Politics & Policy

Cruz and Rubio Formed an Effective Tag Team as Trump Sputtered

Rubio and Trump on the stage in Houston. (Michael Ciaglo/Pool/Getty)

Flashy plays better than methodical in prime time, so Marco Rubio was beaming like a big winner after Thursday night’s debate in Houston. In Ted Cruz, though, I’m happy to have the candidate who looks best the morning after.

The rival senators, both attractive, articulate and wicked smart, have been frequent conservative allies. Hostilities became inevitable when they fixed their eyes on the same prize. On Thursday night, though, they were frenemies. Finally, and hopefully not too late, the pair figured out that the only sensible target for their mutually assured destruction is the real MAD man, Donald Trump — not each other.

The tag team was effective. The Donald limped away revealed for what he is, a fraud — a liberal Democrat posing as the Republican savior. For example, his ballyhooed crackdown on illegal immigration is, in reality, an amnesty plan that conveniently goes unmentioned in the position paper touted by his campaign. The real plan — as implausible for law enforcement and gratuitously burdensome for aliens as it is Iraq-like expensive for taxpayers — is to hunt down and deport 12 million people, only to . . . yes . . . bring them back into the country legally – i.e., with amnesty.

How many aliens will be brought back? Like most fraudsters, Trump gives different answers to different audiences. When he (or one of his sons) speaks to groups sympathetic to illegals, we’re led to believe they’re all returning: essentially, Americans would provide paid vacations for several million illegals before Trump welcomes them back to compete for American jobs. But Thursday night, before a crowd of Texans who live with the damage illegal immigration does, we got stingy Trump: Only “the best of them will come back” (however many that may be), but rest assured it’s going to be “through a process.” Well, yes . . . the process is called amnesty.

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In deconstructing Trump’s immigration bloviation, the tag team mixed Rubio’s bold frontal assaults with Cruz’s meticulous surgical strikes, an approach reprised throughout the evening. When Trump tried to goad Rubio into renewing his feud with Cruz over whether the latter had supported “legalization,” Rubio instead smacked the stunned mogul between the eyes. While Trump now purports to be the scourge of illegal immigration and the champion of the American worker, he has actually supported, Rubio explained, a path to citizenship for illegals and  routinely imports foreign workers to take jobs Americans could fill. And that is besides using illegal-immigrant labor to build Trump Towers and exploiting foreign labor to manufacture suits and ties for his clothing lines.

Cruz jumped in to illustrate that Trump had poured tens of thousands of dollars into the coffers of open-borders Democrats and Republicans. He also connected the dots between Trump’s business practices and political donations, on the one hand, and, on the other, the depression of wages and the loss of jobs for American citizens and legal aliens. By the time the onslaught was over, Trump was stammering about how his policies would induce illegal aliens to “self-deport” — apparently forgetting that, in 2012, when Mitt Romney urged the same “self-deportation” policy, Trump described it as “mean-spirited,” “crazy,” and something that just “doesn’t work.”

The Donald, by the way, had a similar bout of amnesia over Libya. Cruz pointed out that Trump had supported Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya. Trump exploded:

Let me just tell you, Syria, he’s saying that I was in favor of Syria. He said I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Qaddafi were in charge right now.

But, as Cruz demonstrated (with the citation ready at hand), here is Trump in 2011:

I can’t believe what our country is doing. Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around, we have soldiers all over the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is, it’s a carnage. Now we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives. This is absolutely nuts.

What is absolutely nuts is the thought of a commander-in-chief who thinks there is anything very easy and very quick in the Middle East.

But Trump does — the same Trump who, for months, has insisted he opposed the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. In fact, Trump not only supported the Bush 43 invasion of Iraq at the time it happened; his only complaint was that Bush 41 had shrunk from marching into Baghdad and ousting Saddam in 1991. That is, he holds the standard Democratic-party positions.

RELATED: The Emperor Trump Has No Clothes — But Was He Disrobed Too Late

For purposes of memorable entertainment, the highlight of the night was Rubio’s exhibition of Trump’s ignorance about health-care policy. The Donald’s “strategy” is to repeat the mantra that he’d eliminate the Obamacare purchase mandate but not the mandate that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions . . . notwithstanding that the latter is what makes the former necessary. Interspersed is the refrain that removing barriers to interstate competition among insurance companies would foster competition . . . notwithstanding that a national mandate on preexisting conditions makes insurance so expensive (and, indeed, no longer insurance) that the purpose of permitting interstate competition is defeated.

When pressed on the complexities of the subject and asked to flesh out his, um, proposal, Trump painfully mumbled about “competition” and removing the “lines around the states,” finally conceding that he had no other ideas . . . except to call the badgering Rubio a “choke artist” (or is it a “chocker”?).

That is how it went for Trump throughout the evening: The questions kept coming and the answers made no sense.

Cruz, meanwhile, led Trump through a cross-examination-style reprisal of his advocacy of single-payer, government-run health care and his claims that his determination not to let people “die in the streets” distinguishes him from other Republicans. Trump, of course, denied his prior, well-documented bombast but sounded nonetheless like he was seeking the wrong party’s nomination.

The mogul was also caught stonewalling on the release of his tax returns. The issue is significant, not simply because Democrats will exploit it as they did in 2012, and because there is suspicion that Trump has wildly overstated his wealth, corporate success, and charitable giving. It matters because Trump promised to release them months ago. Now, however, he claims he cannot release them because he is being audited — which, even if true, is no bar to releasing them. He further claims to have been audited every year for approximately twelve years — which, if true, raises the question why he agreed to release the returns in the first place, since, according to him, an audit means tax returns cannot be released.

That is how it went for Trump throughout the evening: The questions kept coming and the answers made no sense.

#share#Rubio landed the pithier blows — even mocking the Donald’s self-made-man pretensions. Had his father not left him a $200 million fortune, Rubio opined, Trump — he of the multiple bankruptcies, the string of business failures, and the mountain of lawsuits — would be selling watches on a New York street corner. Judging by Trump’s erratic tweets and mercurial outbursts on Friday, it was Rubio who most got under his thin skin.

It was Cruz, though, who built the more consistent, bulletproof case. Rubio’s attacks were highly effective but politically risky. He banked on the hunch that Trump would be unprepared to spot and seize on Rubio’s very real vulnerabilities. It was cheeky, for example, for Senator Open Borders himself to slam Trump for exploiting cheap foreign labor at the expense of American workers — something on which Rubio has written the book . . . or at least the legislation. Rubio also did an excellent job belittling Trump’s honest-broker stance between our democratic ally Israel and the Palestinian terror state that will be satisfied with nothing less than Israel’s destruction. But in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya, the senator has supported American alliance with and assistance to Islamists who make common cause with jihadists — just like what we find in the Palestinian territories.

VIDEO: Montage: In the Tenth Round, Trump Gets Pummeled

In fact, had Trump not been on hand and moving his lips, the whopper of the night may have been Rubio’s assertion that “we didn’t topple Qaddafi, the Libyan people toppled Qaddafi.” No serious person doubts that Obama toppled Qaddafi — at the energetic urging of Rubio and senior Beltway Republicans, without congressional authorization, in violation of the terms of a U.N. resolution, and to the triumphant glee of Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton. Rubio’s rationalizations that “the only choice” in the matter was to move slowly or quickly, and that Obama’s moving too slowly resulted in having “rebel forces emerge like these radical Islamists to take advantage of the vacuum” is pure nonsense. There was no “vacuum”; there was (a) a regime that was supplying the United States with counterterrorism intelligence, and (b) rebel forces riven with jihadists. Rubio urged Obama to throw in with the latter. He can try to rewrite history, but he is accountable for the policy that led to the foreseeable disaster that Libya became.

#related#Rubio is a strong candidate who gave a strong performance. But Cruz is the far more consistent conservative who managed to humble Trump without having to airbrush his own record and hope nobody noticed. Whether the subject was immigration, Obamacare, radical Islam, or the imperative to appoint constitutionalists to the federal courts, Cruz drew a sharp contrast with Trump. That laid the foundation for the night’s most salient point: the need for Republicans to draw a sharp contrast with Hillary Clinton. As Cruz demonstrated, Trump cannot do it — he has been in lockstep with her on policy . . . when he wasn’t outright paying for her policies. Republicans, moreover, must be able to place the corruption-ridden Clinton Foundation at the center of the general-election campaign. Cruz can do it masterfully; Trump . . . is a Clinton Foundation donor.

The GOP is at a crossroads. If frontrunner Donald Trump becomes the nominee, the party’s over. If Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are the future, it will be a party worth saving. Yet here, in the eleventh hour, the two rivals will have to save it together, even as they compete. It is uphill, but Thursday night in Houston was a huge first step. On to Super Tuesday.

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