The Republican debate on CNN Thursday night became an unceasing cascade of attacks: Attacks leveled at the party front-runner, and by him. Donald Trump was flanked on a Texas stage by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and those candidates did everything possible to undermine Trump’s credibility as Presidential timber. Trump, however, was more than capable of shouting them down, which only raised their volume. As a consequence, the debate frequently devolved into a big, blaring mess. It would have been entertaining as “good TV” were it not so appalling as political discourse.
Early on, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio essentially brushed aside the CNN moderators and conducted their own, three-way debate. Trump gestured to each man on either side of him and said with the calmness of Tony Soprano snapping a punk’s neck, “This guy’s a choke-artist and this guy’s a liar.”
Rubio garnered cheers and applause for repeatedly accusing Trump of not offering specific plans for immigration reform and improving the economy. Regarding Trump’s plans for Mexico, Rubio said, “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Tower he’ll be using illegal-immigrant labor to do it.” “Such a cute sound-bite,” Trump said dismissively.
“What is your plan? What is your plan?” he said to Trump. Rubio turned to lead moderator Wolf Blitzer and implored him: “Wolf, you did not get an answer to your question.” This was media criticism in action: Rubio was certainly correct that the CNN moderators allowed the candidates to steamroll over the rules of the debate. But this chaos also made for a telling spectacle: We really got to see just how much rancor and differences there are between these men, in their positions and how they conduct themselves.
Folding immigration and economic issues together, Trump snapped at Rubio, “I’ve hired thousands… you’ve hired nobody.” After Trump accused Cruz of lying about his finances, Cruz said, “Calling someone a liar is itself a lie and it’s something Donald does daily.” Cruz also suggested that Trump was not the Republican capable of defeating the possible Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. “If I can’t beat her then you’re really gonna get killed, aren’t you?” said Trump.
For the record, the two other men on the stage were John Kasich and Ben Carson. The latter said, plaintively and late in the debate, “Can somebody attack me please?” It was one of two times Carson lit up the Twitter-sphere, the other being his answer to how he’d pick a Supreme Court nominees: “The fruit salad of their life is what I will look at.” A profusion of fruit salad images filled the internet in the wake of Carson’s curious imagery.