Ted Cruz won this debate so handily that even the members of the media, who have largely ignored him throughout this debate, admitted he broke through the pack. Cruz dismembered Donald Trump and made the case that he is the only consistent conservative who has the temperament to be president. Also, unlike Rubio, Cruz did it with a sense of seriousness and sobriety instead of getting into the gutter with Trump.
This narrative began during last week’s debate but was crystalized tonight. For far too long, voters only saw a clown show of 10 candidates going up against Trump and attacking him primarily from the left on issues that matter. This created the false image of Trump being the alpha conservative in the room. For the first time, on issue after issue, there was finally enough time to expose Trump as a man who vacillates on every single issue. When Cruz called Trump out for being flexible on religious liberty and then changing his mind, the Donald said “I have nothing to say.” Indeed.
Furthermore, Trump himself admitted that he is Mr. Flexible and has no core principles, especially on issues like immigration. He openly parroted Mark Zuckerberg’s false assertion that we have a shortage of high skilled workers in this country. In one of the seminal moments of the entire campaign, Trump praised Marco Rubio for being flexible and cutting a deal on immigration and criticized Cruz for being too intransigent!
How do you feel now, Senator Sessions?
In his own words, Trump has countermanded every reason any conservative has to trust him. In fact, he often sounded like these establishment congressmen I used to debate whenever they lectured me about the need to “compromise.” We have come full circle in this campaign to #MakeEstablishmentGreatAgain. People are literally voting for this man to burn down the GOP establishment while he is proclaiming in his own words that he will double down on the worst practices of the GOP sellouts who have no principles.
However, and here is the big “but,” Trump will only be beaten by Ted Cruz in a two-man race. This was demonstrated by tonight’s narrative. The only positive moment for Trump was at the beginning of the debate when Megyn Kelly made the entire opening about Mitt Romney. Romney’s attack on Trump is the best thing for The Donald because he embodies what has given rise to Trump and the ire of his voters. So long as the debate is framed as the establishment hitting Trump, so long as this debate is a cabal of establishment politicians – Kasich, Rubio, and Romney – hitting Trump from the left, Trump will continue to win. So long as the debate is framed by Cruz hitting him from the right, as demonstrated from the rest of the debate, Cruz can at least catch him in the delegate count.
Moreover, the presence of Rubio and Kasich in the debate serves as a colossal distraction from Cruz, the only man with a path to victory, from actually finishing the job. Every time Cruz is about to really strip the bark off Trump, he is stopped by the moderators or distracted by other candidates. Only a real two-man debate and constant back and forth between Trump and the one man with the credibility to win back Trump’s conservative voters will change the arc of the debate.
For anyone who wishes to defeat Trump, tonight’s debate demonstrates that there is no path to deposing him so long as the other candidates stay in the race.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.