The Atlantic is calling it Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no-good night, and I agree:
It was Trump’s worst debate of the campaign, and the defeat came largely at the hands of Marco Rubio, who hit Trump early and often. The climactic moment arrived during a discussion of health insurance. Every candidate has promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, but with what? Trump’s answer was that he’d allow the sale of insurance across state lines. Rubio pressed him: Is that all you’ve got? When Trump tried to slap back, Rubio was ready.
“He’s repeating himself!” Rubio exclaimed with a grin, echoing the very attack Chris Christie used so effectively against him just a few weeks ago. “I’m not repeating myself. I’m not repeating myself,” Trump insisted, but he was practically drowned out by the huge round of applause sweeping the hall.
It’s a wonder no one thought to accuse Trump of repetition before. As Rubio noted, Trump repeats a familiar set of slogans over and over: Make America great again. Build the wall. Win. Stop losing at trade. Force Trump away from those mantras, and he tends to get lost and confused. Of course, it’s also a wonder that no one has attacked Trump so directly before in debates, and especially that Rubio hasn’t done so. Right from the starton Thursday night, though, the Florida senator unloaded line after line of opposition research. He noted that Trump had paid $1 million to settle a court case over use of Polish illegal-immigrant labor. He pointed out that Trump is being sued for fraud over the so-called Trump University, a glorified real-estate seminar. He said that without his father’s inheritance, Trump would be “selling watches in Manhattan.”
It was an incredible barrage. Only Jeb Bush had tried anything like it, and Trump easily talked over him. Unlike Bush, Rubio kept hammering, interrupting Trump and getting under his skin. And unlike Bush, who seemed deeply unhappy attacking, Rubio seemed to be having a blast slashing Trump. It all raised a rather uncomfortable question: What if Rubio had gone after Trump earlier, before Trump became the clear frontrunner with Super Tuesday just days away?
Ted Cruz landed some punches as well, and it was an immense relief to see both candidates focused on winning, which will require bringing down Donald Trump.
Cruz’s attacks focused on his electability vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton. Its a fair argument, but somehow I think on that Donald Trump is right: he hasn’t even yet begun to focus his sights on Hillary Clinton, and it is by no means certain that he cannot take her down.
By the way, why did we spend almost the whole first hour on immigration? Is it because CNN wanted to hurt the Republican brand as much as possible with Telemundo watchers?
Why did we spend so little time on wage stagnation, slow growth, and the lack of job creation?
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.