Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz are at the heart of this Republican primary

Ted Cruz takes a breather while Donald Trump and Jeb Bush tangle. (AP Photo / John Locher)

Ted Cruz takes a breather while Donald Trump and Jeb Bush tangle. (AP Photo / John Locher)

It’s unlikely Tuesday night’s GOP debate changed many people’s minds, but the event was important for what it showed us about the policy differences that will shape the contest going forward. It was a substantive debate, with a number of exchanges that highlighted real differences among candidates trying to resonate with a public that considers itself vulnerable to terrorism. Billed as a foreign-policy debate — and, unlike most of these things, sticking to the topic quite well — the matter came down to a series of rifts:

  • Donald Trump vs. Jeb Bush in their familiar standoff, with Bush faring better than in the past if only because he seemed to get under Trump’s skin … albeit in the way a little brother irks his older brother. Still, Bush’s insistence that Trump’s red meat doesn’t amount to anything that could be taken seriously as a presidential plan of action — at one point, he said he wasn’t sure if Trump’s information came from the shows “on Saturday morning or Sunday morning — is the bottom-line establishment argument against the businessman. For example: You say you’d ban Muslims from entering the country; how does that help the U.S. win a war against ISIS that requires help from majority-Muslim nations? Trump also absolutely embarrassed himself with a rambling answer to a question about the nuclear triad — America’s ability to launch a nuclear attack from the sea, the air or by missiles — that touched on his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to regime change in Syria, and to the just-ended climate-change conference in Paris. But he continued to aim squarely at the average person’s gut with questions about who can be trusted to do good things for the country. If you trusted Trump before, you probably trust him now; and if you didn’t, you probably don’t. Other candidates at this point seemed to have decided not to attack the front-runner but rather to make their own case and count on voters moving away from Trump in a ballot-box gut-check.
  • Chris Christie and Rand Paul reprised their running battle about national-security toughness vs. realism. When Christie answered a question by affirming he, as president, would be prepared for U.S. warplanes to shoot down Russian planes in order to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, Paul accused him of being ready to start World War III. Christie leaned heavily, and often, on his experience as a prosecutor of terrorists and executive of a state, in comparison to the a trio of first-term senators on the stage. That is his path to relevance, and it just might take him to a strong enough showing in New Hampshire to make him a factor in this election.
  • Ben Carson continued to fight single-handedly against the very notion of politics, a battle that seems no less quixotic each time he joins it.
  • John Kasich and Carly Fiorina missed no opportunity to seize on other candidates’ quarrels as evidence they were talkers instead of problem-solvers … only to fail to offer much that was new themselves. After a couple of impressive performances in the early debates, Fiorina in particular has failed to expand on her message in any meaningful way. She would make a wonderful managerial consultant to a president trying to solve specific problems with IT or bureaucracy bloat. Kasich seemed to take a more conservative tack that in previous debates, as if he realized a few months too late that running against the base was a bad way to win the nomination.

That leaves Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who seem likely to remain at the heart of this nominating contest. Rubio was also attacked by others, notably Paul. But this was mostly about him vs. Cruz. They argued over the government’s surveillance powers, over our ability to fight ISIS primarily through an air war, over defense appropriations bills, over immigration policy. Both men accused the other often of misrepresenting the facts; the fact-checkers should have a field day. Overall, Rubio claimed the ground of traditional GOP hawkishness and spun his involvement in the doomed Gang of Eight immigration-reform of 2013 as a lesson learned about Americans’ insistence on securing the border before moving on to other changes. Cruz roamed from a more libertarian bent on the NSA to a more hard-line stance on immigration, with a First Gulf War-infused belief in our ability to win wars primarily through overwhelming air power (a belief shared by many on both sides of the aisle, although it represents the exception rather than the rule in warfare) mixed in.

To the extent this is a primary battle about philosophy rather than personality, the line between Cruz and Rubio represents the places of greatest tension within the GOP. In the near term that’s probably good for both of them.

Reader Comments 0

54 comments
Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Do you remember who was the source for the previous story that she had posted those messages?

The FBI.

If they're correcting themselves, OK. It still doesn't change the fact that prohibiting agents from checking social media is a terrible idea.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Two hours on foreign policy, and nothing about trade, really (certainly nothing bout the TPP or the climate change agreement), practically nothing about our drug war, and zero on how legalization in some of our states might play a role in it.


Nope, pretty much just ISIS and how afraid we all should be. I guess that's to be expected, but I keep hope alive that maybe the GOP can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex Just keep that in mind amid all the commentary about how Republicans just want you cowering in the corner until Election Day ... or until they put y'all back in chains ... or render you incapable of taking care of yourself because 1% ... or get everyone killed in World War III ... or whatever other spook story liberals tell when they're not saying only Republicans play on people's fears.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex

Again, Kyle, I think you omit things like 'degree' and 'frequency' and 'volume.' I hate to use the D word (yet again), but I think it is disingenuous of you to suggest there is any equivalency between Republican fearmongering and Democrat 'fearmongering.' Right now, in this political climate, there is none at all.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder If you think the primary Democratic message will be something other than, we can't let the Republicans back in office because they will ruin ______, you are kidding yourself.

Not that the Republicans are shaping up as beacons of optimism either, although Rubio and to some extent Bush have shown signs of moving in that direction. But this is going to be another nasty, fear-driven election on both sides, and yes, on the whole they will be equivalent.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder "They'll ban birth control!"

Another classic example.

"They'll kill people because they won't expand Medicaid!" (Never mind the studies showing Medicaid has negligible outcomes on health vs. being uninsured.)

"They'll get rid of Social Security/Medicare/Grandma!"

You get the point.

I hope.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield

Oh man. You're hilarious. You really think that a Republican President and a Republican controlled Senate (which, for the sake of argument, let's has a fillibuster proof majority) and a Republican controlled House wouldn't try to further restrict abortions, restrict access to birth control, do something about Obergfell, and gut entitlements?  This is one of those situations where I would hate to be proven right.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield  "They'll kill people because they won't expand Medicaid!"


That one is already happening.


"They'll get rid of Social Security/Medicare/Grandma!"


Privatize. Yes they would love to kill it.


"They'll ban birth control!"


Well they do seem to favor abstinence programs etc vs birth control methods. Personal responsibility and all. Ask a woman working at hobby lobby about that. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder "further restrict abortions"

Beyond the 20-week limit they've tried (and which is commonplace elsewhere)? Yeah, I doubt they would.

"restrict access to birth control"

This is where your D-word -- disingenuous -- comes into play. Liberals have trashed the meaning of the word "access" to necessarily include subsidies. There would be no move to make birth control less accessible, only (perhaps) less subsidized. And in truth, the only movement would likely be to stop requiring private companies to subsidize it.

"do something about Obergfell"

You mean pass a constitutional amendment, since that's what it would take? Yes, again, I rather doubt that would happen.

"gut entitlements"

Again, this all depends on your definition of "gut." If it includes income-testing, allowing opt-outs, providing a different means of financing, or changing the inflation formula, then maybe they would "gut" it. If you mean actually hollowing out the programs and leaving virtually nothing left, then no, they're not going to do that.

All in all, though, I'd say you did a fine job of proving what I mean about the left's fear-mongering ... thanks!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Yeah, it would've been so much better if he could've denied there was a problem and blamed things on a video.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Btw, the fact no one is talking about CNN this morning is a sign the debate was extremely well-done. The moderators asked tough questions but in a respectful way designed to draw out differences among the candidates and not just get them to bicker. This is probably the best-moderated debate so far.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

If you cons want a legitimate shot at the White House, Rubio is the only one who can - maybe - deliver.  

Cruz is, by far, the lyingest, meanest, whiniest, evilest, vilest, hypocriticalest, disingenuousest, most-like-a-snake-oil-salesman-cum-snake-charmer politician that America has produced. Ever. I reserve the 'hate' word for people like Hitler and Rory Sabbatini but I gotta say - I hate Ted Cruz. Really, really hate the guy.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Eye wonder

But Cruz is very, very good at what he does, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he winds up winning the nomination.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Visual_Cortex @Eye wonder Yes, he is, and I could also see him winning the nomination, which is a frightening prospect inasmuch it would mean the theoretical possibility of a Cruz presidency.

The woman who sits in the office next to mine described him to me as 'evil.' She was unaware he is a Princeton undergrad, Harvard law grad, former SCOTUS clerk and member of high powered white shoe law firm, married to an ex Goldman Sachs banker and was previously buying (though not liking) his outsider shtick.

Caius
Caius

@Eye wonder You lft out that he was born in Canada and is not even a Real American.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Eye wonder Rubio is the one who strikes me that way.  Trying to equate his immigration policy to that of Cruz struck me as Rubio calling his inner Hillary.  It was a lie so big its hard to believe he thought anyone would believe him.  Rubio just comes across worse every time I see him. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

A Trump/Cruz ticket is the dream scenario for Democrats.



lvg
lvg

@Hedley_Lammar Trump blew it last night with his comments aboutspending trillions on  infrastructure and social programs over trillions on war. He's still a friend of Hillary and Bill and doing a fantastic job at sabotaging the GOP.

Could be Cruz/ Carson 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar I don't have a dream ticket in mind, but I am beginning to think Rubio has to be on it in one of the slots.

"Pleased" would be a strong word to use about Kirby. He may be a great coach. But I am disappointed we made next-to-zero effort, or at least effort that is apparent or has been documented, to consider all the options out there. I have no idea if, for example, Jimbo Fisher would have come to UGA. But he reportedly would have left FSU for LSU, so I have to wonder if he'd have seriously considered us if we'd shown we were serious about him.

That said, I am now Kirby's biggest fan and wish him all the success in the world. And I worry about all the hype for Eason ... I'm afraid he will have Belue's win-loss record, Murray's stats and Stafford's draft position to live up to it.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar Yeah.


Its a lot to put on the Eason kid.


But his Dad was an NFL QB. He was groomed for this. We are going to get to see how he responds many Saturdays the next few years. 

Caius
Caius

I would hope that this election is not going to be decided on who can best handle ISIS.  But we appear to be headed in that direction. ISIS is essentially another chapter in the  Sunni vs Shia fight that has been happening for 1300 years. (Does Iran want the nuclear bomb to use on Israel or against the Sunnis, who out number them 4 to 1?)


It should be the economy. How are we gonna pay for all the military upgrades we will need to defeat ISIS and Russia?  Borrow from the same China we are going to slap around and show who is boss? Get the Mexicans to pay for the US defense budget along with the fence?


And if we are gonna kick out the illegals why not throw the Muslims in the rail cars and ship them out at the same time?  Two for the price of one!  Save billions.






Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Caius Well, last night was a foreign-policy debate coming on the heels of Paris and San Bernardino, so naturally ISIS was central to that debate. It won't necessarily remain so.

And I'd quibble with this: "ISIS is essentially another chapter in the  Sunni vs Shia fight that has been happening for 1300 years."

The difference, of course, is that ISIS is actively recruiting people to carry out that fight within our borders.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Caius It will be the economy Caius.


Always is at the end. 


Americans are going to be reminded of the stark contrast between the economy Obama inherited from a Republican President and the one he is leaving for the next President. They will be asked which scenario they prefer. 


At least that is how I would frame it.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar That said, the economy will probably go back to being issue No. 1 unless there are further attacks here or in Europe. Of course, further attacks seem pretty likely as things stand today, so ...

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @Caius What proof do you have that ISIS was behind radicalization and plans of the San Bernadino terrorists?? Actually it was Saudis who radicalized them apparently.

Kinda like that W guy and Cheney calling Sadaam part of the Axis of Evil and the cause of 9-11 after he begged off on killing Osama.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg "What proof do you have that ISIS was behind radicalization and plans of the San Bernadino terrorists?? "

Where did I claim it was? It was definitely behind the Paris attacks, and the San Bernardino killers were at the very least  admirers of ISIS, and we know ISIS is trying to recruit Americans and Europeans. Are you really going to argue with all that?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @lvg Yes they are


But as Jay correctly points out. 


 in the 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, a grand total of 45 Americans have been killed by jihadists in this country, a sum that includes the San Bernardino and Fort Hood attacks. It’s easy to say that’s too many, and it is. But it is also fewer than four a year. 


For comparison’s sake, we lost some 430 Americans in auto accidents over the recent Thanksgiving holiday alone. Twenty-six Americans have been killed by lightning this year, a number that takes us only through August. Based on the results of a Harvard study, some 2,700 of our fellow Georgians will die unnecessarily this year because thanks to state officials out to make a political point


San Bernardino was a tragedy. But we need to put it into the right perspective.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar  You go with that.


I dont think there is any doubt they will. 


Americans will be asked if they are better off than they were 8 years ago when Obama took office. Im betting most would say yes.


Complain about the speed of the recovery all you want. Unemployment is down. 401ks and the housing market have recovered.


Things are better. Good luck convincing Americans that  Things would have been better wit a Republican in office the last 8 years.


BTW those polls are setup to illicit a certain response. I dont buy them. 

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @lvg And our dear friends the Saudis and their radical clerics are not a threat?

Funny how cons alternate between Iran being a top terror threat and ISIS but  never mention Wabiism emanating from Saudi Arabia

lvg
lvg

Cruz failed the presidential test of integrity and  honesty. 

He refused to man up to his negative comments about Trump; lied about his vote to curtail NSA data collection and could not justify his comments about carpet bombing.Other than that he is a great candidate if you're looking for a political bomb thrower who has limited ability to command respect and incapable  of negotiating with his enemies.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg He also appears to have misled the public about his past stance on immigration, saying he has never been for legalization. 


And I have seen some immigration hard-liners focusing on his phrasing "I do not intend to support legalization" in the future, thinking he's leaving the door open to a reversal if elected. So I'm not sure he did himself a lot of good on that one.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Forgot to mention Trump...

the DEMOCRAT in him surfaced last night and Fiorina was quick to point it out.

Good for her! 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@FIGMO2 Yes, I noted that moment on Twitter at the time.


For those who missed it, he said we should have spent money not on "trying to topple various people" but on roads and bridges. He cast a pretty wide net as far as how much money he was talking about, mentioning at various times $3 trillion, $4 trillion and $5 trillion. Fiorina's response: "That is exactly what President Obama said."