Friday, February 26, 2016
The two senators had an almost impossible task - landing a decisive blow against a player who has been entirely impervious to decisive blows and is simply a better debater than either of them. The need to land that decisive blow created a series of visuals, set pieces and mini-dramas in which they gave their absolute all to take him down and inevitably failed. On balance, that made them look small and confirmed the pervasive impression of his strength and their weakness. They're being crushed by a guy who by any normal political calculus is a joke.
In virtually every instance, Cruz or Rubio would launch some slashing attack, often both of them in succession or even at the same time only to see an unflappable Trump raise his index finger to the moderator, wait his turn and calmly slap his attackers down and reiterate his basic mantra. 'I'll make us great. I'll win. I'm winning. We'll win.' Since Cruz is a bit shorter than Trump and Rubio is substantially shorter than Trump, the visual, with Trump in the center, often had the look of one of those old Bugs Bunny or Popeye cartoons where one tough guy is holding two runts at bay with outstretched arms to both sides.
Toward the end of the debate, even Cruz and Rubio seemed to lose their enthusiasm for the fight. The attacks degenerated into arcane discussions of Supreme Court jurisprudence between Cruz and Hugh Hewitt, whether John Kerry is worse than Hillary Clinton and arguments over the 2004 election. It was like overhearing a Federalist Society meeting at a cigar bar - all completely irrelevant to the politics of the moment.
During the debate and during the infomercial-esque Chris Cuomo interview after the debate, Trump said again and again that he was enjoying himself and that his opponents were losing badly. These are perhaps the most credible things Trump has ever said.