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Nate Jackson / March 11, 2016

Which One of These Is Not Like the Others?

Cruz, Rubio and Kasich are able to fluently discuss the issues.

One thing was abundantly clear in Thursday night’s 12th GOP presidential debate: In one of the best and most substantive debates so far, everybody on stage was thoroughly knowledgeable and correct about the issues — except for Donald Trump. And if that doesn’t typify the debates in this election cycle, we don’t know what does.

The frontrunner announced ahead of the debate that he was seeking to be more “presidential.” But he once again exhibited no mastery whatsoever of any of the issues that a president will face on a daily basis. When pressed for details or specifics on his vacuous non-answers, he offered nothing but more of the same.

By contrast — and we do mean a yuge contrast — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are always able to fluently discuss the actual substance of every answer. They know this stuff like the back of their hands.

A couple of exchanges jumped out.

First, Trump was asked about his pre-debate “Islam hates us” comment. He stood by it, and was generally correct to note that “there is tremendous hate” among “large portions of a group of people — Islam.” But after Rubio explained that we have to understand the difference between Muslims who, say, serve in the U.S. military and radicals who really do hate us, Trump criticized Rubio and others generally for being “politically correct.”

“I’m not interested in being politically correct,” Rubio responded. “I’m interested in being correct.” And he was exactly correct in saying this: “I know that a lot of people find appeal in the things Donald says because he says what people wish they could say. The problem is, presidents can’t just say anything they want. It has consequences, here and around the world.”

Meanwhile, for all his rhetoric on Muslims, Trump equivocates on the Palestinians.

Second, there was a key point Trump made in more than one answer — his insider bona fides uniquely qualify him for the job. For example, on political action committees and campaign finance, Trump said, “I know the system far better than anybody else. … And I’m the one, because I know it so well because I was on both sides of it — I was on the other side all my life and I’ve always made large contributions. And frankly, I know the system better than anybody else and I’m the only one up here that’s going to be able to fix that system because that system is wrong.”

In other words, because he’s been the ultimate Washington insider his entire life, he’s the one we should trust to fix it. How does that jive with his appeal as an outsider?

A similar answer came up with H-1B visas for foreign workers: “I know the H-1B very well. And it’s something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it. We shouldn’t have it. Very, very bad for workers. … Well, I’m a businessman and I have to do what I have to do. When it’s sitting there waiting for you, but it’s very bad. It’s very bad for business in terms of — and it’s very bad for our workers and it’s unfair for our workers. And we should end it.”

But until we do, he’s going to keep right on using it.

Again, the overarching point is that Trump is the quintessential establishment candidate.

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