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The Trump Pile-On: Kasich Steadfast While Rest of Republican Party Bares Teeth

The latest GOP debate in Houston was a no-holds barred verbal warfare as the 2016 Republican candidates continue to claw their way to the top.

Prior to the South Carolina Republican Primary the sound was ka-CHING! ka-CHING! from Right to Rise, former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush’s SuperPAC, but Thursday night all that could be heard from that SuperPAC was crickets chirping.

Mike Murphy was a natural to run Right to Rise. In his last major outing in 2010, he spent $177 million of other people’s money to elect Meg Whitman governor of California. Democrat Jerry Brown won that one while spending just $36 million.

Jeb! was running on fumes by the time he staggered into South Carolina, and the SuperPAC supporting him had a humongous advertising buy to cancel after Jeb! took a dive, media that would have blanketed Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. According to disclosure filings, Right to Rise raised $118,685,857 and spent $94,236,967.

Bush and his backers spent more than $130 million. Breitbart reported that Mike Murphy was paid $14 million for this result. When asked to comment on those tallies, Murphy said “Bullshit!”

The only other fundraising that made news was from Dr. Ben Carson. Not the amounts, especially compared to Bush. Carson raised $71,277,987 and spent $67,309,535. The news was that the lion’s share of the spending was on telemarketing and direct mail. That is, Carson fundraised for the purpose of fundraising.

With Bush out, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz leads the money race with $101,113,003 raised and $62,021,776 spent. What is left of the GOP establishment, however, is lining up behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Jeb! has gone down in flames, but the big donors are not rushing to Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s side. His job in GOP Debate X was to dominate. The obvious goal was slowing down the Donald Trump juggernaut, but it’s just as important to make the Republican donor class feel comfortable whipping out their checkbooks.

Cruz needed to throw elbows at Rubio. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Carson needed a breakthrough moment. Jonah Goldberg wrote in Newsmax that Ben Carson’s campaign is “one of the most ingeniously disguised book tours in modern memory.” It’s hard to see a path for Kasich because it may be over before the more moderate contests that would be his sweet spot.

All The Donald Trump had to do was not lose badly.

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Because of the sheer pettiness of the entire show, there’s more to say about the broad strokes than any of the insults that dominated this “debate.”

George H.W. Bush and his wife were in the audience and got a deserved standing ovation. I was reminded of the time Bush got hosed for looking at his watch during a presidential debate. Anybody who paused to look at his watch during this brawl risked getting hit by flying furniture.

Carson led off by calling for peace on the stage in the face of President Barack Obama’s destruction of the country. He got polite applause and then everyone on the stage went to war, except Carson and Kasich.

In a just world, voters would look at that display and say the only one who looked presidential was Kasich. Carson was not less than presidential in his attitude but rather in his lack of substance, with the sole exception of healthcare, where he has a plan that deserves debate but will probably never get it.

Kasich used his introductory remarks to do something corny that more people in the public eye should do. He addressed any kids watching the debate, mentioned how unlikely his presence was, and said “you can do it.” It was a good thing to do, but the rest of the evening was something children probably should not view without adults who might explain the conduct of the allegedly grown and well-educated men on the stage.

Rubio’s opening was well-considered and aimed right at the donor class. We must be Reaganauts and identify our party with hopes and dreams, he declared.

Cruz was his usual Me! Me! Me!

Trump was his usual, “We don’t win anymore but we will after you elect me.”

The opening gambit by the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, was about immigration, seeking to draw a difference between Trump and Cruz that Trump’s deportation force would toss 11 million human beings across the Rio Bravo but would allow “the good ones” to return. Cruz is for the deportation but would not let anyone come back.

Trump had a tiny bit of compassion for the families. Not as much as Jeb! had, but some. Cruz came back with sympathy for American workers and made some expansive and unlikely claims about the result of the “papers please” law directed at brown people in Arizona, at least the parts of it not struck down in court.

Trump turned the Arizona argument around on Cruz by playing the endorsement card he got from Sheriff Joe Arpaio, everybody’s favorite xenophobe.

Rubio was asked how he differed from President Obama on immigration. He replied that we must secure the border before we do anything and attacked Trump for hiring aliens, but he did not address the question.

Rubio then lit into Trump for the horrible rip-off that was Trump so-called University.

When Trump started blowing smoke about his accomplishments, Rubio interrupted, “Here’s a guy who inherited 200 million dollars…”

Trump interrupted to say, “I started with ONE million I got from my father…”

I confess I tuned out as the shouting continued. I’ve not seen two men as divorced from the reality of the people they seek to lead since Mitt Romney told a student concerned about student loans to borrow $50,000 from her parents and start a small business. Or the time Ann Romney said they almost had to spend the principal of the stock portfolio Mitt’s dad had given him for school.

I do not doubt that the feelings expressed in all cases were genuine in all cases. The feelings just came from somewhere other than the Muscogee Creek Nation where I was raised or the Cherokee Nation where most of my relatives lived.

Rubio brought some ringers to the show to let out Beatles/Elvis squeals whenever he opened his mouth. They let it rip when he accused Trump of repeating himself, something Rubio had done in the past and Trump kept trying to bring up.

However, the Teddy Ruxpin chip was still activated in Sen. Rubio. He memorized lines and repeated them: Obama is always doing unconstitutional stuff; the remark to Trump that foreign policy “is not a real estate deal.”

The Telemundo reporter set off a series of answers that stood alone rather than the candidates whacking each other when she asked about the Republican National Committee resolution to expand the GOP base among minorities.

Cruz said Hispanics are conservatives and no changes are necessary to appeal to them but it’s necessary to go and ask for their votes.

Cruz asserted that Hispanics have the highest rate of military service “of any demographic.” Really? Don’t say that on the rez without packing your evidence.

Rubio looked around the stage—two Hispanics and an African-American—and asserted, “We [the GOP] are the party of diversity.” Good point, Democrats.

Kasich said it’s all about economics and a rising tide will lift all boats.

Carson, who seemed to wake up when he asked for the question to be repeated, dittoed Kasich.

There were not a lot of profiles in courage this evening, but two stood out.

Trump, in spite of hammering by Cruz and others, stood by his true assertion that Planned Parenthood has helped millions of women in ways that have nothing to do with abortion and he could not commit to the destruction of the organization.

Kasich stood up for mainstream public accommodations law as applied to gay people.

Carson, bless his heart, can always be counted on for head scratchers. Tonight, he said, “Congress should correct the Supreme Court” regarding gay marriage and he would evaluate judicial candidates “by the fruit salad of their life.”

With the possible exception of Carson, all of the candidates were mathematically challenged on the health care issue. They would ignore the iron law of insurance that the cost to one is determined by the size and content of the insured pool. They would ignore that a system without a mandate to get coverage cannot cover pre-existing conditions without creating an incentive for free riding.

Wolf Blitzer did a great job of showing the mathematical nonsense in Trump’s economic plan and left Trump sputtering unconvincingly about “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Carson got some laughs when he gave a mock apology for whining about how few questions he got. He also received applause when he said, “Could somebody attack me, please?” (So he could speak in rebuttal.)

Carson and Kasich pressed their sanity advantage in closing.

Carson: What kind of person do you want your kids to emulate?

Kasich: Tonight should prove that executive experience matters. And, by the way, I can beat Hillary.

Rubio: You the voters need to narrow down this pack of candidates.

Cruz: If you elect me I won’t make deals and I’ll sic the Justice Department on Planned Parenthood.

Trump: Politicians can’t get anything done.

The question for last night was whether the pols can do anything about Trump. Before tonight, we didn’t know whether Trump could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ because nobody really pounded him.

Both Cruz and Rubio pounded on Trump last night, and Trump did not get his hair mussed, but his hair is famously resistant to wind and rain and, now, verbal punches.

The difference between the Cuban-American and Cuban-Canadian-American was that Rubio smiled occasionally and could even chuckle at himself a little. Cruz came across as just mean and when he attempted a smile he merely bared his teeth.

I hesitate to predict whether any of the stuff Rubio and Cruz dumped on The Donald will stick. But I will predict that Rubio pleased the donor class and came out looking more likeable than Cruz and he helped his role as the leader of the establishment lane if Kasich does not get the recognition he deserves for remaining the only person on the stage who could act like a president.

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