It’s Trump, Cruz, Rubio and everyone else

That view would be sufficient for the next debate. (Getty Images / Scott Olson)

That view would be sufficient for the next debate. (Getty Images / Scott Olson)

There’s Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and then there’s everyone else … barely.

That’s clearer than ever after Thursday night’s debate in North Charleston, S.C. Almost all of the important exchanges were between two or more of that trio. They set the tone. They shaped the course of the arguments. The campaign will continue to be mostly about them, both in who gets attacked and who levels the effective attacks. Everyone else is left hoping for an opening that doesn’t look it’s going to come.

Yo Mama’s an Immigrant!

Cruz and Trump tangled early, with the Texas senator getting a question about his citizenship and slamming Trump’s insistence that it’s an issue:

“You know, back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there.There was nothing to this birther issue. Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have.”

He then pointed out that, under the various legal theories of presidential eligibility Trump has mentioned, not only would John McCain and George Romney not have been able to run — neither would Trump himself! That’s because Trump’s mother was a naturalized citizen from Scotland. “(O)n the issue of citizenship, Donald,” Cruz mockingly assured him, “I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you.”

Trump looked foolish in response, claiming the real problem was that Democrats would sue if he were to make Cruz his running mate — and then finally acknowledging Cruz’s point that he’d only raised the issue because the senator was “going a little bit better.” While I’ve learned not to assume anything about how Trump’s supporters will react to what he says, I really have to wonder if they’re going to like how weak — to use one of his favorite words — he looked in that exchange.

New York (Values) State of Mind

It might not matter, because the next significant exchange between the two of them was a draw, at worst, for Trump. Cruz was asked about his claim that Trump represents “New York values,” which isn’t a particularly substantive point but ended up giving Trump a chance to display some pride in something other than himself, and an emotion other than anger:

“When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. You had … two 110-story buildings come crashing down. I saw them come down. Thousands of people killed, and the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup, probably in the history of doing this, and in construction. I was down there, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

“And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death — nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air.

“And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers.”

It was as genuinely heartfelt a moment as Trump has had in any debate — one of those examples of “humanizing” that consultants, with no apparent sense of irony, insist candidates display on command. Cruz got in his licks about New Yorkers’ socially liberal attitudes, but I’m not sure anyone really remembered that after Trump spoke.

Honest Chris?

One important exchange that did involve another candidate came when Marco Rubio was asked about his recent comments that Chris Christie was too liberal to be the GOP’s nominee. Christie made this claim:

“(L)et’s set the facts straight. First of all, I didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor (when President Obama nominated her for the Supreme Court). Secondly, I never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.

“Third, if you look at my record as governor of New Jersey, I have vetoed a 50-caliber rifle ban. I have vetoed a reduction this clip size. I vetoed a statewide I.D. system for gun owners and I pardoned, six out-of-state folks who came through our state and were arrested for owning a gun legally in another state so they never have to face charges.

“And on Common Core, Common Core has been eliminated in New Jersey. So listen, this is the difference between being a governor and a senator. See when you’re a senator, what you get to do is just talk and talk and talk. And you talk so much that nobody can ever keep up with what you’re saying is accurate or not.”

That last line may end up doing in Christie, because much of what came before it turned out not to be exactly correct:

  • He was on record in 2009 saying he “support(ed) her appointment to the Supreme Court and urge(d) the Senate to keep politics out of the process and confirm her nomination.” Strike one.
  • He now says he’s “convinced it was a misquote” when a New Jersey newspaper reporter — who now serves as his spokesman! — wrote an article quoting him saying he “support(ed) Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution.” That’s a non-denial denial. Strike two.
  • On the gun-control measures, Christie did veto a ban on .50-caliber rifles, but only because it was broader than a ban on .50-caliber rifles that he’d previously said he supported. While he has vetoed some gun-control measures, he has signed others. Strike three.

Oops.

VAT Are You Talking About?

Ultimately, the night came down to a pair of exchanges between Rubio and Cruz. One of them was familiar, as Rubio unloaded on Cruz’s apparent flip-flopping on immigration. (The Texan was left to gripe about Rubio’s dumping all his “oppo research” on him, to which the Floridian quickly responded, “No, it’s your record.”) The other one was newer, and one we’ll likely see reprised in the weeks to come.

Cruz’s tax reform plan hinges in large part on what he calls a “business flat tax.” A number of neutral economists call it something else: a value-added tax. This is a kind of consumption tax, and it’s common in Europe. The problem, as Reagan once observed (and Rubio quoted that observation Thursday night), is that it masks the true cost of the tax to the payer, who turns out to be not a business but the consumer. In Belgium, where I lived for 4.5 years, the VAT rate was baked into the sales price of goods — making it hard for consumers to recognize they were paying what amounted to a sales tax of 21 percent. That came on top of income and social taxes (think FICA) that pushed even middle-income folks into tax brackets of 40 or 50 percent.

Rubio laid into that aspect of Cruz’s plan, in a way that made sense to people who aren’t tax accountants:

“(B)asically, businesses now will have to pay a tax, both on the money they make, but they also have to pay taxes on the money that they pay their employees. …

“Now, you can support one now that’s very low. But what is to prevent a future liberal president or a liberal Congress from coming back and not just raising the income tax, but also raising that VAT tax? And that VAT tax is really bad for seniors. Because seniors, if they are retired, are no longer earning an income from a job. And therefore, they don’t get the income tax break, but their prices are going to be higher, because the VAT tax is embedded in both the prices that business that are charging and in the wages they pay their employees.”

As I said, we will return to this in more depth at some point in the future.

***

The rest of the field was mostly forgettable. Ben Carson looks less qualified to be on that stage with every appearance. John Kasich is slowly moving up the polls in New Hampshire, although to watch him last night was to wonder why. And Jeb Bush, poor Jeb Bush: Although he had a few nice moments, it just wasn’t enough. One of his best moments was when he pushed back against Trump’s ban-all-the-Muslims immigration plan; the problem was, all the other candidates were asked whether they supported Trump’s idea, and they all basically agreed with Bush. That neutralized the effect for him.

I would like to see the next debate, set for Jan. 28 in Des Moines, cull the main stage to no more than four candidates — Trump, Cruz, Rubio and perhaps one other candidate, if there’s someone else who looks like a serious contender in that state. The same goes for the debate after that, Feb. 6 in Manchester, N.H. Unless someone makes a really surprising move, we are at the point where we should focus on the three candidates who have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

Reader Comments 0

83 comments
lvg
lvg

Another promise achieved by the President- freeing four hiostages in Iran in exchange for embargo violatorrs arrested by US. Of course GOP has noithing good to say and acts like Obama freed a bunch of murderers and terrorists in exchange for US hostages.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

General Electric to Move Headquarters to Boston

GE set to get up to $145 million in incentives

-------------

LMAO!...Democrats love them some corporate welfare!

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout So do the Republicans. Shouldn't big business finance their own expenses, Like moving and building?

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

No votes yet and you want them off the stage?  There were 3 people up there who could be good presidents.  All 3 have demonstrated administrative success.  And you would kick them all off the stage!  You would leave us with a TV reality host and a couple of first term senators, one of which manages to get everyone to hate him and the other manages never to say anything at all.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@xxxzzz And I thought that I had heard the right say that , since President Obama was a one term Senator, that electing a single term Senator was out of the question !

Mr. Stovall
Mr. Stovall

Kyle,


Well written article. Is was actual reporting. 


A welcome change from the political activism readers are generally subjected to under the guise of reporting. If others follow suit, there may yet be hope for AJC after all.



khcdec
khcdec

it's like watching sunday morning tv preachers/con artists

lvg
lvg

@khckhc Na---- more like a bunch of slick used car or vacuum cleaner salesmen. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

One thing I can tell you is the folks at team Clinton are pleased Trump is leading.


They will/would stomp him worse than a narc at a biker rally.


The GOP establishment is right to be very afraid of a Trump nomination. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Hedley_Lammar She will be speechless after his attacks, as he refuses to stick to the fawning script.  She has no experience with hard questions, as the media uses the fawning script and accepts every response as truthful.  She will be begging the moderators to come to her aid.  It would be funny to see either Trump or Fiorina in a debate with HIllary.  I think she would be indignant at their insistence she tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth and they would be prepared with facts to disprove what she alleges.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister @Hedley_Lammar  Fiorina in debate with Hillary? Have you just woken up? Even at “the kids table” she was hopeless, and her boorish personal attack on Mrs. Clinton should have made her a unacceptable to every decent person. As for Trump and his “ability” to present “facts to disprove what she alleges,” he has not shown ability to present any facts so far, so why should that change?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @Hedley_Lammar  She has no experience with hard questions


Did you watch the 11 hours of Benghazi testimony ?


Do you think Trump would have kept his cool ?


Trump will be child's play for a vet like Hillary. No contest.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Sorry, Hedley, but you ladies can't hide behind the Americans you got killed. Own it. And own Hillary's lies to their families and to all Americans about what caused their deaths and why she didn't do her job to protect them on the anniversary of 9/11 in a lawless Islamofascist country.

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout What about the 4,491 US troops and almost 400 coalition troops killed in Iraq? For nothing?

lvg
lvg

Every one of these buffoons swore allegiance last night to the NRA and each said NRA's  position on the second amendment was their position and to heck with what the Supreme Court has ruled about limitations on the second amendment and reasonable regulations like Obama's executive actions. They should each replace their flag lapels with NRA buttons.All said they would back police actions regardless of the circumstances. At least we know where the biggest threat to our national security comes from if one of them is voted in.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@lvg @Lil_Barry_Bailout

Politicians are unseated by voters, not by corporations or dollar bills.

Real Americans don't fear political speech.  Leftists do, and wish to repeal Our First Amendment so that government can control political speech.

Keep your liberal fascist schemes off Our Constitution.

lvg
lvg

@Lil_Barry_Bailout @lvg Corporate money spent to unseat politicians and judges  with limited campaign funds is not speech, It is bribery. Most state laws prohibited it before Citizens United.But corporate bribery is ok to people like you.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@lvg

Leftists have real problems with the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments lately.

Please try to remember what it's like to be an American.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Any of Kyle's big three would be superior to the Democrats' corrupt, felonious hag. They're all more intelligent, more energetic, more honest, and more American.

Ralph-25
Ralph-25

Glad to see even the thinking Republicans understand how dangerous any one of these leading three could be in the White House. My own interpretation of polls is that they will self destruct as thinking voters realize what could happen should one of these frustrated 'little men' try to prove their manhood by indiscriminate warfare and nuclear attack.  Presumably one of the mature candidates (e.g., Jeb Bush) will emerge as the only sane possibility. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @Hedley_Lammar @Ralph-45 I'm sure in Fox News fantasy land that is the case


But not so much in the real world.


Obama is leaving this country in MUCH better shape than dubya did.


Voters are going to be reminded of that early and often.



RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Ralph-45 So a third term of economic stagnation, declining median income levels, lack of world leadership, declining healthcare coverage, Russian and Chinese aggression, enabling our enemies, frustrating our allies, Iranian nuclear proliferation, crippling military cuts, appeasement, prioritizing the wrong issues, broken promises, and more inefficiency and ineptitude is better?  I don't think so. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

You are spot on with your analysis Kyle!  Cruz's VAT tax proposal is troubling, Trump's unpreparedness and unfounded bluster is troubling, and Rubio's ever changing positions is troubling, but one of those three will probably be the next President.  Hillary is in serious legal trouble and most people do not think she is honest/trustworthy.  I think the best she can hope for is that Loretta Lynch and Obama ignore and diminish the FBI recommendatioon to prosecute.  If the FBI report leaks, and what doesn't, Americans will take Obama's inaction out against the Dem nominee, I believe.  Hillary's poll numbers are in serious decline and Trump has busted the war on women meme, so the Dems are going to be scrambling down the road to find someone to put up for the nomination.


Flawed as the three front runners are, they seem to be in touch with the base and independents, who seem to have had it with Democrat failings and ineptitude.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@RafeHollister @Eye wonder

Fo sho. That indictment is just a day away. Or a week. Or a month. Or a year. We'll probably be hearing about it when Mrs. Clinton delivers her last SOTU in January 2024. You guys are a hoot.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister  Flawed as the three front runners are, they seem to be in touch with the base and independents, who seem to have had it with Democrat failings and ineptitude.


Some major wishful thinking there. Sort of like thinking you can find water in the ground with a magic stick.


The GOP tent is getting smaller as we speak.

JKToole
JKToole

@RafeHollister And in the U.S. you're still innocent until indicted, arraigned and proven guilty.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister @Eye wonder  The wheels of justice always grind very slowly, but they are turning for sure.


Its always just around the corner isn't it.


They dont even realize that its that way BY DESIGN


It keeps the rubes on the hook.