After the 5th GOP Presidential Debate, It’s Trump’s and Cruz’s to Lose
Last night’s fifth Republican presidential primary debate revealed several interesting things. Donald Trump, who is still leading by a wide margin in national and New Hampshire polls, as usual performed well in the debate — as long as you ignore his overreaching statements and mistakes. Ted Cruz, who is in second place, has risen to first place in Iowa by as much as 10 points, also turned in a strong performance. Since 1976, with one lonely exception on the Democratic side involving unusual circumstances, the eventual nominees in both parties had won either Iowa or New Hampshire.
Given their strong performances, they are now unequivocally the two to beat, and the question is, when will they resume beating up on each other. It didn’t happen last night. Cruz and Trump were cordial to each other throughout the debate, backing off from some criticisms they traded last week.
Jeb Bush went on the offensive against Trump, attacking his brash style. “So Donald, you know, is great at the one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate,” he said in the debate. “And he’d be a chaos president.” However, at three percent in the polls, it is probably too late for Bush to turn his downward spiral around. Although more money has been spent on his race than has been spent on any other GOP candidate, the Republican establishment seems to have deserted him for Marco Rubio.
Rubio and Chris Christie, who are both charismatic and well-spoken, performed well. Rubio tussled with Cruz several times over NSA spying, defense funding and immigration. Although Rubio held his own, Cruz takes positions closer to the conservative base of the party on those issues, particularly immigration.
Ben Carson, who had surged to second place after Trump in recent months, started slipping in the polls before the debate, and was unable to make up any ground during the debate. Due to the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks and the Muslim refugee epidemic, the questions focused on national security and foreign policy, a weak area for him. Rand Paul — who barely qualified for the top-tier debate — had no chance of doing well, considering his isolationist views on foreign policy do not resonate at a time when the country is focused on security.
Carly Fiorina and John Kasich also gave less than strong performances, though the recent terrorist attacks and the focus of the debate gave them plenty of opportunity to talk up their hawkish positions on foreign policy and defense.
With Trump still in first place, it’s reported that Republican power brokers are considering how to use a brokered convention (where no one candidate gets a majority of the delegates) to wheel and deal their way to stopping him even if he comes in with far more delegates than any other candidate. Trump responded and said he would bolt the party and run as an independent if that happens, and Ben Carson agreed. In the debate both men walked back those threats.
All recent general election polls show Hillary Clinton beating Trump by a significant margin, whereas other GOP candidates pitted against Clinton, including Rubio and Christie, either beat her or run even with her.
There is only one more debate, in January, before Iowa voters go to the polls. Iowa may be for Cruz but, at the moment, the race looks like Trump’s to lose. So far, his gaffes and attacks have not hurt him much in the polls. There is one thing, however, that might still undo him apart from any lethal errors on his part. If more candidates drop out, allowing the conservative base to coalesce around a viable alternative, such as Cruz, Trump could become vulnerable, if not in New Hampshire than in the run of southern States that follow not long after New Hampshire.
This close to the primaries, and barring a major misstep, there is a good chance the top two candidates will remain Trump and Cruz. Perhaps the reason the two decided not to attack each other during the debate was because Cruz thinks Trump will win and has cut a deal to be vice president? Or it could be that Cruz is still hoping to collect Trump’s supporters when the day finally arrives when support for the billionaire “gimmick candidate” finally evaporates — a moment repeatedly predicted to be just around the corner but, like tomorrow, never quite arriving.