Big Picture

Tonight’s GOP debate was Ted Cruz’s night. He went right after Donald Trump multiple times, but in a way that came across as forceful and informed, but not nasty. He also fended off a pretty vigorous attack from Marco Rubio. His strongest points came early and against Trump, when the audience would be the largest.

Trump was runner-up. He had a good moment on Cruz’s slam on “NY Values,” but I’m not sure how defending NY values plays outside NY. His performance will confirm pre-existing views of him.

Rubio had an okay night, not great, not horrible. Maneuvered the immigration issue into one of national security — in other words Gang of 8 was then, this is now. Landed some punches on Cruz at the end.

Christie may have raised his profile as the acceptable establishment candidate, as Jeb again failed to impress, and Kasich was Kasich. At least Christie showed some fight.

Biggest loser — Ben Carson. Didn’t seem to be in the game at many levels.


Cruz came into the debate with two clouds hanging over the campaign.

The first issue was whether he is eligible to be president as a natural born Citizen. (You know my position.) The issue has been hurting him not because he’s wrong on substance, but because it created doubts. It had the potential — and still may — to do damage to Cruz in Iowa.

Eligibility is an issue pushed by Donald Trump in a passive-aggressive manner, and by Trump supporters like Ann Coulter in an aggressive manner. Cruz not only handled it well, he got right in Trump’s face on the issue.

It not only was Cruz’s strongest moment in any debate, it was Trump’s weakest moment yet.

Here was my live tweeting on the issue:

The Goldman Sachs loan issue was whether a campaign loan in his 2012 Senate run was properly disclosed. It was a media generated issue with a lot of smoke, but not much substance. Kemberlee has explained the issue in a prior post — there’s not much to it. But, because the media loved the issue because they hate Cruz, it’s been all over the place. Again, Cruz handled it well.

Trump did have a strong performance on the issue of Cruz criticizing “NY Values” — though Cruz said he was using the term because that’s how Trump described himself. But Trump invoked the aftermath of 9/11, and it was his strongest — in my mind only strong — point of the night:

Trump stood by his hard line on a temporary immigration ban on Muslims and refugees. I think his support is baked in on that issue, so I don’t see it moving any voters.

Trump also had a very strong closing statement about the American sailors who were forced to kneel by the Iranians.