AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Jeb Bush speaks as Marco Rubio, right and John Kasich listen during a Republican presidential primary debate, Thursday, January 28, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Big Dog Trump Wins Debate By Staying Away: Cruz Control Slipping

Steve Russell

What if they had a dogfight and the alpha dog did not show up? The Donald Trump boycotted the seventh GOP debate. First, he did not like having Megyn Kelly as moderator because she had in the past asked him to account for being extremely insulting toward women. I have no sympathy for Trump because he really did say what she claimed he said and it was really insulting to women and more than half the voters are women. It was a fair question, and Fox ought to stand behind their woman.

RELATED: Trump Throws Down on Megyn Kelly: Rating the Republican Debate

However, the least professional network then made the least professional statement in television news history:

We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.

Coming from the management of a serious news network, that statement telegraphs a boatload of bias and after that demonstration I don’t blame the alpha dog for resisting the prime-time whistle.

For the record, it also looked unlikely that the omega dog would agree to bark on Fox. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul skipped the last debate because he refused to sit at the kiddie table. Sen. Paul, who I originally took to be the omega dog, had a credible theory behind his candidacy. His father, Ron Paul, had a core of libertarian support. The idea was to generate enough new ideas to build on Ron Paul’s support with a new generation of activists. The theory has not panned out, and Rand Paul has so far been unable to inherit his father’s base—much less build on it.

But what do I know?

I was asking back in the third debate whether it would cull the herd, which would absolutely be in the best interests of the Republican Party. So far, there has been too much ambient testosterone, which makes it hard for candidates to bail.

RELATED: Did the Third GOP Debate Finally Cull the Herd?

The list of dropouts has been pretty well controlled by poll numbers, since poll numbers tend to open and close the money spigots. Those who have quit so far had little choice: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Still, the GOP field is so large that it’s possible to run ahead of the field with numbers that say nothing about the general election.

The undercard last night was former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and the candidate who came in second to Mitt Romney in 2012, former Virginia Sen. Rick Santorum. Huckabee and Santorum are prior winners of the Iowa caucuses.

The main event was Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (endorsed by Rick Perry), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (endorsed by George Pataki), Dr. Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush (endorsed by Lindsey Graham).

I keep saying I will not report on the undercard because nobody there is a contender, but every time I’ve found something worth reporting anyway. Fiorina is probably still in the running to be somebody’s vice presidential candidate, but her numbers tanked after she got caught lying about the Planned Parenthood videos and she has not recovered.

Ben Carson’s numbers tanked after he demonstrated ignorance of foreign policy. In his speech trying to dispel the impression of ignorance, he conflated a terrorist organization and a tasty dish of mashed chickpeas. Yum.

Chris Christie, whether or not he gets indicted in New Jersey’s Bridgegate scandal, has gone too far with his meanness when he focused it on New Jersey flood victims, asking, “Do you want me to go down there with a mop?” That's going too far for even Christie to mop up.

Interestingly, when Christie was asked if Bridgegate could have an impact on his GOP candidacy chances, the governor responded by saying he did nothing wrong, as proven by three federal investigations. He immediately followed with how he, as a former prosecutor, will make sure Clinton pays for her wrongdoings. Clinton has been the focus of seven investigations and one current investigation that so far has concluded no overt wrongdoing on her part.

I say Christie, Carson, Fiorina, Paul and the entire undercard are no longer contenders.

Jeb! is still a contender because he has more money than God. He competes to be the not-Trump with Rubio and Kasich. Ted Cruz would put the GOP as off plumb for the general election as Trump.

Last night, Cruz needed to win convincingly over Rubio and they all needed to beat Cruz, who is running neck and neck with Trump in Iowa. Therefore, Trump’s absence probably means more incoming for the others, but particularly for Cruz and Rubio.

The undercard

As a group, they demonstrated why they are at the kiddie table.

Gilmore has been gone from the debates a long time, but he certainly came back prepared to mix it up. He told Trump (not by name) that it’s not right to insult great swaths of the country. He also took a not very veiled swipe at the others on the stage who planned to go across town and visit the Trump event, grumping that he, Gilmore, is “not going to carry the coat of some billionaire.”

Chihuahuas will nip you.

Santorum said Mr. Obama has been “the most divisive president in my lifetime” and “you can’t trust him to keep a deal.” Very gutsy statement for this audience, right?

Rev. Huckabee proved he knows neither what socialism is or what Bernie Sanders says. Then he harked back to his win eight years ago and offered up Isaiah 1:18. Pitch perfect for the Jesus vote, which always overlooks the many socialist tendencies expressed by Jesus.

Fiorina contended “this ain’t workin’ anymore.” “This” was politics, I presume, and not her campaign. She says we need to “take our country back.” Pitch perfect for the white person who feels his or her power slipping away.

The main event

Out of the chute, Ted Cruz was invited to insult Donald Trump and was happy to do so. Then, he promised not to insult Trump.

Jeb! Bush tweaked his fellow candidates by claiming they were all “in the Witness Protection Program” when he went after Trump. Which is pretty much true.

Rubio promised to keep us safe, “unlike Barack Obama.”

Rand Paul once more stood up for the Fourth Amendment in the discussion about communications intercepts.

Dr. Carson refused to accept that knowing nothing about politics disqualifies him from the highest political office. “You don’t have to be a politician to tell the truth.” Apparently, it has not dawned on him that a politician sometimes must lie for the good of the country. Name a President who never lied. What is important is why and to whom.

I have to hand it to the moderators for asking Ted Cruz why he claimed to be so committed to defense but voted against the Defense Authorization Acts three years in a row and would not back President Obama on his “red line” in Syria.

To ask is not to get an answer. Cruz responded that Obama has “dramatically degraded our military.” My copy of the Constitution puts the power of the purse strings in Congress.

After not answering, Cruz joked that if they asked him any more mean questions, he would leave the stage.

Next chance he got, Marco Rubio declared, “I won’t leave the stage no matter what you ask me.”

Take that, Trump!

Chris Christie, asked to name something the federal government should not do, came out against funding Planned Parenthood. Asked if he could name something bigger, he said nothing is bigger than killing all those babies.

For most bizarre remark at halftime in the debate, I would nominate John Kasich’s insistence to Megyn Kelly that there should be no public discussion of government regulation of encryption technology. Say what?

The immigration discussion was a veritable circus with Rubio, Cruz, and Paul calling each other liars. They were all correct.

Rubio asserted we need to “hire 20,000 new border agents instead of 20,000 new IRS agents” as if those were the choices. Sure glad he cleared that up.

Cruz offered Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin as character references. Sure glad he cleared that up.

Chris Christie scored a few points by claiming he needed a “Washington to English” dictionary to understand much of the spin on prior immigration positions.

Rubio worked in one of the laugh lines he’s used on the trail, claiming that Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president….of Sweden. At least, unlike Rev. Huckabee, he knows what Sanders believes is good public policy.

Dr. Carson seemed startled to be asked any question and it probably did not help when he was asked about Article Five of the NATO Treaty in the context of a Russian attack on Estonia. In a clinic on how to play softball, Chris Wallace was careful to explain what Article Five is (“an attack on one is an attack on all”). Dr. Carson went the long way around but arrived at a clean answer: of course, the U.S. must honor the NATO Treaty.

Cruz was given an opportunity to explain his opposition to mandatory ethanol standards in Iowa, which benefits from them. He said the government should not pick winners and losers.

Snark on—You know, like the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, and the interstate highway system? We should have just let transportation grow naturally without favoring boats or railroads or cars.—snark off.

Seriously, if you don’t “believe in” climate change, then it’s not an option to set carbon emissions goals and let private enterprise do what it does best and figure out how to meet those goals.

The demonization of “letting government pick the winners” is standard fare, but it’s hard to handle. Who sets priorities if not government as instructed by the voters?

It’s like a grand statement against “redistribution of wealth” when there is no act of government that does not redistribute wealth. Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt both redistributed lots of wealth—in opposite directions.

This sort of cant does not solve problems or offer any clue to how the speaker would govern if elected. I guess debate coverage is not a good job for a guy who is sensitive to cant, so let’s proceed to call the debate.

The big winner was the alpha dog, Donald Trump. He left the other candidates running not for president but for the not-Trump. The Donald accomplished this without the support of any reputable veteran organization. The several millions Trump raised are going to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has no history of supporting veterans. The Trump campaign claims 18 veteran organizations are “under consideration” to share in the Trump largesse.

Rubio moved in hard on the evangelical vote, sensing advantage in Cruz’s falling numbers since Trump raised the birther issue—an issue not touched all evening.

Jeb! continued to improve his performance, as he has each time. It may yet come to pass that the Bush campaign peaks when it needs to peak. I doubt it, but it remains possible.

Paul remains a dead candidate who has not fallen over, but he seemed to have a great time for a dead guy.

Cruz needed to beat Rubio decisively, and he did not. How Cruz will fare in Iowa will depend on how the voters react to what the alpha dog has done.

Kasich has established himself as a serious candidate, and he had a great night except for that bizarre attempt to shut down discussion of whether encryption software should be required to have a “back door.”

Dr. Carson burned his closing statement with a recitation of the preamble to the Constitution. It seems to me that those of us who consider it meaningful can also recite it. Therefore, we are not enlightened by Dr. Carson’s ability to do the same. Perhaps he should be speaking to those who do not consider it meaningful and offering them…leadership?

I have paid attention to every presidential election since the second Eisenhower-Stevenson match and based on what I’ve seen all those years I harbor the expectation that the candidates will at some point sound like grownups talking to other grownups about matters of mutual interest. It just seems like this year it’s taking an awfully long time for grownups to assert themselves.

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mem's picture
Submitted by mem on
...but is this what he's going to do if there's a dog fight of world leaders? Tuck his tail and not show up - some of the world learders are women. Is he going to say, the world leaders aren't fair in their questioning, so he just won't represent at all.