Everyone seems to have agreed that the Republican primary debate in Houston before Super Tuesday descended into chaos – it was a barrage of attacks on Donald Trump from Marco Rubio that left Trump flustered and angry and defensive. Trump seemed to sense that he was finally being exposed as a con man and a fraud, with no real ideas – a rather shallow blowhard actually – and he sneered back at Rubio, because he had no real answers to all the stuff Rubio was alleging. All he had was sneers – and Ted Cruz twisted the knife a bit too. Why not help Rubio? They both want Trump gone – and Trump kept shouting that Rubio was a “choker” and Cruz was a liar. That was his answer to everything. There was no real discussion of policies. That didn’t seem to be the point of this debate. This was about character assassination. It was most unpleasant – and it wasn’t particularly enlightening. Rubio did, however, chip away, a bit, at Trump’s image as the master of everything and a real winner, all the time. Perhaps that was useful.
Character is, after all, as important as any policies a candidate might propose, or maybe more important than those policies. That is what seems to be limiting Ted Cruz, an extraordinarily nasty man and proud of it. What he proposes is standard Republican stuff, but he’ll jam it down everyone’s throat and he doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way, or that everyone in his party thinks he’s an asshole. Conversely, Rubio seems to hanging on because he seems to have no particular character – or any character at all. He says all the right things – he seems to have memorized them – but the depth of his conviction, or the existence of it, is anyone’s guess. He presents himself as reliably conservative – he’s really sorry he co-sponsored immigration reform in the Senate a few years ago and he’ll never do it again – and he’s young and pleasant, and Hispanic too. And he’s Cuban-American, the good kind of Hispanic. What’s not to like?
And Trump is the bully. Forget his policy ideas – there’s nothing much there. He’ll slap people around, for America, to make America great again. That’s about it. Don’t ask questions. He’ll just do it. People love that sort of thing. He’ll win the Republican nomination easily, but he faces challenges there. Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley notes an instructive exchange at the Houston debate – Ted Cruz decided to question Trump on his frequent claim that, as president, he would never allow people to “die on the streets” for lack of health insurance. Cruz saw an opening there:
CRUZ: Did you say, if you want people to die on the streets if you don’t support socialized health care, you have no heart?
TRUMP: Correct. I will not let people die on the streets – let me talk.
CRUZ: Explain your plan, please.
TRUMP: My plan is simple. We’ll have private health care, but I will not allow people to die on the sidewalks and the streets of our country if I’m president. You may let it, and you may be fine with it—
CRUZ: So does the government pay for everyone’s health care?
TRUMP: We are going –
CRUZ: Yes or no.
TRUMP: Excuse me. We are going to take those people and those people are going to be serviced by doctors and hospitals. We’re going to make great deals on it, but we’re not going to let them die in the streets.
CRUZ: Who pays for it?
Maybe we shouldn’t pay for that. A real free-market conservative would let them die, as Mathis-Lilley explains:
Cruz keeps implying that no private insurance or health care provider wants to take care of someone with so little money that they’re otherwise about to expire on the street. Which is probably true! It does seem unfair to demand that a private, for-profit business in a competitive market spend its resources on customers who will not be able to pay for the services they’re receiving. Which is why most Americans generally support the idea that the government should step in to cover costs in these kinds of situations – that there are things in life (health care, school, being able to retire before you fall over at the assembly line and die) that every person in a prosperous society should have access to regardless of their individual level of wealth.
But this is the primary of a Republican Party that’s been getting more and more extreme for decades to the point that the idea of the government doing anything besides building tanks is considered rank communist treason. And thus it seems almost natural, in this paradigm, for a candidate to think he’s really nailed his opponent by pointing out that he doesn’t want to let sick people pass out and die on the sidewalk because they can’t afford their hospital bills.
Maybe Cruz did nail Trump on this – you’re either a sneering bully who believes in the free market, not government, no matter who gets hurt, or you’re not – but even Ted Cruz sometimes gives in:
After initially placing a hold on bipartisan legislation to help cities like Flint, Michigan, upgrade their water infrastructure, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would not stop the measure from moving forward.
“He has reviewed the bill now and will not prevent it from moving forward,” Cruz spokesman Phil Novack said in an email Thursday evening…
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters through a grin earlier Thursday that “a presidential candidate, not to name names,” was holding up the legislation, which was fast-tracked Wednesday using a procedural tool in the Senate. A single senator has the ability to stop that process.
So, the children in Flint shouldn’t die in the streets? Ted gave in – and by the way, the dispute was the Republicans insisting the measure be paid for by reprogramming two-hundred-fifty million dollars in credit subsidies for fuel-efficient vehicle development – because America hates those stupid little electric cars, and even the hybrids, and the market should decide things anyway, without subsidizing what no one wants, and so on and so forth. When your political career has been funded by Exxon-Mobile, well, you do tend to think that way. When you’re a senator from Texas, essentially a precarious petrostate with nothing much else going for it, you also tend to think that way – but there are limits. Let those kids die? That’s not an option – even Ted couldn’t keep up the bully stuff.
Still, Donald Trump had been dinged in the debate. He needed to reestablish his bully-cred – so he did just that. The ultimate bully from New Jersey endorsed the ultimate bully from New York. Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump, and Slate’s Josh Voorhees comments:
It was a move no one saw coming. CNN and the Huffington Post both called it a “surprise,” the Washington Post and Politico went with “stunning,” and the New York Times described it as a “major turn in a wild race.”
Christie spent months running in the so-called establishment lane against Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, and it stood to reason that Christie would eventually throw his support to one of those party-approved candidates – and that he meant it when he said things like, “We do not need reality TV in the Oval Office right now.” Christie and Trump also clashed repeatedly while the New Jersey Republican was still in the race, fighting over whether thousands of Muslim Americans celebrated on 9/11 as Trump claimed (they didn’t), whether Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the country is ridiculous (it is), and whether Trump has the necessary temperament and policy knowledge to be the commander in chief of United States (he doesn’t). And Trump accused Christie of conspiring to commit bridge-themed fraud, and Christie literally put Trump’s daughter’s father-in-law behind bars a decade ago. So, yeah, we can all agree this was an unexpected plot twist.
But this does make sense:
Christie can’t run for re-election as governor in 2017 because of New Jersey’s term limits, and he’s so unpopular among his constituents it’s hard to imagine that he’d win any other office in the state either. If Christie wants to stay in politics, his best chance is to find a home in a Republican administration – if not as vice president, perhaps attorney general or another cabinet position – and he’s far more likely to get that from a President Trump than he would from a President Rubio or President Ted Cruz. For as much as Christie clashed with Trump during the past year, he premised his entire run on the idea that first-term senators like Rubio and Cruz are unfit to lead. And his relatively moderate brand of East Coast conservatism and occasional willingness to challenge party orthodoxy line up much better with Trump than they do with either Rubio or Cruz. …
Trump, meanwhile, is increasingly likely to be his party’s nominee. While the odds would be stacked against him come November, politically speaking it’s much better to support a long shot in the general election than it is to back one in the nominating race. Sure, Christie risks alienating Republican Party big wigs by not falling in line behind their chosen candidate, Rubio, but such an endorsement would have been largely lost among the flood of other establishment figures that are now rallying around Rubio. Endorsing Trump thrusts Christie back into the national conversation in a way that he never was during his campaign and that a more traditional endorsement ever could. (The only other option available to Christie would have been to back fellow governor John Kasich, which would have come with similar establishment-angering risks but none of the potential rewards.)
If Christie has no interest in public office after he’s done in Trenton, backing Trump makes even more sense. Say what you want about the Donald’s business acumen and ethics… but he’s clearly a good friend to have if you’re eager to make money in New York City or beyond. That’s true whether Trump’s working in the White House or in Trump Tower. Bucking the GOP and donning a Make America Great Again hat will also make Christie more attractive to the cable news networks looking to hand out lucrative contracts down the road. Fox News still doesn’t know exactly what it wants to do with Trump, but it’s clear they want him on TV. By hitching his wagon to the former reality television star, Christie becomes that much more interesting to the Fox brass. He’ll certainly get a lengthy tryout as Trump’s new surrogate this spring.
This is, then, a cold calculation, but it helps Trump, who needs it, as Gail Collins notes:
On Friday, Rubio was in his new Trumpian glory, strutting around a platform and telling his audience that the developer had gone into a “meltdown” backstage during the debate. “First he had this little makeup thing applying, like, makeup around his mustache because he had one of those sweat mustaches,” Rubio gloated. “Then he asked for a full-length mirror… maybe to make sure his pants weren’t wet.”
Meanwhile Trump was reporting that Rubio had been putting on makeup “with a trowel.” This is perhaps the first instance of a presidential campaign running on dialogue more normally overheard in a junior high bathroom when the mean girls are doing their hair.
It did get odd, as it had to:
You can understand why Rubio felt that getting personal was the only way to go. Trump has been breezing through the campaign without making any discernible effort to come up with coherent policies, or even to keep his stories straight. (He’s amended his old explanation for his failure to release his tax returns. The problem apparently is no longer the complexity of the project, but a government audit that mysteriously precludes him from revealing any of the information.)
Trump, who spent the last month contradicting himself about health care plans, announced during the debate that he wanted to cancel Obamacare and then let insurance companies compete across state borders, which he kept calling “lines.” And that was pretty much it. The obsession with “lines” suggested either an absent-minded actor or a cocaine addict.
“That’s going to solve the problem,” he asserted.
That won’t do:
The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session. Or maybe he just doesn’t have the discipline to sit down and work this stuff out.
The great moment of debate night, as far as I’m concerned, came after the actual debate was over, and Trump suggested in a CNN postgame interview, that the IRS might audit him a lot “because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian … and maybe there’s a bias.”
Then in a CNN post-postgame interview Trump took it all back. (“I don’t think it applies.”) As only he can.
Will Christie help with all this? Leon Wolf at RedState thinks not:
This is how desperate Donald Trump is to change the news cycle. Trump has had Christie’s endorsement in his back pocket the whole time. He could have released this whenever he wanted to. He did it today to try to divert attention from the fact that he got his face stomped in by Rubio in last night’s debate, and that the face stomping is still continuing today. Clearly, he is desperate to remind people that Christie once got the better of Rubio in a debate.
The optics of this are not looking as good for Trump as he thinks, though. He’s basically admitting, with this move, that he is not able to deal with Rubio himself. He definitely looks like he’s running and hiding behind Christie’s skirt. And in case you were wondering, Donald Trump – no, Chris Christie cannot debate Rubio for you next time.
Here’s what a lame, pathetic move this is…
That’s from the hard right, but the New York Times editorial board is just as brutal:
Those who have witnessed Gov. Chris Christie’s performance both in New Jersey and in the national arena over the past couple of years almost could have seen Friday’s sweaty embrace of Donald Trump coming. Almost.
Once upon a time, the governor put his state first, for good and ill. Today, he is driven by twin demons: national political ambition and vengefulness. By cozying up to Mr. Trump, he feeds both.
Having staked his presidential hopes on the New Hampshire primary only to finish in sixth place, and facing the end of a so-far disastrous second term as governor, Mr. Christie needs a new job. Perhaps he’s hitching his ambitions to Mr. Trump because he’s promised to make him a winner, like Mr. Trump promises America. Mr. Trump, at least, has managed to do what Mr. Christie couldn’t: hoodwink his way to the front of the Republican presidential pack.
But this makes sense:
Mr. Christie’s good friend is the enemy of his enemy. Marco Rubio’s attack ads helped Mr. Christie along to defeat. He started to take his revenge on the debate stage in New Hampshire by savagely mocking Mr. Rubio for his robotic performance. Now Mr. Trump, embarrassed by Mr. Rubio’s slashing ridicule in Thursday night’s forum, is giving Mr. Christie a chance to finish the job. They lost no time about it on Friday, spinning up a medley of playground insults toward the Florida senator.
And this may backfire:
The bombastic governor may not fully realize that while he damaged Mr. Rubio in New Hampshire with his attack, it also showed voters who Mr. Christie really is. He may help his new best frenemy forever take Mr. Rubio down, but it’s near certain that Mr. Christie will further cement his national reputation as a venal, vindictive political bully in the process. His endorsement has already demonstrated that Mr. Christie will say anything in service of his ambition. Asked what he hopes to get in return, Mr. Christie played coy, saying that after his term ends in 2018, he wants to “go into private life and make money like Trump.”
After his performance on Friday, Mr. Christie had better hope that Mr. Trump, wherever he winds up, can find a little something for his new apprentice to do. If Mr. Trump should win the presidency, he might want to consider Mr. Christie for transportation secretary, since he already knows so much about traffic patterns on commuter bridges.
Ouch. But an item in Bloomberg makes clear he’s Trump’s kind of guy:
The bridge incident provided an introduction to voters nationally of the tactics that gave Christie his reputation as a tough-talking Jersey guy. The governor, who says he wasn’t part of the operation to cause traffic jams, was never implicated. Still, the episode hurt his approval, as did his frequent out-of-state travel amid his presidential bid.
“Does Chris Christie have a reputation for being vengeful? Of course he does,” said John Wisniewski, a state Assemblyman who was co-chairman of a legislative panel investigating the traffic jams. “We’ve seen him close lanes at the George Washington Bridge because he was mad at the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing him. He was so mad at Democrats for passing a budget he didn’t like that he cut funding for a women’s clinic.”
While Christie’s attacks on Rubio hurt the senator’s standing, they also may have reminded New Hampshire voters of his critics’ accusations back home that the governor is a bully.
After his quarrel with Corfield over her funding and pay went viral on YouTube, she ran for a state Assembly seat and lost. Michael DuHaime, a Christie adviser, engineered campaign contributions to her opponent.
In 2012, he argued with a heckler on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, waving an ice cream cone and accusing the man of acting like a “big shot.” Union leaders who criticized Christie were “political thugs,” and lawmakers, residents and media who challenged him were “idiots,” “jerks” and “numbnuts.”
Christie will provide a fresh injection of bullying, but an item in Politico points out the real significance of this:
When Chris Christie threw his support behind Donald Trump, Washington gasped. But the wall of establishment opposition to Trump’s candidacy had begun cracking days before New Jersey’s governor barreled right through it.
From Rep. Duncan Hunter and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who have signaled an openness to working with Trump, to Mike Huckabee’s daughter and adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who officially joined Trump’s campaign this week, Republican officials and operatives are coming to grips with the reality that this anti-establishment hero is now the presumptive GOP nominee.
“Folks are now going through the stages of grief,” said one high-ranking Republican operative. “Some are already at acceptance.”
For Christie, the endorsement was his only path to national relevance after quitting the presidential contest. For Trump, it was much more. Not only did it allow him to change the news cycle after getting roughed up by the establishment’s last hope, Marco Rubio, but it lent credence to Trump’s charge that Washington is full of easily maneuvered politicians.
And he outmaneuvered them. He slowly turned their party into the party of sneering bullies – get with the program or get out. That may doom the party in national elections, but that’s just too bad. Go vote for Hillary or Bernie if you don’t like it. Actually many will – but some people should die in the streets.