The Corner

Politics & Policy

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

(Michael Ciaglo/Pool/Getty)

Tonight, both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz proved that Donald Trump can’t win a true street fight. Sure, he can stand tall when other candidates shrink away, but when they choose to fight — to go toe-to-toe with the king, Trump can’t win. If I had to pick a key moment, this was it:

Rubio went straight at Trump, never stopped, and mocked him as he repeated his own empty talking points, one after another, while exposing his stunning level of ignorance. But Rubio wasn’t the only standout. Cruz also landed blow after blow and was particularly effective at contrasting his record of standing on principle with Trump’s record of support for Democrats, for Planned Parenthood, and his absurd “neutrality” in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If Rubio was the battering ram, Cruz was the scalpel. They both clearly exposed Trump. They both showed why they belong on the stage. 

Together, they demonstrated a truth that some of us have long known — there is nothing to fear from Trump. When he’s pressed, he either retreats or regresses to simple interrupts and insults. The low point of his debate came when he complained that he was getting too much attention, that the moderators were asking him too many questions. Has a candidate ever asked for the debate cameras to move away?

Rubio and Cruz dissected Trump so thoroughly that I kept asking myself, why only now? Why didn’t they pounce earlier — before Trump gained the die-hard loyalty of between 30 and 40 percent of GOP voters? The GOP’s best candidates finally took down Trump, but it may have been too late. I doubt that Trump will win many late-deciding voters, but I also doubt he’ll shed his core supporters. Tonight’s debate may have changed the momentum, but it’s tough for one debate to change the outcome.

At the very least, however, Rubio and Cruz have chosen to go down swinging. That is honorable and right, and as we watched them exercise their considerable gifts, it was bittersweet to ponder what might have been. Three months ago, they might have knocked Trump out of contention. Now, they may have only slowed his coronation. One can only hope that voters have eyes to see and ears to hear the painful truth. It’s time to choose a new champion. Trump is not the answer.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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