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Did 'Pile On Trump' Work in Last Debate Before Super Tuesday?

Did 'Pile On Trump' Work in Last Debate Before Super Tuesday?
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Friday, 26 February 2016 08:18 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In what seemed to some a last-gasp maneuver, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz went after Donald Trump in a ferocious way Thursday night.

Neutral observers who spoke to me minutes after the CNN-sponsored Republican debate from Houston all agreed that Rubio and possibly Cruz gained ground from this "pile-on-Trump" strategy.

But none were quite sure there was enough time before next week's Super Tuesday primaries for the two senators who are considered Trump's leading opponents to stop or slow down the controversial front-runner.

"It was clear both Cruz and Rubio's strategy was to go after Trump, and there was lots of vitriol there," Prof. G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College, who is considered the premier pollster in Pennsylvania, told me, "The real gambit here was to go after Trump, but the question is ‘will it work?'"

Noting that "Trump under attack all evening," Madonna concluded that "on balance Rubio was the most aggressive and more effective [than Cruz], with some good one-liners.

"This may be the last chance to stop Trump. That was well understood. Rubio and Cruz realize that they can't stop Trump unless the field gets winnowed. There are too many delegates to be chosen—about 1,237 – through March 15."

As to whether these attacks on Trump will change much in the voting in 14 states on Super Tuesday, Madonna pointed out that Trump "has a core of support in the 35 percent range. The debate attacks might cause a minor drop in this support."

Regarding the other two candidates, he felt that Ohio Gov. John Kasich "had a good night, but it probably is too late to help him much. Was Dr. [Ben] Carson even at the debate?"

Veteran GOP consultant Ford O'Connell, who has no favorite in the presidential race, felt that "without question Marco Rubio was the winner tonight even though he got some major assists from Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney [who had suggested to a reporter that Trump's income tax records might contain a "bombshell"]. He was aggressive and went right after Trump from the opening bell.

"The biggest moment for Rubio was when he went after Trump on healthcare and attacked Trump for not only repeating himself but for making the point that Trump is all bluster and no substance when it comes to key policies and solutions. Hitting Trump's business success for being the byproduct of a silver spoon birth is something pundits will be talking about until the next votes are cast. You have to wonder why it took until the 10th debate for Rubio and Cruz to go after Trump."

O'Connell felt that "there is no way to spin this for Trump — even he knows he got pushed around. He walked into a tag team and got ‘Cuban sandwiched.'"

But like Madonna, O'Connell also pointed out that "voters' opinions are pretty set in stone and the voting window is rapidly closely. What is not clear is if Rubio will get a bump on Super Tuesday or even in Florida when all is said and done."

The assessment of O'Connell and Madonna was also endorsed by historian David Pietrusza, author of four much-praised books on presidential election years.

"Rubio took the lead, landing hammer blows on Trump's chin like a young welterweight pummeling an over-the-hill opponent," he told me, "Rubio clearly carried the night, particularly in an early exchange over Obamacare. He not only exposed Trump's policy shallowness, he even managed to turn the tables on Trump in regard to who ‘robotically' repeated the same talking points.

"But in the evening's latter half, it was Cruz who held sway. Methodically and in essentially prosecutorial fashion, he pressed his case, point-by-point, against Trump as a long-time ally of liberals who would be the Republican weakest general election candidate. For good measure he skewered his business ethics and even subtly jabbed at his age (alluding to Trump's "nearly 70 years of life").

Trump, Pietrusza felt, "seemed shaken, lashing out in pointless, mean-spirited attacks on Kasich and moderator Hugh Hewitt (‘Very few people listen to your radio show'). His capacity for random venom shone through."

But he concluded in much the same way as the other observers, wondering "if that portion of the public that admires buffoonish smear artists will probably still continue to admire buffoonish smear artists. And that remains Donald Trump's great anti-social safety net."

As for the other two candidates, Pietrusza agreed that "Kasich had his moments but, even those were mere needless interruptions of the blood-strewn main Trump-Rubio-Cruz tag-team. Ben Carson, meanwhile, seemed even more molasses-like than usual. He probably did start exiting the race before Iowa but is doing so slowly he never quite gets there."

There are, of course, second opinions. Another GOP consultant who is neutral in the presidential race, North Carolina's Marc Rotterman, told me "Donald Trump had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him tonight, not only from his opponents on stage, but from the moderators.

"He gave as well as he got."

As for the billionaire's two premier antagonists, Rotterman felt that "both Cruz and Rubio at times landed punches on Mr. Trump. At other times both Cruz and Rubio looked desperate. Will the shots landed by Cruz and Rubio stop the Trump wave? Probably not."

Kasich, said Rotterman, "was substantive and noncombative. Most likely, too little too late. Again, I'm sorry to say Dr. Carson was a non-factor."

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


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In what seemed to some a last-gasp maneuver, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz went after Donald Trump in a ferocious way Thursday night.
pile, trump, debate, tactic, gizzi
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2016-18-26
Friday, 26 February 2016 08:18 AM
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