Marco Rubio talks to Donald Trump during a commercial break in last night’s Republican debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
THE BIG IDEA:
The Republican Party does not look prepared to come out of the wilderness after eight years of Barack Obama.
That’s the takeaway of many leading conservatives after last night’s 11th Republican debate.
Just when you probably thought the presidential nominating contest had hit rock bottom, Donald Trump joked about the size of his genitalia.
The two-hour shout-down in Detroit, ahead of Michigan’s primary next Tuesday, suggested that the GOP’s deep wounds will not heal any time soon and raised the odds that Hillary Clinton will wind up president this time next year.
“The spectacle made me ill,” writes the conservative Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti. “On screen I watched decades of work by conservative institutions, activists, and elected officials being lit aflame not only by the New York demagogue but by his enablers who waited until the last possible moment to try and stop him.”
I’ll explain further down why Ted Cruz and John Kasich probably won the Fox News debate on points, and Marco Rubio came out worse for wear, but it’s myopic to think about last night in those terms. Because, in reality, everyone lost.
“Designed to define candidates’ differences, the debates have become tedious and repetitious rather than enlightening or illuminating,” The Post’s chief correspondent, Dan Balz, writes. “No new information was imparted, no truly new arguments advanced. Even the insults have grown tiresome. … Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who drew criticism earlier for trying to limit the number of debates, must be wishing he had pushed for even fewer, given the tone and tenor of Thursday’s forum and last week’s mud bath in Houston.” That’s not to mention the debate before that in South Carolina…
— The messaging guru most looked to by Republicans called Hillary the biggest winner of the debate:
22 out of my 25 focus group members said tonight’s #GOPDebate will hurt Republicans in the general election.
This has to stop. Seriously.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 4, 2016
Chris Wallace saying “gentlemen, you’ve got to do better than this” scored a perfect 100% with my #GOPDebate focus group.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 4, 2016
Words used by my focus group to describe tonight’s #GOPDebate:
Get the idea?
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 4, 2016
From a senior adviser to Rick Perry:
My party is committing suicide on national television. #GOPDebate
— Jamie Johnson (@JamieJohnsonUSA) March 4, 2016
From one of the GOP’s top pollsters:
SNL cancelled, plans to rebroadcast this debate instead. #GOPDebate
— Neil Newhouse (@KCkid) March 4, 2016
From an up-and-coming Republican pollster who specializes in understanding millenials:
We may as well cancel the rest of the debate bc we are now in a Mike Judge film and nobody’s going to talk about anything but Trump hands.
— Kristen S Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) March 4, 2016
From a senior political reporter at National Review:
Is there a safe word for this debate? We need a safe word.
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) March 4, 2016
From the conservative on the New York Times opinion page:
You know which prominent Republican managed to sound like a president today? Not one of these guys.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 4, 2016
After tonight, Trump’s going to win Ohio 29-28-27-16. And Florida 28-27-26-18. And take all the delegates. And rule us.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 4, 2016
Though Cruz, Rubio and Kasich said they’ll support Trump if he’s the nominee, there were a lot of posts like this on social media (in this case, from a Rubio supporter):
— AG (@AG_Conservative) March 4, 2016
This was the most retweeted tweet during the two-hour debate:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 4, 2016
— Here’s a sampling of how conservative media outlets are covering the debate:
- National Review: “GOP Implosion Accelerates in Motor City Wreck.”
- FoxNews.com, “GOP breaks down in Motor City”: “Much of the fight on the Republican side is centered on who can beat Clinton,” Chris Stirewalt, the digital politics editor, writes. “The growing fear among GOP voters is that the answer might be: ‘None of them.’”
- Christian Broadcasting Network, “All That Was Missing Was Jerry Springer”: “The Grand Old Party didn’t look grand at all. Instead, they looked gross,” writes CBN political correspondent David Brody. “Reince Priebus is faced with a crucial decision now: does he go with Tylenol or Excedrin? Which medication will take away this big fat headache?”
— The level of discourse slipped to a vulgar new low with Trump’s braggadocio about being well endowed. “I guarantee you there’s no problem,” he said in a quote for the ages.
No surprise, this was the most buzzed about moment on Facebook and drove the conversation on Twitter. It is also the moment that will utterly dominate the cable conversation today. Here’s a taste of the reaction:
In past debates @realDonaldTrump has been disturbing. Tonight he’s outright disgusting.
— Michael Medved (@MedvedSHOW) March 4, 2016
People used to say that women were too hormonal to be president. Looking at this #GOPDebate, I think men may be too hormonal to hold office.
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) March 4, 2016
Ew I need to take a shower #GOPDebate
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) March 4, 2016
An entire campaign process as a series of dominance gestures #GOPDebate
— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) March 4, 2016
I’ve heard more mature arguments in my middle school locker room than in this #GOPDebate. And some on exactly the same issues.
— Gabe Fleisher (@WakeUp2Politics) March 4, 2016
“Don’t worry about it little Marco.”
“Well let’s hear it big Donald.”
THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 4, 2016
I used to think Aaron Sorkin was writing this presidential cycle. Now I think it’s Judd Apatow.
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) March 4, 2016
My old shop POLITICO going subtle with tonight’s debate coverage. pic.twitter.com/3Yp0tTIOZ4
— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) March 4, 2016
The Daily Beast’s home page:
— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 4, 2016
And Trump still wouldn’t stop talking about his hands after the debate when he went into the spin room:
See how beautiful my hands are. They’re powerful hands – Trump to me in spin room
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) March 4, 2016
— Indeed, it was another debate all about Trump.
FINAL talk times, per @barbarasprunt:
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) March 4, 2016
But time of possession does not fully reflect how much of their time Cruz and Rubio spent talking about Trump.
— Girth jokes aside, Trump lost badly on points – though, of course, it may not dissuade any of his supporters.
Trump hoped to look presidential and ready for a general election. He did not.
He acknowledged that he often changes his positions on issues but spun this attribute as a tribute to his “flexibility.”
He flip-flopped, and then flipped again after the debate ended, on H-1-B visas.
He sounded like he said something to the New York Times editorial board about immigration that he doesn’t want to be made public. This scared many on the right who are otherwise sympathetic:
😡😱Trump changing his tune on immigration?
— Michele Bachmann (@MicheleBachmann) March 4, 2016
He also could not offer a coherent or persuasive defense about Trump University, saying the issue won’t be settled for a few more years. “Trump became flustered as he tried to defend what has been one of his greatest assets: his business record,” writes The Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren. “As the aphorism goes, if you’re explaining, you’re losing, especially when what you’re explaining a massive civil suit against your company that claims you defrauded thousands of people for millions of dollars.”
— To their credit, the moderators pressed Trump harder and more effectively than the other candidates did. You could understand why The Donald skipped the Fox News debate before Iowa! They put up facts and figures that show just how unrealistic much of what he promises is. They showed video clips of him saying three things and then insisting adamantly – in one case, the next day – that he never said them. Megyn Kelly quoted a federal court ruling that said Trump acted like a “con artist” and compared his victims to those of Bernie Madoff.
— Kelly especially received high praise from across the ideological spectrum:
Seeing lots of “@MegynKelly is the winner of this debate” sentiments on here
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 4, 2016
Kudos to Fox News for actually taking Trump to task on his budget nonsense.
— Megan Specia (@meganspecia) March 4, 2016
The GOP should run Megyn Kelly against Trump, she is way better than Rubio or Cruz at taking Trump on
— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) March 4, 2016
— Cruz and Rubio did not attack each other. The Cuban American Non-Aggression Pact held. USA Today leads with the tag-team element: “For the first time in a debate, they created a united anti-Trump front. In response, Trump brushed them off, sneeringly calling them ‘little Marco’ and ‘lying Ted.’”
Drudge right now pic.twitter.com/qPr3KDGL97
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) March 4, 2016
Cruz and Rubio created a Cuban blockade tonight against Trump #gopdebate
— Kerry Picket (@KerryPicket) March 4, 2016
— Five key conservative talking heads declared that Cruz had the best night of anyone:
“Cruz had a terrific night,” writes National Review executive editor Rich Lowry. “He was strong and in command in his exchanges with Trump, and drew blood on Trump’s Hillary donations and the New York Times transcript. He avoided getting dragged down into the mud with Trump in the same way Rubio did. In general, he was firing on all cylinders, and his answer on Detroit was particularly good.”
Cruz showing why he was a national debate champion.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 4, 2016
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) March 4, 2016
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) March 4, 2016
Watching the debate, had a moment of mystical insight and clairvoyant vision: Could we end up with a Cruz-Kasich ticket?
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 4, 2016
— There’s near consensus that Rubio diminished himself.
“The Florida senator seemed to have resigned himself to a kamikaze mission against Trump during this debate,” writes The Fix’s Chris Cillizza, who puts him on his list of losers. “He jabbed at and with Trump over and over again in the debate’s first 60 minutes, turning every question — and answer — into an attack on Trump. It hurt Trump but hurt Rubio, too, as he struggled to get back to his more positive ‘new American century’ message. Rubio improved in the second half of the debate, but Cruz was better throughout. It’s hard to see how this debate changes the dynamic set in place on Tuesday night: Trump as the favorite, Cruz with the next best chance of being the nominee, Rubio as Trump spoiler.”
Rubio says he will support someone he is currently calling a “con artist”. Sorta undercuts the attack, no?
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) March 4, 2016
Oh, boy, this #gopdebate is so unbecoming for both Trump and Rubio. Unintelligible yelling over each other.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) March 4, 2016
— By trying to stay above the fray, Kasich probably helped inject himself back into the debate and improved his chances of winning his home state of Ohio on March 15. In that 25-person focus group run by Luntz, 18 picked Kasich as the winner. Six picked Cruz, one picked Trump and none picked Rubio.
This total mentions chart from our analytics partners at Zignal Labs, which shows media mentions between 9 p.m. to midnight Eastern, indicates Kasich may have had a bit of a breakthrough during tonight’s debate:
“Kasich gave a solid performance of strength, sense, charm, and gravitas that was further elevated when contrasted with the three heated squabblers on stage beside him,” writes Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin. “Some rousing moments recounting his campaign trail and Ohio experiences that will potentially leave a lingering positive impression with Main Street Republican voters.”
From a USA Today political reporter:
Kasich looked like the adult in the room. That’s right, people are suffering out there. Get on with it. #GOPDebate
— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiPrzybyla) March 4, 2016
This is George Costanza from Seinfeld:
As a Democrat, I was hugely impressed with Gov. Kasich. I only pray my Conservative friends are, too. A leader, a united and a decent man.
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) March 4, 2016
— But, but, but: Kasich would still rather watch his party combust than directly engage Trump. Shown a web video that his own campaign released mocking the front-runner for praising Vladimir Putin, the governor of Ohio refused to comment about it. “I’m not biting,” he said. That sounded like a consummate and calculating politician, not a statesman staying above the fray. Now is a gut-check moment for leadership, not dodges.
Hard to see how this #gopdebate changes anything, everyone is following their playbook & Kasich fades even w just 3 others on stage.
— Annie Linskey (@AnnieLinskey) March 4, 2016
There seem to be three guys debating each other and Kasich weighing in occasionally from the sidelines. https://t.co/6sHZw4yNKK
— Brit Hume (@brithume) March 4, 2016
— The Post’s Fact Checkers flag 14 fishy claims made during the debate. From Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee:
- Trump seriously overstates the case when he claims the United States is getting “absolutely crushed” in trade with “every other country.”
- Cruz continues to say that Trump financed the Gang of Eight. But this is misleading. The majority of Trump’s donations was made long before the 2013 Gang of Eight’s support for comprehensive immigration reform.
- Rubio dropped his estimate of Trump’s inheritance from $200 million to $100 million, but that’s probably still too high. Trump and his siblings were reported to have expected $35 million each before Trump’s father died. But, as we have explained, Trump’s claim that he inherited $1 million and turned it into $10 billion is also false.
- What could account for Trump’s strange notion that the 9/11 hijackers were married and shipped their wives home just before the attacks? Perhaps he is conflating reports of Saudi nationals leaving the United States after the attacks. But even so, it would have made little sense for such a carefully planned plot to have such poor operational security.
- Cruz is exaggerating his law-enforcement credentials.
- Trump University actually earned a D- from BBB before it was shut down.