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Substance Broke Out at GOP debate

Image: Substance Broke Out at GOP debate
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Friday, 11 Mar 2016 08:22 AM Current | Bio | Archive

A funny thing happened at the GOP debate — substance and civility won the day.

Despite the lack of carnival barker atmosphere, under which he has flourished, Donald Trump rose above the fray observers agree.

“The debate was the most substantive of the debates — few personal attacks, but policy differences,” Franklin and Marshall College professor G. Terry Madonna, who is considered the premier pollster in Pennsylvania, told me. “Personal invective was missing, although certainly policy differences were present.”

Noting “a complete reversal of attitude and approach by Rubio and even for the rest of the field” from the last debate, Madonna pointed out that there was “more discussion on Social Security than in previous debates. It’s a big issue in Florida, where a big majority of voters oppose cuts and raising age.”

As to who emerged on top, Madonna concluded that “Trump had a very strong performance up to the first break, maybe his best, but he grew defensive in the later portions. That probably will make no difference.

“There were also strong performances by Cruz and Rubio, with the latter winning tonight. The big question for Rubio, however, is does it deliver Florida. Kasich was largely above any controversy.”

Veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman agreed, saying “Civility worked for Mr. Trump.”

Rotterman, who has no horse in the presidential race, told me he found Trump “cool, calm, and collected.” He can see the nomination in his grasp and he maneuvered according to circumstance.

“Cruz again showed a wide grasp of the issues and purported himself well. Rubio had his best debate of the campaign, but it was too little too late. His image was severely damaged when in the past two weeks he got in a street fight with Mr. Trump. Kasich again got little time, but when he did, he shined.”

Trump, Rotterman said, “has to be pleased with the Miami debate. His opponents barely laid a glove on him and he solidified his position as front-runner.”

Kathie Obradovich, political reporter for the “Des Moines Register” made it unanimous.

“The presidential tone and substantive debate played in Trump’s favor to an extent, because he was clearly working to appeal to establishment Republicans,” she told me. “In his opening and closing statements, he urged the party not to turn away ‘millions’ of new people that he’s bringing in through his campaign.”

Obradovich felt that the debate’s focus on substance “gave Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio a chance to poke holes in Trump’s agenda, especially foreign policy. Cruz skewered Trump on the Iran nuclear deal and on his stance toward Israel. Trump’s response that he was the grand marshal of the Israeli Day Parade, as if that says something about his Middle Eastern policy, was laughable.

“The problem was, no one laughed. The candidates were trying so hard to be civil that they missed chances to let some air out of the tires on Trump’s parade float.”

As for the other contenders, Obradovich felt that “one of Cruz’s best moments came when he was asked about the violence at Trump’s rallies and he turned it into an opportunity to portray himself as someone who puts himself second to the people. He took a few lumps from Trump about his shifting stance on ethanol and the fact he has won about half the states that Trump has.”

Rubio, she felt, “clearly had a home stage advantage in Miami and he had a strong debate. His argument for why President Obama’s Cuba policy is wrong was especially remarkable. But even his charming story about the South Florida supporter who won’t give up doesn’t change the argument that he and John Kasich have little hope left for the nomination.”

“Trump didn’t win this debate on substance,” Obradovich concluded, “But nobody else had a game-changing night. That leaves Trump on top.”

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

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A funny thing happened at the GOP debate — substance and civility won the day.
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Friday, 11 Mar 2016 08:22 AM
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