A Donald-Less Debate and Other Strange Tales from the Campaign Trail

By Al Perrotta Published on January 30, 2016

Less than 75 hours to go until the Iowa caucuses and the campaign news is coming 100 miles an hour.

Thursday night, the Republican candidates met in Iowa. Just not all in the same place. Seven met in the prime time Fox News debate. Four met for the undercard debate before two of them met up to party with the front-runner. That would be Donald J. Trump, who was either a) A “Ducking Donald” afraid to face Megyn Kelly and his rivals at the prime time debate or b) A shrewd strategist protecting a slim lead in Iowa.

The Stream‘s Anika Smith offers a full debate recap, while our John Zmirak shares why it sometimes felt more like a genteel game of badminton. (Ah, but which candidate was the “birdie”?)

The Debate and Reaction

At the start, Ted Cruz quickly dispatched of what Megyn Kelly called “the elephant not in the room.” “Let me say I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly. And Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon,” he said. “Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way … ”

For the rest of the night, the debaters and moderators dared not speak the Donald’s name. It’s like he’s Beetlejuice. Mention his name three times and he’d appear.

Trumplejuice Trump Beetlejuice - 900

He did not appear. As Berny Belvedere notes in his column out on The Stream, he was hardly missed.

Jeb Bush and his former Tonto Marco Rubio got into a lively, detailed debate over immigration. It basically boiled down to this: Jeb telling Marco, “I was for your position before you were against it” and Marco doing a book report on Jeb’s book Immigration Wars. As Jeb helpfully offered, you can purchase the book for $2.99 at his website.

Fox News used previous video clips of Rubio and Ted Cruz showing how they’ve seemed to flip-flop on immigration reform. According to Breitbart, the Cruz camp felt blindsided. Makes me wonder what clips Fox News had ready for Trump.

Dr. Ben Carson on Friday accused the moderators of avoiding him because he won’t attack his rivals. “This is entertainment,” he told The Hill. “Our country has become sort of more like ancient Rome with the coliseum. Everyone wants to go to the coliseum and they want to see the blood and the gore even though society is deteriorating around them.”

Perhaps that’s why Carson recited the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution as his closing statement. Chris Christie recited Hillary Clinton’s Miranda rights.  Well, not exactly, but he did promise to “prosecute” the case against Hillary.

So who won the debate? Without the Donald Distraction, Jeb Bush had his best debate and scored huge family points for his enthusiastic support for his dad, his brother and his mother. The Frank Lutz focus group on Fox News gave the night to Marco Rubio. Rand Paul scored well on Twitter.

Since they got to hear a substantive debate without the showboating, one could offer the cliche “the voters of Iowa were the big winners.”  However, an argument can also be made that Fox News came out on top. According to The Hollywood Reporter: “Fox News Debate Numbers Steady Without Donald Trump.”

Trump hardly seems bothered. “I’m glad I wasn’t there,” he says.  He also claims the cable network apologized to him, but, unfortunately, it was too late to cancel the fundraiser. For its part, Fox News told The Hill that Trump wanted $5 million to participate.

Hillary Gets Hit from a Very Intriguing Direction

During the undercard debate, Carly Fiorina remarked that the scandal-plagued Hillary Clinton has “escaped prison more often than El Chapo.” Several of the prime time debaters also made reference to Hillary’s ethical and legal woes. Of course, those are Republicans. Republicans targeting Hillary is as surprising as a Robertson family member targeting a duck.

However, a particular tweet out Friday morning is raising eyebrows. It came from Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The question was immediately raised: “Does this mean Warren wants to see Hillary indicted?” The conventional wisdom is if Hillary is indicted, Joe Biden will rush to the rescue and bring Warren along as his VP nominee. But what if she’s actually eyeballing the top job? A column in the Boston Globe Monday suggested that if Clinton’s campaign collapses, Warren herself will jump into the presidential race. The paper notes that Warren has been characteristically quiet during the campaign. Is she saving her powder? (For those sexist micro-aggression hunters out there, that’s a reference to gunpowder, not make-up powder.)

The news grew worse for Hillary in the afternoon. The State Department confirmed for the first time that 22 emails found on her private, unsecured server were top secret. State will also be dumping another batch of emails tonight, meaning we’ll have some more Hillary news to chew on over the weekend.

There was a bright spot for Hillary. It was announced that her husband Bill would be in charge of her Snapchat account for a day. Nothing could possibly go wrong there.

Poll Sitting

With only a weekend between us and the Iowa caucuses, a Quinnipiac poll shows the race in Iowa is a statistical dead heat between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. However, the RealClear Politics average shows Trump with a 6.2% lead. Trump sits at 31.4%, followed by Cruz at 25.2% and Rubio at 14.4%. The good news for the rest of the candidates? Iowa polling tends to be famous and fabulously fickle. In 2012, Rick Santorum was polling so far out of the Iowa race he was somewhere in Nebraska. He ended up winning the thing.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire is fixing to be a dogfight for second place. Trump is up by 15% in the latest Suffolk University poll. However, Cruz, John Kasich, Bush and Rubio could be the tightest quartet since the Four Seasons. And Jersey boy Chris Christie isn’t all that far behind them.

On the Democratic side, the RealClear Politics average shows Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a statistical dead heat in Iowa. New Hampshire, meanwhile, is “feeling the Bern.” Sanders has a 14.3% advantage in the RealClear Politics average.

The best part? Come Monday, the 2016 race starts getting out of the hands of the pollsters and into the hands of the voters.

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