainly have to address the issues they raised, either now, or as the Republican nominee.
Likable Rubio vs. lawyerly Cruz
Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz are both first-term senators who were elected by running to the right in Republican primaries. Both promise to be the first Hispanic presidential nominee.
Both have also improved as political athletes over the duration of this race. But they have settled into sharply contrasting styles that were on vivid display in Houston.
Mr. Cruz is cool and clinical, laying out his facts in a lawyerly manner and rarely flashing humor or emotion. He knows exactly how he wants to sell himself to voters, as a candidate of uncompromising ideological purity.
Mr. Rubio is animated and aggressive, speaking quickly and playing deliberately to the in-house audience. He projects an appealing personality without necessarily articulating an explicit case for his election as president.
For Republicans not sold on Mr. Trump, these are the main alternatives available to them, and Tuesday’s nominating contests may help resolve which man’s approach will be the final point of contrast with Mr. Trump.
Kasich looks past Super Tuesday
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has seemed to campaign almost in his own political dimension throughout the 2016 race. He has deliberately wooed moderates and independent voters, and has freely acknowledged that the next state he believes he has any chance of winning is Michigan, which does not vote until March 8.
In the debate, Mr. Kasich held fast. He did not attack other candidates, and when asked directly whether his opponents understood how to reach Hispanic voters, Mr. Kasich shot back, “I’m not going to talk about that.”
With some of the most conservative states voting on Tuesday — including Alabama and Oklahoma — Mr. Kasich continued to tailor his pitch to voters closer to the center. Breaking with conservative orthodoxy, he said that businesses should not receive religious exemptions based on their proprietors’ views on gay marriage.
When he was asked about deporting undocumented immigrants en masse, he cited a Reagan-era compromise as a model of immigration policy. That law included an amnesty provision for people who entered the country illegally.
Mr. Kasich believes he has a path forward through moderate and liberal states in the Midwest and Northeast, and that his fortunes will improve later in the primary calendar. Even so, he appears to have accepted that he will first have to withstand a wave of losses.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com