On March 10, CNN hosted the 11th 2016 Republican Presidential Primary Debate from Coral Gables Florida. The debate, which took place a few days prior to the critical March 15 winner-take-all races in Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina, was a major departure from the past debates in terms of tenor. Everyone from the four candidates Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich to the CNN moderators, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, Hugh Hewitt and Stephen Dinan, maintained a professional demeanor. The gotcha questions were minimal. The candidates also stayed away from the mean-spirited, sophomoric barbs which were in full evidence in the March 3 Fox News Debate. Even front runner Donald Trump quipped, “I cannot believe how civil it has been up here!”
Here are my top take-aways:
1. Trump appeared presidential: In recent interviews Donald Trump has responded to his critics who say that his comments are not becoming of a presidential candidate by saying that he can act presidential. During the CNN Debate, he was as articulate and charismatic as usual, but he did not make any gratuitous insults. In post debate interviews, he stated that he didn’t attack anyone because no one attacked him. Of course, Trump also benefited by being able to announce that Dr. Ben Carson, who dropped out of the GOP race last week, would be endorsing him.
2. Cruz assumed the role of diplomat: Throughout the debate, Cruz tried to present himself as the team leader who is keeping all the players in check. Throughout the evening, he peppered his speech with comments like: “This debate is not about insults, it’s not about attacks, and it’s not about any individuals on this stage. This election is about you and your children.” Cruz also politely took on Trump when he tried to explain to the audience why voters like Trump:. “He’s right about the problems, but his solutions don’t work. … We’ve got to get beyond rhetoric of China bad and actually get to how do you solve the problem?” While this communication approach did not hurt Cruz, it didn’t help really either. Following the debate, most of the positive commentary was about Trump and Rubio’s performance on the dais.
3. Marco Rubio makes a last stand: It is clear that Marco Rubio does not have a path to the nomination from a mathematical perspective. At the moment, in his home state of Florida, he is still lagging behind Donald Trump by 2:1. In addition, his March 9 Hialeah, rally at Millander Stadium was a disappointment. The crowd stopped at the 20-yard line which is less than a quarter of the field. Hialeah, which is the sixth largest city in Florida, is located in Miami-Dade County. The smaller than expected crowd is particularly noteworthy given that Rubio was born in Miami and graduated from the University Of Miami School Of Law. However, Rubio was determined to make the most of the debate and many pundits say that his performance was stellar. He had several compelling show stopping moments including his comments about climate change: “One of the reasons why the climate is changing is because the climate has always been changing.” Rubio also took on Trump several times. For instance, the child of Cuban immigrants responded to Trump’s comments about the US’s deal with Cuba by saying: ” I don’t know where Cuba is going to sue us, but if it’s in a court in Miami, they’re going to lose.” However, the next day Rubio undermined his strong debate performance by having his campaign endeavor to strike a deal with the Kasich campaign whereby Rubio would tell his supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio on Tuesday March 15 in exchange for the Kasich supporters voting for Rubio in Florida that day. Rubio’s argument was that a vote cast for any candidate other than himself in Florida and Kasich in Ohio was a vote for Donald Trump. To his credit, Kasich didn’t take the bait. “We were going to win in Ohio without his help, just as he’s going to lose in Florida without ours,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in a tweet.
4. The CNN Debate may be the last debate for Rubio and Kasich: While I thought all of the candidates performed well during the CNN Debate, I kept thinking that this debate will probably be the last debate for Rubio and Kasich. For if they fail to win their home states on Tuesday March 15, they will not be in the next debate which is scheduled to take place on Monday March 21 in Salt Lake City.
The race which started last year with seventeen candidates will soon be down to two, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And then the fireworks will really begin!
Image: Screen shot, courtesy of: http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2016/03/