Cruz/ Rubio slug Trump. But is it too little too late?

· February 25, 2016  
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CNN screen capture of the GOP presidential debate in Houston, Texas.

As conservatives, we swore to ourselves that we would not let the liberal media pick our nominee again – like we did the past few cycles.  Yet, in debate after debate, the entire focus and narrative has been framed by the media in the form of hitting Donald Trump from the left.  This has resulted in many conservative voters (rightfully) thinking Trump is the presumptive anti-establishment candidate who will tear down the political class.  A case of circular logic, no doubt.

We never had an opportunity to observe candidates actually debate Trump from the right in a sustained fashion and actually reveal just who this man is, a man who is close to sealing the nomination.  Part of this was the fault of the other candidates declining to truly assail Trump on the issues, but much of it was because of the media narrative and the pathetic moderators.

Tonight’s debate was different.  It was, by far, the most informative debate as it relates to educating the public on Trump’s record.  This is because the two leading challengers, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio actually took the fight to Trump in a sustained manner.  Wolf Blitzer does deserve credit for formulating good questions that actually afforded the candidates the opportunity to inform the public about the real Donald Trump.  Unfortunately, the combination of a number of factors; namely, the clownish anchor from Telemundo, Wolf’s intervention to save Trump from a beat down on numerous occasions, and the distraction of Carson and Kasich’s presence at the debate, prevented the voters from seeing a full-throttle clash between the three real contenders.

In the first half of the debate, Rubio had stronger opportunities to hit Trump on his liberal, incoherent record.  But in the second half of the debate Cruz took it to Trump like never before, and he did so by deftly demonstrating how Trump is a consistent liberal and how he would be the worst person to go up against Hillary Clinton, given his political glass jaw.  Whether it’s support for Planned Parenthood, socialized medicine, the Libya intervention, liberal immigration policies, or his appalling position on Israel, Trump got exposed tonight.  Heck, I work in this business and didn’t even know that Trump supported the ridiculous Libya intervention, just like Rubio did.  How are conservative voters supposed to know Trump’s record if this is not litigated in a sustained debate?

Cruz also had the added benefit of tossing in Rubio and landing a lot of punches on his record, while taking no effective incoming fire.  He efficiently lumped Rubio in with his attacks on Trump, establishing that they both have inconsistent records.

Finally, the most effective performance from Cruz was his ability to litigate the case against Trump’s decades’ long support for Democrat candidates.  While this has been tossed at him parsimoniously throughout the campaign, nobody has successfully revealed in long form how he is responsible for – and tied to – the very system he claims to hate.

Rubio landed a punch that will likely stick with Trump when he showed how Trump is guilty of the very repetitive bromides that Rubio himself was criticized for in New Hampshire.  Coupled with Cruz’s attacks on Trump’s record and persona, it stripped bare for the public the person who was once thought as the consummate “alpha male in the room.”

However, Rubio himself was exposed by the Telemundo moderator for changing his position on repealing DACA.  Rubio actually admitted that he originally said he wasn’t going to repeal it “before he was running for president.”  That in itself reveals the problem many of us have with Rubio: he is only a conservative when trying to win our votes.  Ironically, Rubio was actually wrong about that because he announced for president on April 13 and gave the Univision interview, in which he said he would not repeal DACA without finding a replacement, on April 18.

Which leads to the next important outcome of the debate.  Cruz lost South Carolina largely because Trump and Rubio called him a liar for an entire week.  That accusation stuck with him.  In this debate, whether it was Trump on socialized medicine, support for the Libya invasion, or Rubio’s record on immigration, Cruz was vindicated and demonstrated it with painstaking fact by using the words of his opponents.  It is in fact his opponents who are the liars.

Cruz can now hold his head high running as the only consistent conservative and finally making that case effectively to the public.

Rubio also turned in a solid night and performed well.  But again, “performance” has sadly been the extent of his conservatism when you look at his record.

The question going forward is this: while Trump will likely bleed some support from this debate, was this too little, too late to take down Trump?  In addition to coming at the 11thhour, the Trump beat-down was incomplete.  Every time Rubio and Cruz trapped him and knocked him off his game, Wolf Blitzer took them off Trump’s beaten body or John Kasich interrupted with nonsense.  If this race does indeed continue past next week, conservatives must demand that the debate be limited to the top three candidates and that conservatives ask more questions in an extended format.  A townhall format would work out better.  We need a Lincoln-Douglas style debate between the three of them with a conservative moderator to simply keep the time and go to commercial break.

If Trump is indeed the nominee, many people will be asking the following two questions: why in the world didn’t the contenders take him down sooner and why do we continue to let the media frame our debate, and by extension, control the destiny of our movement?

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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.