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January 15, 2016

It’s a Three-Man Race

Trump pretty clearly came away stronger than anyone.

Donald Trump may just win the Republican presidential nomination. Thursday night’s debate made clear that this is at most a three-man race between the real-estate mogul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And Trump pretty clearly came away stronger than anyone, not because he had the best or most well-thought-out answers, but because he keeps proving his very presence can dominate the stage. His supporters are now itching for the chance for him to take on Hillary Clinton.

Chris Christie had his moments, and Jeb Bush and John Kasich weren’t bad. Ben Carson once again, unfortunately, seemed entirely out of his depth. It’s tough to see a way up for any of these four.

So we’ll highlight three exchanges between the trio we view as the strongest contenders.

First, the “birther” controversy over Cruz’s eligibility to run for president. Cruz addressed it head-on:

“Back in September, my friend Donald said that he had had his lawyers look at this from every which way, and there was no issue there. … Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed. But the poll numbers have. And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the law here are really quite clear. Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.

"If a soldier has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why John McCain, even though he was born in Panama, was eligible to run for president. If an American missionary has a child abroad, that child is a natural-born citizen. That’s why George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was eligible to run for president, even though he was born in Mexico.

"At the end of the day, the legal issue is quite straightforward, but I would note that the birther theories that Donald has been relying on — some of the more extreme ones insist that you must not only be born on U.S. soil, but have two parents born on U.S. soil. Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified and, interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified — because Donald’s mother was born in Scotland. She was naturalized.”

After some cross-talk, Cruz redirected the focus, saying, “You’re an American, as is everybody else on this stage, and I would suggest we focus on who’s best prepared to be commander in chief, because that’s the most important question facing the country.”

Trump didn’t concede anything and neither will his supporters or those who insist Cruz isn’t eligible, but in our estimation Cruz won the debate exchange handily.

He did not, however, come out so well on the question of “New York values.” Having previously hit Trump with that phrase, Cruz was asked to define his terms.

“I think most people know exactly what ‘New York values’ are,” he replied. Prompted for more, he answered, “There are many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York, but everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, are pro-gay-marriage, focused around money and the media. … Not too many years ago, Donald did a long interview with Tim Russert. And in that interview, he explained his views on a whole host of issues that were very, very different from the views he’s describing now. In his explanation, he said, ‘Look, I’m from New York. That’s what we believe in New York. Those aren’t Iowa values.’”

For the record, in that 1999 interview Trump said he was “very pro-choice,” which he conceded was probably “a little bit of a New York background.” And in his 2000 book, “America We Deserve,” Trump wrote, “I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

Cruz is right that the values of the leftist elite don’t jive with conservative ones, but he whiffed on the formulation, as Trump’s rebuttal clearly illustrated.

“He insulted a lot of people,” Trump said of Cruz. “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” Trump recalled. “You had two 110-story buildings come crashing down. Thousands of people killed. And the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup. … And the people in New York fought, fought and fought. … We rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers.”

Trump clearly won this round with his heart-felt appeal, and it left even Cruz applauding.

Finally, on immigration, an issue many conservatives view as “make-or-break” for their votes, Rubio came away still looking weak and untrustworthy. Asked to explain his work to expand legal immigration, Rubio argued that the issue has changed: “First and foremost, this issue has to be more than anything else about keeping America safe. And here’s why: There’s a radical jihadist group that is manipulating our immigration system, and not just green cards. They’re recruiting people that enter as doctors, and engineers, and even fiancées. They understand the vulnerabilities we have on the southern border. They’re looking to manipulate the visa waiver countries to get people into the United States. So our number one priority must now become ensuring that ISIS cannot get killers into the United States.”

He added, “The issue is a dramatically different issue than it was 24 months ago. Twenty-four months ago, 36 months ago, you did you not have a group of radical crazies named ISIS burning people in cages and recruiting people to enter our country legally.”

He’s right that it’s a national security issue, but it always has been. And Cruz hit back hard: “Radical Islamic terrorism was not invented 24 months ago. Twenty-four months ago, we had al-Qaida, we had Boko Haram, we had Hezbollah, we had Iran putting operatives in Central America, South America. It’s the reason why I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and led the fight to stop the Gang of Eight amnesty bill. It was clear then like it’s clear now that border security is national security.”

Another win for Cruz. Frankly, immigration is possibly a deal-breaker for conservatives and Rubio, despite his conservative record on almost every other issue. Neither Rubio nor Cruz is always forthright about his position — past or present — but there’s one thing voters will remember: Rubio helped write the Gang of Eight bill; Cruz opposed it. End of story.

To sum up, the “establishment” is coalescing around Rubio (which is rather ironic given that he was part of the first Tea Party wave elected to Congress, and defeated a liberal Republican in a primary to win his seat.) Mainstream conservatives are rallying around Cruz’s banner. And those who simply wish a pox on both houses believe Trump is their man. One thing’s for sure, this race is as interesting as any in recent memory.

> Note: Below is a compilation of a few other notable quotes.

Rubio: “The Second Amendment is not an option. It is not a suggestion. It is a constitutional right of every American to be able to protect themselves and their families. I am convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun in America, he would. I am convinced that this president, if he could get rid of the Second Amendment, he would. I am convinced because I see how he works with his attorney general, not to defend the Second Amendment, but to figure out ways to undermine it. I have seen him appoint people to our courts not to defend the Second Amendment, but to figure out ways to undermine it. Here’s my second problem. None of these instances that the president points to as the reason why he’s doing these things would have been preventive. You know why? Because criminals don’t buy their guns from a gun show. They don’t buy their guns from a collector. And they don’t buy their guns from a gun store. They steal them. They get them on the black market. And let me tell you, ISIS and terrorists do not get their guns from a gun show. … If there’s an act of violence in America, his immediate answer before he even knows the facts is gun control.”

Cruz: “Neil asked: ‘What has President Obama done to illustrate that he wants to go after guns?’ Well, he appointed Eric Holder as attorney general. Eric Holder said he viewed his mission as brainwashing the American people against guns. He appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, someone who has been a radical against the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. He launched Fast and Furious, illegally selling guns to Mexican drug lords that were then used to shoot law enforcement officials. And I’ll tell you what Hillary Clinton has said: Hillary Clinton says she agrees with the Supreme Court dissenters in the Heller case. There were four dissenters, and they said that they believe the Second Amendment protects no individual right to keep and bear arms whatsoever, which means, if their view prevailed and the next president’s going to get one, two, three, maybe four Supreme Court justices, the court will rule that not a single person in this room has any right under the Second Amendment and the government could confiscate your guns.”

Christie: “Tuesday night, I watched story time with Barack Obama. And I’ve got to tell you, it sounded like everything in the world was going amazing, you know? The fact is, there’s a number of things that the next president is going to have to do to clean up this mess. … I hope the president is watching tonight because here’s what I’d like to tell him. Mr. President, we’re not against you, we’re against your policies. When you became president, you had a Democratic Congress and a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate. You had only 21 Republican governors in this country, and now after seven years of your policies, we have the biggest majority since the 1920s in the House, a Republican majority in the Senate, and 31 out of 50 Republican governors. The American people have rejected your agenda and now you’re trying to go around it. That’s not right. It’s not constitutional.”

Carson: “Here’s the real issue. Is this America anymore? Do we still have standards? Do we still have values and principles? You look at what is going on. You see all the divisiveness and hatred that goes on in our society. We have a war on virtually everything. Race wars, gender wars, income wars, religious wars, age wars. Every war you can imagine we have people at each other’s throats. And our strength is actually in our unity. You know, you go to the Internet, you start reading article, you go through the comment section, you can not go five comments down before people are calling each other all manner of names. Where did that spirit come from in America? It did not come from our Judeo-Christian roots, I can tell you that. … The majority of people in America actually have values and principles and believe in very things that made America great. They’ve been beaten into submission. It’s time for us to stand up for what we believe in.”

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