The GOP — or Was It the GOPG-13 — Debate in Detroit

By Al Perrotta Published on March 4, 2016

The four remaining Republican candidates squared off again last night at Detroit’s beautiful, historic and rowdy Fox Theater. In a debate that may determine who will be the leader of the free world, the three top GOP candidates labeled each other with nicknames straight out of a Motown backup band: Big Donald, Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted.

But there is hardly a name for what may be the most unbelievable moment in this debate cycle, when, in response to Rubio’s jokes about the size of his hands, Donald Trump boasted about the size of his manhood. What can you say? If Trump were a Motown hit, he’d be “I Can’t Help Myself.”

And Democrats watching had to be “Dancing in the Streets.” (Even if Hillary is indicted and they have to “Shop Around” for another candidate.)

The Overview

Indeed, like last week’s CNN debate, Wednesday’s show opened with more hits than a Motown revue. Rubio and Cruz launched another barrage of attacks on Trump, and in return got a lot of name-calling and voice-raising from the front-runner. Poor John Kasich was like the fourth ring in a three-ring circus.  After one particularly brutish shout-fest, Chris Wallace had to remark,  “Gentlemen, you gotta do better than this.” Megyn Kelly did not say, “Boys, do we have to take a time out?” It only felt like she should.

Unlike CNN, Fox News did manage to wrestle some control of the night and dive into more policy. Behavior-wise, things mellowed as the night went on, perhaps out of exhaustion from all the fighting. Rubio was fighting a cold, Cruz was fighting for points, Kasich was fighting for attention and Trump was fighting, well, everything.

Still, in the end, it was not a pretty showing. Afterwards, Frank Luntz asked his Fox News focus group who thought the debate helped the Republican Party. Not a single hand went up.

While Trump’s “I guarantee you there’s no problem” reference to his well-traveled member lit up social media, there were some moments of true significance that can be expected to draw deeper attention in the days ahead.

The Dangerous Donald

Donald Trump was challenged with the assertion by 100 military experts that military members would ignore his orders if he asked them to waterboard terrorists or attack their families, as they would be illegal orders. “They’re not going to refuse me, believe me,” responded Trump, “I’m a leader. If I say do it, the military will do it … believe me.” He would again repeat the assertion a third time.

As one person noted on Twitter:

On the issue of leadership, Trump declared that Marco Rubio is not a leader. Cruz noted that “I think the American people understand that yelling and cursing at people doesn’t make you a tough guy.”

Cruz was asked about North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un announcing Thursday he had ordered his military to stand by for nuclear strikes at any time. He gave his detailed response, noting that the problem stems directly from the Clinton Administration’s weak agreement with North Korea two decades ago. One can’t help but wonder if the question was not asked of Trump out of legitimate concern his only response would be to point out how much bigger his missiles would be than Kim’s.

The Minor Civil Case

Rubio hit Trump hard on the emerging scandal over Trump University, which currently finds Trump in court being sued for fraud. Rubio and Cruz implied that in this case, Trump’s claims that he’s for the little guy aren’t matched by his record.

When Trump argued that the university had a 98 percent approval rate and an A-rating from the Better Business Bureau, Megyn Kelly said the BBB rating had been a D-minus and quoted from a court ruling. “They found that victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.”

Rubio declared, “[Trump] is trying to do to the American voter what he did to the people that signed up for this course.”

Trump’s response was to say Rubio couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Florida.

Cruz also lit into Trump over the University, asking if voters wanted to see Trump’s fraud case playing out in the general election. Trump kept repeating over him that it is a “minor civil case.” To the 5,000 plaintiffs who spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on those courses, the case isn’t so minor.

Immigration and the Secret New York Times Tape

Trump again refused to release his off-the-record conversation with The New York Times that Buzz Feed claims features Trump saying his vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants is negotiable. His rivals insist Trump should release the tapes so the American people can understand his true policy on immigration. As Rubio put it, “If in fact you went to Manhattan and said I’m lying to the American people, then the voters have a right to know.”

Interestingly, Trump said at one point that he agreed mostly with what Rubio had to say on the issue: Build the wall first, then reach an agreement on what to do with the 11 million illegals already here.

Cruz wasn’t surprised, pointing out again that Trump had funded five of the eight members of the so-called Gang of Eight.

Trump’s policy flips were a consistent theme of the night. A “Ball of Confusion,” to borrow another Motown tune. Megyn Kelly even brought audio-visual aids, showing a video montage of three instances of Trump contradicting himself, almost within hours. A flip-flop each on Afghanistan, Syrian refugees, and whether George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction.

Trump calmly explained the three clips. The first he was mistaken. He meant Iraq. The second, he spoke without having the facts. The third was a matter of changing his tune.

“Hillary … Hillary … Hillary”

Aside from bickering over who the polls show has a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the fall, the Democratic front-runner was barely mentioned. Cruz demanded Trump explain why he gave Hillary four checks during her 2008 Presidential run. Trump said it was just business.

The Democrats as a whole weren’t mentioned much either. However, during a discussion over the plight of Detroit, Ted Cruz did note that “Detroit is a great city with a magnificent legacy that has been utterly decimated by 60 years of failed left-wing policy.”

The desire to prevent Hillary from reaching the White House did unify the four candidates. Each one promised to support the Republican nominee, whoever it may be. Earlier in the day, Trump again threatened to launch an independent bid if denied the nomination. But when asked point blank if he’d support whoever wins the nomination, he said, “Yes, I will. Yes I will.”

“Breathe … Breathe … Breathe”

Finally, the moments of levity at Thursday’s debate can be counted on one finger.

As a heated Donald Trump was continuing to interrupt a Ted Cruz response, Cruz advised the billionaire, “Breathe … Breathe … Breathe … “.

Marco Rubio said, “When they’re done with yoga, can I answer a question?”

To which Cruz responded, “I really hope that we don’t, we don’t see yoga on this stage.”

Rubio: “Well, he’s very flexible, so you never know.”

The joke was on Trump. Unfortunately, for much of the rest of the night, the joke was on the American people.

 

Here’s a full, annotated transcript of tonight’s Republican debate on Fox News, courtesy of The Washington Post.

This story has been updated to correct the source for and add a link to the story on Donald Trump’s off-the-record NY Times conversation.

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