Last night was Sen. Marco Rubio’s night.
He needed one. For many, Donald Trump has become the prohibitive Republican nominee following formidable wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Who would have thought we would be here eight or nine months ago?
Wolf Blitzer artfully moderated the Telemundo/CNN debate in Houston, Texas, where he was joined by Maria Celeste Arraras, Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash. If things got out of hand in the South Carolina debate, we need to find a better turn of phrase to describe this slugfest.
The questioning was pointed throughout and particularly precise from Celeste Arraras, who poked Trump and Rubio on immigration. Rubio, who seized the day, made his presence felt on stage, didn’t shy away from pressing Trump and landed attacks seemingly off the cuff.
“If you hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Probably selling watches in Manhattan,” mused Rubio.
The Florida Senator showed dominance over the other candidates in spats about the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform. He proved his maneuverability under the spotlight, rationalizing the repeal of DACA, which shields children of illegal immigrants from deportation, in light of conflicting statements he had made in Spanish.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, fighting for his campaign’s longevity in his home state, skirted the Rubio-Trump brawl and looked the third wheel. He tried to butt in, sounding whiny when asking Blitzer for more time.
Both Cruz and Rubio made Trump look weak on policy, even a tad thick. Rubio pressed him on health care: “What is your plan, Mr. Trump? What is your plan on healthcare?” Deftly repeating that a few times for emphasis, without garnering any coherent response from Trump. Cruz came in on the other flank: “Talk away. Explain your plan, please.”
Dr. Ben Carson served as much-needed comic relief, talking about fruit salads and suggesting his rivals attack him so he could get more time. Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke clearly about his policies, but few of the moderators pursued his concerns.
Trump was bruised last night from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. As we’ve seen, however, it will take something bigger than a poor debate performance to unseat the Donald. In typical Trump style, the most scathing retort from him all night was when he hit both Cruz and Rubio in the same phrase: “This guy is a choke artist, and this guy is a liar.”