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Without Trump, GOP candidates debate who despises Cruz the most

Sen. Ted Cruz speaking during Thursday night's debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

It was certainly possible to imagine, in advance, that Donald Trump’s petulant decision to skip the last pre-Iowa debate would backfire on him, making him look like a coward or a baby or a control freak or whatever. But, after suffering through Thursday night’s two-hour blather-a-thon, I suspect Trump “won” the debate by not showing up.

It was incredibly boring. I would like to stick to the old-fashioned eat-your-vegetables belief that it is not the job of politics to be entertaining. I actually believe that — or am trying, desperately against all evidence, to cling to some version of that pre-Trumpian belief.

But in the case of last night’s GOP presidential debate, “boring” doesn’t mean substantive. In addition to lacking entertainment value, the debate also lacked substance. I didn’t learn anything interesting about any of the candidates’ records or ideas. You wouldn’t have to be terribly cynical to have an overwhelming impression that they were almost all lying or at least exaggerating their “records” of “accomplishment.”

(The exception to that would Dr. Ben Carson, who has no “record,” at least in the government-policy area. He chose to filibuster his own closing statement by reciting the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. He got only two words wrong, out of 52, as far as I can tell.)

Without Trump to suck up all the oxygen, it came across how much the other candidates despise Sen. Ted Cruz. (And, watching and listening to him, it’s not that hard to understand why.) Of course, it’s well known that the Republican Establishment dislikes Cruz so much that many of its members prefer Trump.

In a time of anti-establishment fervor, that could be a badge of honor, unless, as you watch Cruz weasel around the issues, you find that you don’t like him either. (Not a single one of Cruz’s Senate colleagues supports him for president, but he did manage to get one U.S. House member from Iowa, Steve King, to co-chair his campaign, and he managed to mention King five times last night.)

The level of dislike for Cruz among his colleagues actually became a premise for one of co-moderator Chris Wallace’s questions. It turns out that on several occasions on the Senate floor, Cruz has made motions that died for lack of a second, even though seconding a colleague’s motion is normally treated as a minimal act of senatorial courtesy.

Obama-bashing trophy

Marco Rubio wins the Obama-bashing trophy for the night for this, from his opening statement: “This campaign is about the greatest country in the world and a president who has systematically destroyed many of the things that made America special.”

Cruz wins the transparently-sucking-up-to-Iowa trophy for this: “If I am elected president, keep an eye on the tarmac, because I’ll be back. Iowa in 2017 will not be fly-over country. It will be fly-to country.”

In general, the candidates have all learned that it is better to lie than tell a truth that doesn’t fit the political needs of the moment. Here are a couple of examples from last night.

The Fox team, which did a good job, showed videotape of Cruz arguing for an amendment to the famous “Gang of Eight” bill on immigration in which Cruz plainly stated that he wanted the bill to pass and that he wanted to grant “those 11 million people who are here illegally, a legal status,” short of citizenship, that would allow them to remain in the U.S. And that if only his amendment would be adopted (which clarified that the 11 million would not be eligible for full citizenship, although their children born on U.S. soil would), the bill would be more likely to pass.

After showing the tape, Megyn Kelly (Trump’s favorite journalist) asked Cruz: “Was that all an act? It was pretty convincing.”

Cruz moved his lips for a while. Words came out. None of them responded to her question, and none of them told the truth when he said on the videotape:

“I don’t want immigration reform to fail. I want immigration reform to pass. I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically.”

What he meant was: “I want this amendment to pass because I believe it will help cause the overall bill to fail.”

He managed to get through the moment without admitting that what he said on the videotape was a — what’s the word I’m searching for? — lie.

Accidental truth-telling

The other beauty in the accidental truth-telling-moment department occurred near the end. Jeb Bush, who by consensus had his best debate so far (which isn’t saying much), made a pitch for people to read a book he wrote about the immigration issue.

Bush believes — he said so last night and he apparently said so in his book — that “we should have a path to legal status for the 12 million people that are here illegally. It means, come out from the shadows, pay a fine, earn legal status by working, by paying taxes, learning English. Not committing crimes and earn legal status where you’re not cutting in front of the line for people that are patiently waiting outside.”

Rubio said last night that “earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.” He also claims to be opposed to amnesty. But, in the past, he (like Bush) favored an earned-path to legal status — not citizenship, but legal status — which could also be called a form of “amnesty” because it allows those who came into the country illegally to remain here legally. Now that part of his evolution on the issue has become inconvenient. But he had the chutzpah to accuse Bush thus:

RUBIO (To Bush): You used to support a path to citizenship.

BUSH: So did you.


RUBIO: Well, but you changed the — in the book…

BUSH: Yeah. So did you, Marco.

Rubio didn’t deny it, didn’t confirm it, but pivoted to the uber-safe, consensus Republican position that no overall solution to immigration reform can work until greater measures are adopted to prevent more migrants from crossing the border illegally.

If by any chance you would like to read a full, annotated transcript of the debate, the Washington Post has once again supplied one.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/29/2016 - 01:56 pm.

    Ah, me…

    The absence of Trump last night failed to raise the level of discourse among the others, at least not much.

    OK, I did force myself to break my vow to ignore these guys until after Iowa does something. Silly me. I thought maybe I might hear more substance, less sloganeering.

    I had expected Rubio to look better than others. Guess he did, at least in some Friday quarterback minds. JEB looked more confident without sounding much more competent. Christie got off some good stuff, as expected (oh, what a relief he is). Don’t remember much else, except that Cruz deadpanned a horribly sophomoric late-night TV stand-up that belonged in some obscure basement comedy club. Ouch!! The “Cruz Whistle” definitely won the trifecta award for “lame, lamer, lamest” performance.

    Really and truly, I fell asleep somewhere by halftime (I guess) and awoke hours later in my recliner, thereby screwing up the rest of my night. And that, friends, is the most accurate image of the “debate” needed by those multitudes who wisely ignored this perfunctory political petulance.

    Alert: Beware of any after-action polls on this one.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/29/2016 - 03:47 pm.

    My Sympathies

    I watched some cool stuff on Netflix. Even with Trump there would have been no substance however, you KNOW that right? Expecting substance from these guys is like putting a bunch of dogs in a room full of musical instruments and waiting for an orchestra to form up and play Beethoven.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/29/2016 - 06:54 pm.

    Trump smelled a trap

    And his instincts were right.

    I said prior to this debate that Trump had nothing to gain and everything to lose by attending this debate. I had no idea then just how true that was. I’m not a Trump supporter but I’m really beginning to admire his skillset.

    YouTube Question: “I’m Nabela Noor. I’m a Muslim American born and raised in the U.S. who creates beauty and lifestyle videos on Youtube. In 2015, the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. has tripled, and on social media, where I spend a lot of time, I’ve seen many attacks directed towards fellow Muslims. This culture of hatred is only driving ISIS to radicalize, recruit and incite violence. As president, what would you do to address this toxic climate and promote increased tolerance in the United States?”

    Nabela Noor is a Bernie Sanders supporter. Why would Fox invite a Sanders supporter to ask a question in a republican primary debate that is intended to educate republican primary voters? Can we expect to see Trump or Cruz supporters ask a question of Hillary Clinton at the democrat debate?

    YouTube Question: “I’m Dulce Candy, a Youtube creator who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when I was a little girl. Since then, I am proud to say I served in the armed forces in Iraq, became a citizen and I am now an entrepreneur. There are many immigrants who contribute positively to the American economy, but some of the comments in the campaign make us question our place in this country. If America does not seem like a welcoming place for immigrant entrepreneurs, will the American economy suffer?”

    Dulce Candy is an illegal immigrant. Why would Fox invite an illegal immigrant (democrat voter) to ask a question at a republican primary debate, again, that is intended to educate republican primary voters?

    Those questioners were obviously intended to ambush Trump. Absent Trump, you could tell the moderators didn’t really know who to direct them to. Jeb Bush? Yeah, right. Fox’s problem is that two of their three moderators are liberal democrats (Wallace and Kelly). Would Sanders and Clinton allow their debate to be moderated by Rush Limbaugh? I don’t think so.

    Once again Trump outsmarted the media and thank God the nonsense is over.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/30/2016 - 09:53 am.

      Trump smelled

      I could leave it at that,
      but let’s say he smelled the possibility of a real debate, which includes actually have to answer other people’s questions, not simply insult them.
      Since Trump himself has raised the issue of immigration, questions from actual immigrants what have made positive contributions would seem to be relevant.
      Trump doesn’t want a real debate; he wants free publicity so he can appeal to voters who are not interested in questioning. In other words, the kind of campaign rally that he ended up staging.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/30/2016 - 10:03 am.

      Interesting, Dennis

      I wonder what FNC has to say, if anything, to explain your points. Did you know that Megyn Kelly took the first 11 minutes (that’s a TV news lifetime) after the open of her show to explain-defend-dismiss the Trump cancellation? Vanity was at stake, I guess. More sophisticated anchors would simply state the announcement as “news” and move on to other budget items. I’m sure FNC competitors loved that display.

      As many out here, I have little idea what Donald is doing (and pretty much do not care, except for the frequent tremor readings in the news); however, I’m pretty sure Kelly’s vanity/ego got “Trumpled” pretty well this week.

      This is truly a weird/wacky/opportunistic election year. One of these days (or not) Donad Trump may start sounding and acting more the conventional candidate, and news outlets will line up behind that persona if it brings viewers/ratings.

      Iowa help us!! (Never thought I’d ever invoke that.)

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 01/30/2016 - 10:12 am.

      Valid questions….

      and Trump would be stumped for an answer….which in short is why he is not a Presidential fit.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/30/2016 - 01:41 pm.

      These Republicans are such tender flowers. Close up and wilt at the least cool breeze.

      As we all know, the biggest challenge for a President is picking the sycophant who will ask the most flattering question.

      “Gosh, President Cruz, are you really the smartest person in any room ?”

      “Gee, President Trump, can you tell us how popular you are ? ”

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/30/2016 - 03:32 pm.

      Dulce Candy

      WAS an illegal immigrant.
      The United States Armed Forces have a special program to expedite naturalization for members, so I suspect that is how she became a citizen.
      As an entrepreneur she may well vote Republican on occasion.
      Just more proof that Trump plays softball, not hardball like the big boys.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/31/2016 - 09:28 am.

      President of some of the people?

      DT, guess your opinion reflects that selective republican perspective that we go back and forth on out here. The president should lead the nation, remember Carson’s “We the people” clearly, your perspective is, no, folks like Trump only lead certain select groups with qualifiers in the nation, and the rest be dammed. Gotcha politics? If Trump can’t face the America Media, he has no place on the global stage as a world leader, (talk about a laughing stock or global coward), if the international questions get to tough, we can clearly expect Trump to repeat that strategy cut and run. Trump didn’t out-smart anyone, he showed his true colors, if he isn’t the biggest bully in the room he takes his toys and goes home. Simply put, when the going got tough, he got going in the other direction,
      PS: And how is it that all Mexicans are illegal immigrant, democrats and have no right to ask a question of a presidential candidate? Should we have gotten questionnaires from the various media sources on our internet or cable connections qualifying us show our Republican Party card carrying credentials before allowing us to watch these events?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/01/2016 - 10:04 am.

      The Nose Knows

      “Why would Fox invite an illegal immigrant (democrat voter) to ask a question at a republican primary debate, again, that is intended to educate republican primary voters?”

      First of all, only citizens may vote. You knew that, of course.

      Second, like it or not, the general election is not limited to Republicans, or those members of demographics deemed acceptable (i.e. more likely to vote Republican). Whoever is chosen as candidate will (oversimplifying here) have to convince a majority of all voters to vote for him or her.

      “Would Sanders and Clinton allow their debate to be moderated by Rush Limbaugh? I don’t think so.” Would anyone with any pretense to intelligence ask Rush Limbaugh to do anything? I don’t think so. Why don’t the Republicans ask him to moderate their debates?

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/29/2016 - 06:56 pm.

    Must have been 2 different debates?

    Agree lots of bull wacky coming from, Cruz Rubio, Christie, the doctor seemed more or less on Ambien. There were touches of reality, specifically with Rand Paul, John Kaisch and Jeb. Ideas like, how are you going to pay for that new carpet of bombs and defense build up? We can’t get there with out a collaboration from the other side of the isle. And we are not going to export 12 million people. Its fair to criticize, some of the flat out BS, but we should also note that some of these these folks are actually thinking about addressing real issues and not just loud mouths spouting bombast, and praying for a terrorist plot in order to start another war.

    Perhaps parts of our media are more interested in entertainment than finding the facts & truths in the debate, and then we wonder why our political system is so ugly and screwed up.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/29/2016 - 09:35 pm.

    Most media outlets devoted more time to the Trump stunt than to the bedraggled speeches of the debate. Even the BBC.

    Man bites dog—always news.

    Trump won, big.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 01/30/2016 - 06:58 am.

    Meet Gingrich’s interesting comment on Trump

    “I think it’s very hard for traditional political observers to understand (what’s happening).”

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/30/2016 - 09:37 am.

    If ratings translated into votes…

    Trump might pull this off. Unfortunately presidential elections are not comparable to American Idol votes. I think the only thing Trump will prove in the end will the difference being a media darling and a viable presidential candidate, and I think he’ll prove it in spectacular fashion.

  8. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/31/2016 - 09:44 am.

    The fallacy of your position,

    Can be summed up in one sentence you wrote- ‘to educate Republican voters”. That is not possible. And the reality is both Trump AND Cruz dissemble anytime they are called to defend one of their own “statements” about facts, which they steadfastly refuse to answer. They all have lied and the fact that you ersatz patriots attack a vet who fought for this country is a sad statement about the howling mob psychology of Trump, et al, for this campaign. This is not a party, it is a mob.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/01/2016 - 08:45 am.

      Rather Harsh

      Don’t you think? Isn’t a great part of the Democrat agenda about (properly) accepting others who do not believe as we do? One might not know from political rhetoric…but that’s politics, not philosophy.

  9. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/31/2016 - 03:04 pm.


    I find it ironic that both Cruz and Rubio have such enmity toward “illegal immigrants.” Cruz’s father became a naturalized citizen of the US after being granted asylum (he was born in Cuba). By definition, asylum seekers in the US are there illegally, having overstayed their legal allowance. Rubio’s parents didn’t seek asylum, but considering that they hailed from Cuba during the Batista regime, it seems selfish to close the gates. Besides, he did embellish his parents’ story to fit a narrative that suggested that they were victims of Castro’s forced to flee Cuba. It was a lie, but it seems to add further irony to his current stance on immigrants.

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