The last Republican debate before Super Tuesday was one of the most explosive yet. It managed to draw 14.5 million viewers, the biggest audience since December according to CNN Money. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took the fight to Donald Trump in a major way, but it was Rubio who really stole the show with what was largely heralded as his best debate performance of the cycle.
“Donald mentioned… that his position on immigration is what’s driven this debate,” said Rubio. “The truth is, though, a lot of these positions that he’s now taking are new to him,” he added, attacking Trump for his questionable use of illegal immigrant labor, citing the legal trouble it got him into. Rubio also pressed Trump on the fraud cases he’s faced as a result of his defunct Trump University.
And the best zinger of the night might have been when Rubio said, “If [Trump] hadn’t inherited $200 million do you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan!” Cruz got in his fair share of punches as well, hitting Trump on immigration, how unprepared he is to deal with a Supreme Court nomination, and on the issue of refusing to release his tax returns. Cruz also spent nearly ten minutes of a post-debate interview hitting Trump as well.
I really want to be proud of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for the way they tag teamed Donald Trump. I was cheering throughout the debate, especially for Rubio on that front. They both did a great job of revealing Trump as the lying, authoritarian fraud he is. But I’m not convinced that at this point, just days before Super Tuesday, it matters. They should have done this all along. Long before Trump steamrolled his way through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Instead, Rubio pretty much ignored Trump the entire cycle, while Cruz tripped over himself to appease him.
Both Rubio and Cruz hung Rand Paul and Jeb Bush out to dry when they went out of their respective ways to attack Trump for being the fake conservative that he is. I suppose they figured they’d benefit by letting those two do the dirty work. Maybe they did, insofar as they’re the last two non-Trump candidates standing. But their decision not to participate in a united attack on Trump directly contributed to his rise. They should be ashamed of themselves for waiting this long. Now, Cruz and Rubio’s attacks look more like desperation than an honest rebuke of Trump; even though I do believe they were both earnest in what they said.
As I wrote after Trump’s decisive victory in the Nevada caucus, Republicans have to come to grips with the fact that Trump might just be the Republican nominee. And now that he’s received Chris Christie’s endorsement, I fear my contention that the Republican establishment will ultimately abide Trump fairly happily will be proven accurate. Yes, it’s true that Trump as the nominee will likely lead to some degree of fracturing within Republican circles. But not nearly to the extent that libertarians who want Trump to “blow up the GOP” hope, I fear.
In my view, with Trump at the helm, we’re in for a dark eight years, whether it comes in the form of him as president, or if it’s his good friend Hillary Clinton in charge. In fact, over at The Federalist, both David Harsanyi and Tom Nichols make what in my view are pretty persuasive arguments that Hillary as president would be better for the conservative cause than Trump. That’s honestly how bad things have gotten, and why I wish Rubio and Cruz didn’t, quite selfishly, wait this long to attack Trump in the way they did at the last debate.
While it’s still possible to stop Trump delegate-wise, it seems a less likely prospect everyday. I hope that if the Trump train has no breaks the GOP will fracture more than I think it will. I earnestly wish for my libertarian friends who think his ascendency will clear the way for a viable third party to be correct. But I just don’t see it. Our government isn’t built for multiple parties the way many European systems are. We will most likely, as I described it earlier this week, end up with two Democratic parties; one focused on big government identity politics for women and people of color, the other on big government for angry white working class men. Unfortunately, both Cruz and Rubio will share in the blame for this if it does in fact happen; which seems likelier with each passing day.