Donald Trump has changed his messages not one iota. He stands by every single outrageous thing he has said and is absolutely unfazed when challenged. That may be what his supporters like about him. Last evening’s unpleasantly raucous and poorly moderated debate on the Fox Business Network was dominated by Trump’s head-to-head with Ted Cruz, and Trump didn’t break a sweat.
On the issue of whether Cruz, born to an American mother and Cuban father in Canada, Trump insists it’s an open question as to whether such a person is eligible to be President. Cruz slathered Trump with sarcasm, maintaining the legal issue is straightforward. Because I believe the Constitution is a living document, I’m inclined to agree. But Trump, the “birther,” cited Constitutional scholar Larry Tribe’s recent op ed piece stating that the Constitutional issues are far from settled on who is a natural-born citizen.
Tribe importantly challenged his former student for inconsistency, if not intellectual dishonesty. If, as Tribe reasons, Cruz is an “originalist” absolutist, he should then logically have to embrace the originalist definition of natural-born U.S. citizen, which in the 18th century was someone actually born on U.S. soil. But, as Cruz would agree, fears of foreign takeover of the nation are no longer applicable. If Cruz takes that approach, however, shouldn’t the originalist fears underlying the Second Amendment (arming a militia to prevent government takeover of state militias) also no longer be applicable? Exasperatingly, the FBN moderators passed up a golden opportunity to drill down in the questioning and invite all the candidates to weigh in on this important debate, which underlies competing judicial philosophies and appointments to the Supreme Court.
Cruz, who funded his insurgent campaign with his wife’s Goldman Sachs New York money, overplayed his contempt for New York values, setting up Trump to cite the unparalleled response of New Yorkers to the tragedy of 9/11. Cruz’s applause to Trump’s paean to the heroes of 9/11 was the smarmiest moment of the debate. Too bad neither Trump, the moderators nor any other candidate noted Cruz’s refusal, in the recent budget debate, to support extending funding for New York’s first responders’ disaster-related medical needs.
Jeb Bush had a strong evening, especially on national security, rebuilding the military and Trump’s counter-productive proposal to ban Muslims. He still has difficulty separating himself from others in the second tier, but his abundant PAC money may permit him to go on even while others falter. Though he’s a likable fellow, close your eyes and listen to his cadence. Can you hear SNL’s Dana Carvey doing Bush 41? Jeb’s presentation, however, is improving, as is John Kasich’s. That said, how many times can we listen to Kasich talk about his approach to the economy (freeze regulation, cut taxes, impose fiscal discipline) and ask “How do I know it? Because I’ve done it.”
In the same vein, Chris Christie also asserts that the candidates who are Senators only talk, while governors take actions and are held accountable. The New Jersey blusterer successfully parried Marco Rubio’s attack on him for past support of gun control, Planned Parenthood, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Common Core educational standards. He did support Sotomayor and has held other positions he is now walking away from. His snorting and bullishness in denying Rubio’s claims were so over the top as to appear believable.
Most, if not all, the debaters fudged the truth at one time or another. The nature of the debate, the lack of moderator control, the shallowness of moderator awareness of the facts, meant that last night did little to further the electorate’s understanding of substance. Like the medieval morality plays that rolled into European villages, each candidate played his role, playing to his base. It was pure amateur political theater, unworthy of a Tony nomination.
Ben Carson got off the funniest line of the evening. Without having had his name mentioned, he claimed the right to respond to a statement by Marco Rubio. “You were mentioned?” asked the moderator incredulously. Said the good doctor, “They mentioned me. They said everybody.” The audience laughed, but in the end the laugh is on us.
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