Trump is rattled, Rubio rebounds in GOP’s South Carolina free-for-all

That's pretty much what the whole thing looked like. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

That’s pretty much what the whole thing looked like. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

If the previous GOP debate led to the undoing of Marco Rubio in New Hampshire, Saturday night’s brawl in Greenville, S.C., by rights should cost Donald Trump his sizable lead in the Palmetto State.

If South Carolina Republicans were really listening with open minds, they heard Trump blame George W. Bush for 9/11, repeat the left-wing belief that Bush “lied” us into the Iraq war (i.e. it was a matter of intent, rather than acting on faulty intelligence), defend Planned Parenthood and Vladimir Putin, and generally speak like someone who would be more at home in the Democratic primary.

All of this came as Trump very obviously was nettled by Jeb Bush, in a way that undermines his claim to be a “winner” who can’t be brought down by such a “low energy” opponent. Trump very frequently, in exchanges with Bush and Ted Cruz, resorted to yelling “liar, liar” in the way of one whose appeal is nothing but force of personality rather than substance or specifics.

(Of course, nothing Trump says or does costs him any support, so he’ll probably clear 40 percent in the primary six days from now.)

If any candidate was in need of a rebound, it was Rubio. And he delivered. He gave a perfect distillation of what made the late Antonin Scalia a great jurist and a model for future Supreme Court justices: He “understood that the Constitution was not there to be interpreted based on the fads of the moment, but it was there to be interpreted according to its original meaning.” He gave a thorough response about why he voted against President Obama’s plan for military action in Syria as something that “would not only not help the situation, it would make it actually worse. It would allow Assad to stand up to the United States of America, survive a strike, stay in power and actually strengthen his grip.” He gave the right defense of George W. Bush in a tangle with Trump. He defended his tax plan, which would leave the top marginal income-tax rate higher than other candidates’ plans would, but would also ease the burden of many families with children:

“Let me tell you, if you’re a parent that’s struggling, then you know that fifty dollars a month is the difference between a new pair of shoes this month or not getting a new pair of shoes for your kids. I’m going to have a tax plan that is pro-family because the family is the most important institution in society. You cannot have a strong country without strong families.”

And he came out with no worse than a draw with Cruz in yet another argument between them about who said what when about immigration reform. All in all, it was an effective night for Rubio, one that ought to put to rest the notion that he’s a shallow, pre-programmed, “pretty face” of a candidate.

Cruz was up and down. As I mentioned, he did not land much of a blow on Rubio on immigration, in largest part because he does not want to own up to his own words from three years ago. On the other hand, he was the one who drew out Trump on the question of the businessman’s, ahem, evolving opinions on the major issues. He said, very believably, that Trump’s history suggested he would appoint liberal justices to the Supreme Court. His defense of his own tax plan was less persuasive; most neutral economists, as far as I can tell, agree Cruz’s plan for a business flat tax is practically indistinguishable from a European-style VAT, which is the tool that really lets European governments suck money out of the private sector.

Bush was feisty once again, and he took the fight to Trump like no one else. While he sullied Trump in some of those exchanges, I’m not sure he necessarily boosted his own prospects; I’m reminded of Chris Christie’s attacks on Rubio in the previous debate, which hurt Rubio but didn’t help Christie. Campaigning with his brother next week brings the family tie to the fore. While that may go over well in South Carolina, I’m not sure it’s a winning strategy in the long term in a party that is still ambivalent, at best, about Bush 43 and that family dynasty.

John Kasich was once again sort of off to himself. He didn’t engage the other candidates except to try to portray himself as above the fray in which they were mired, and other than one brief exchange in which Bush criticized his expansion of Medicaid, Kasich scarcely drew the other candidates’ attention. I still think he has to make his play elsewhere to remain viable in the race.

Ben Carson was the same as always. It astounds me that he’s still in the race and invited to these debates. He even spiced up his closing remarks with a fake quote from Joseph Stalin. He will not be the nominee.

Reader Comments 0

27 comments
McGarnagle
McGarnagle

What a conundrum the GOP have. They can't use Trump's own words against him.  Yet Cruz and Rubio and Bush are held to higher standards. How can you dis-credit someone who has no credit.

lvg
lvg

Oh my, W decides to give up painting cats and himself and campaign for his loser brother. Trump responds and declares W a Loser just like Jeb. Cruz and Robo boy, Mario, fight over who hates immigrants (except Cubans) more. Can we have pie fights as well? 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@lvg Jerry !!! Jerry !!! Jerry !!!


Hey maybe he could moderate one ???

lvg
lvg

@Hedley_Lammar @lvg Nobody can moderate these clowns. It is all out  war between Trump and the GOP establishment.  It sounds like SNL when George W talks  about the need for sound judgment as a reason to vote for a Bush. Rove on Faxe News defending W. Also said Romney could still win.

khcdec
khcdec

rubio not ready for prime time.....maybe his handlers.   trump just said what every repub knows is true about w.....otherwise what explains his low votes or it could be his energy.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@khckhc 

I kinda wonder - so is it okay to be a republican and say "W lied," now?

Caius
Caius

The big hot air balloon race out in Arizona has invited Trump to speak.  He accepted. Will fly in the day of.................


Do we really want an inexperienced first term senator as prez, especially because he talks good?  Seems like we been down that road before; BHO,JFK, MF and JQA as I recall.

The Carolina voters get confused over Carolina and Canadian, since they both start with C.

Cruz, Tom Cruz right?, might do pretty well there. His last movie made big money there.

The remainder look like they can't cut the mustard anymore. 

Whatever happened to that savior guy Walker?  Bunch of folks had him writing his acceptance speech.


So you guys in the Senate, do you approve Obama's nominee or wait and approve Trump's nominee? Will it be the same person?



 





RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Caius Trump needs to get there earlier. How else will they be able to inflate the balloons with hot air?

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

You are right Kyle, it was a Rubio night.  He sounded like the most prepared and best able to promote conservatism and win the general election.  For those swayed by debates, it should help him. 


For those who look at his record, you see that he is somewhat disingenuous, always advocating one thing, often not there to vote or voting for something else, when the issue is on the line.  He is usually one of the leaders in trying to increase the number of HIB visas allowed, American's indentured servant designation, while he claims that we need to reform the legal immigration system.  Got to get a few more low salary workers through for the donors first, I'm guessing, American workers will just have to find another job.  He avoids stating how he will vote on the TP trade deal, which is another job killer for America, yet we know he will play this out to the end, probably skipping the vote, unless his vote is needed to pass the bill.  He was a total sellout on the Gang of Eight bill after running in FL, strong on eliminating illegal immigration.


Trump was a total loud mouth dud, but his voters seem more intent of blowing up the establishment, than actually supporting some of the stupid stuff he says.  Of course the establishment deserves every bit of the scorn thrown at them, but America doesn't deserve Trump.  The establishment even stacked the audience last night with Rubio, Bush, and Kasich supporters.


What happens next Sat in SC will go a long way toward predicting who wins this thing.  If Trump wins, despite his poor performance and lack of any policies, I think we will be well down the road to him winning the nomination.  If Cruz comes in second, I think definitely it will be down to Cruz/Trump.  If Rubio comes in second maybe that will restart the three man race.

lvg
lvg

@Eye wonder @RafeHollister Where did he get that canned line about beefing up the military and a new American Century??? Same fools that duped W into invading Iraq-  Project for a New American Century.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"He “understood that the Constitution was not there to be interpreted based on the fads of the moment, but it was there to be interpreted according to its original meaning.” "

Like single shot muzzle loaded guns?


Kasich and Carson were the adults in the room. Send the "I've got to get my way" children home. Pretty soon Cruz will be lying on the floor face down kicking his legs throwing a temper tantrum.


Lindsay Graham has a better chance to win than most of these clowns; he sounds like another voice of reason. Oh...I forgot they are repubs and most are incapable of reason.


Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RoadScholar "He “understood that the Constitution was not there to be interpreted based on the fads of the moment, but it was there to be interpreted according to its original meaning.” "


Like single shot muzzle loaded guns?


Or when women couldnt vote ?

lvg
lvg

Rubio was spewing his talking points and doing the Conga dance as usual.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

"Justice Obama."  Has a nice ring to it.  Cons would do well to confirm President Obama's nominee, else they may just have to deal with the Great Black One on SCOTUS for 30 years.

lvg
lvg

@Eye wonder Biden becomes President and he nominates Hillary or Bernie as VP

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Trump won the debate. Easily. All he needs to do is not fall down at this point.


He and his vision are the future of the Republican party. 


Just desserts.


" America doesn't win anymore. But with me as President we will. "


And its gonna be Yuuuuuge.