I have a little bit of advice for Cruz and Rubio tomorrow when it comes to defeating Trump. Some of the advice is tactical, but the more important advice is strategic. Attack Trump early, relentlessly, on everything, and never, ever stop.
The tactical advice is that you should stop saying that Trump is for single-payer. That is too bloodless. Say that Trump was for a government-owned, and government-rationed, health-care monopoly. Also, try to work in the argument that Trump would give us the corruption of the Clintons with the huge government of Bernie Sanders.
But that isn’t going to be enough. People aren’t for or against Trump based on his health-care ideas (and to be honest, hardly anyone is in favor of any Republican based on that Republican’s health-care ideas — more is the pity). If you are going to beat Trump, you have to be seen to beat Trump. And it isn’t enough to be seen as beating Trump by the journalists who already don’t like him. You need to make Trump supporters acknowledge that you beat Trump down in the same way that Mitt Romney made Gingrich supporters acknowledge Gingrich’s debate defeat right before the 2012 Florida primary.
This reminds me of a pro-wrestling story. I think it is about the former world champion Lou Thesz. Even in the mid 1900s, most people knew wrestling was fixed, and local tough guys would sometimes challenge Thesz to fights.
Thesz was a in a fake sport, but he was a legitimate fighter and could take these guys down, but he had a strategy for discouraging challenges. Thesz believed that if you just pinned a guy or made him submit, the guy would eventually talk himself into thinking that he almost won, and the word would get around town that the fake wrestling champion wasn’t so tough. Thesz believed that if you really wanted to win the fight, you had to deal your opponent an injury so severe that he would feel it for the rest of his life. That way, when people saw the guy who challenged you on crutches, they would know not to make the same mistake.
Many of Trump’s fans are like that guy challenging Thesz. Even if Trump gets the worse of any particular exchange, they will talk themselves into thinking that Trump won a moral victory because he took on political correctness or something.
This means you don’t beat Trump with a zinger. You beat him by breaking him apart over the course of the two-hour debate. You don’t come in with one line of attack. You come in with ten or twelve and you don’t stop. Don’t be like Jeb Bush and let him interrupt you. Don’t let the moderator interrupt you either. If Trump starts complaining, don’t be above saying that his daddy’s money won’t get him out of this fight. Don’t be afraid to mock him, and mock his tactics — even before he uses them. Say that he can turn red, and stomp his feet, scream profanities, and even cry, but he won’t stop you from telling the truth about him.
Above all, don’t stop. If the early debates from this cycle are any indication, if Trump is hit often enough, he will eventually try to shy away from contact and try to present himself as more humane. You might think that you made your point, but you didn’t. His supporters will just tell themselves that Trump really won because he survived. You have to keep pummeling him until his supporters — and even his critics — feel bad for him. You’ve won the debate only when the most lasting memory of Trump is the look on his face as you kick him while he is down.