Tags: 2016 Elections | 2016 GOP | Marco Rubio | Ted Cruz

Rubio, Cruz Owned the Debate

Rubio, Cruz Owned the Debate

By Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:01 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were the big winners of the latest Republican presidential debate — so say political thinkers I interviewed following the battle.

While Donald Trump’s statement that he would support the eventual GOP nominee was certainly newsworthy, it was the clash of sons of  Cuban immigrants and the scenario of a nomination fight coming down to Rubio and Cruz that captivated almost everyone.

“A new defining dynamic in Rubio-Cruz” is what emerged from the CNN-sponsored forum in Las Vegas, according to veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell. “Daily Caller” blogger Matt Lewis, author of “Too Dumb to Fail,” concluded that “the real action was between Rubio and Cruz.” (Neither Lewis nor O’Connell, nor anyone else on our panel, has a favorite in the presidential contest.)

“Ted Cruz said he didn’t want a cage match with Donald Trump and instead it was a chess match in which Cruz came out on top,” concluded Kathie Obradovich, political reporter for the “Des Moines Register.”

She noted that “Marco Rubio exchanged blows with Cruz over immigration and homeland security, even while taking a few lumps from Rand Paul. But Rubio is not a serious threat to Cruz in the Iowa caucuses and is not likely to benefit if Cruz drops in the polls.”

Pointing to several recent polls among likely Iowa GOP voters showing Cruz in first place over Trump, Obradovich said that the Texan’s strategy of “keeping Trump close rather than provoking an attack from him benefits Cruz. Instead, Jeb Bush and several others did Cruz’s work for him by attacking Trump.”

“There were three debates in Las Vegas: the whole field, Rubio and Cruz, and Bush and Trump,” Franklin and Marshall College professor G. Terry Madonna, considered the premier pollster in Pennsylvania, told me. “The top two were Cruz and Rubio. Christie and Bush performed well, but it wasn’t a game changer for either. Christie may have helped himself in New Hampshire — he had a good debate.”

Although veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman felt “Trump made no major mistakes and will continue to be the front-runner,” he also told me that “Cruz solidified second place as a credible alternative to Trump. The open question is whether in the long term, the Republican ‘establishment’ would support or sit on the sidelines if Cruz or Trump were the nominee.”

As for Rubio, Rotterman said, “he is clearly well-versed on issues, but his support for the Gang of Eight amnesty plan is a big problem with the base. In my view, it’s down to Trump, Rubio, and Cruz. Having three candidates on the stage will crystallize the race. So long as we have nine candidates debating, the big winner will be Hilary Clinton.”

“Rubio did well enough, but Cruz outplayed him,” said historian David Pietrusza, whose latest book on presidential election years is the much-praised “1932.” “The Florida senator was not helped by Rand Paul’s opening up a second front against him on border security.”

As for those who lost ground in the Las Vegas extravaganza, Pietrusza cited Bush (“impossible to see him as president or probably not even as a Cabinet secretary”) and California businesswoman Carly Fiorina (“she seems to have forgotten there is a broad line between being forceful and merely annoying, as she assumed John Kasich’s normal supporting function of providing shrill interruptions”).

In concluding that “the real action was between Rubio and Cruz,” the “Daily Caller’s” Lewis felt that “after several substantive discussions about topics such as immigration and spreading democracy, the two probably fought to a draw.”

A couple of times, he said, “Cruz came across as unlikeable — once when he tried to filibuster and was shut down by Wolf Blitzer and once when he gave a rather ‘Clintonian’ answer that he did not ‘intend’ to support legalization for illegal immigrants.

"Interestingly, Trump’s comments about banning Muslim immigration was a very minor part of the debate. It’s probably a tribute to CNN that it didn’t overshadow other substantive foreign policy issues.”

Consultant O’Connell told me there was “no clear winner, yet three candidates excelled in the debate: Cruz, Rubio, and Trump. That said, we have a new defining dynamic in Rubio-Cruz.

"They canceled each other out on the stage — Rubio bested Cruz on foreign policy and national security, but Cruz outflanked Rubio on immigration. Trump-mania will keep rolling along because a significant portion of the Republican electorate is fed up with ‘politics as usual.’”

In forecasting a protracted clash between first-term Sens. Rubio and Cruz, O’Connell noted that Rubio has mastered presentation and substance, and Cruz, already strong on substance, has perfected the art of using conservative talk-radio buzzwords. Both are effective, depending on your base of support.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were the big winners of the latest Republican presidential debate — so say political thinkers interviewed following the battle.
2016 Elections, 2016 GOP, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:01 AM
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