Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz just made Donald Trump look like a fool six months too late

Heading into last night’s debate, it looked like Marco Rubio wasn’t ready to take on Donald Trump.

He was. Too bad we’re only a few days out from Super Tuesday.

Senator Rubio ran circles around Trump, and at times drew circles around him, too. The same guy who turned into an actual robot in an earlier debate found his footing in pointing out that the only health insurance reform Donald Trump wants to commit to is getting rid of “the lines around the states.”

I’d never seen anyone re-gift their own gaffe before. I don’t think the crowd had, either.

That wasn’t all, though. Rubio hit Trump on hiring undocumented workers, on defrauding customers through Trump University, on his failure to release his tax returns and on being an all-around oaf. He even got in a few digs at Trump for not being authentic on the illegal immigration, pointing out that before he started talking about his Great Wall of Texas, Trump was for a pathway to citizenship and had suggested that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because of his advocacy for self-deportation.

Ted Cruz got in on the act, too. While Rubio sarcastically needled Trump all night, Cruz took on the role (which he was born to play) of the pedantic nudge with a laser-sharp memory. Every time Donald Trump told a bald-faced lie, Cruz was right there to call him out. Check out this exchange:

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

CRUZ: Donald, true or false, you’ve said the government should pay for everyone’s health care.

TRUMP: That’s false.

CRUZ: You’ve never said that?

TRUMP: No, I said it worked in a couple of countries…

CRUZ: But you’ve never stood on this debate stage and says it works great in Canada and Scotland and we should do it here.

TRUMP: No, I did not. No I did not.

CRUZ: Did you say if you want people to die on the streets, if you don’t support socialized health care, you have no heart.

TRUMP: Correct. I will not let people die on the streets if I’m president.

CRUZ: Have you said you’re a liberal on health care?

TRUMP: Excuse me. Let me talk. If people…

CRUZ: Talk away. Explain your plan, please.

TRUMP: If people — my plan is very simple. I will not — we’re going to have private — we are going to have health care, but I will not allow people to die on the sidewalks and the streets of our country if I’m president. You may let it and you may be fine with it…

CRUZ: So does the government pay for everyone’s health care?

TRUMP: … I’m not fine with it. We are going to take those people…

CRUZ: Yes or no. Just answer the question.

TRUMP: Excuse me. We are going to take those people and those people are going to be serviced by doctors and hospitals. We’re going to make great deals on it, but we’re not going to let them die in the streets.

CRUZ: Who pays for it?

The truth is, Donald Trump has in fact said that he’s a liberal on health care. And he has said that the government should step in to cover people who can’t afford to pay for their own care. When that’s framed as a refusal to leave people dying in the streets, as it was in a previous debate, it goes over well. When it’s framed as government-run health care, as Cruz framed it last night, it bombs. Either way, Cruz latched onto Trump’s contradiction and wouldn’t let go. Being an incessant pedant is one of his more annoying personality traits, but at least in this instance he used it for good.

Then again, it’s hard to tell exactly how much damage any of this did to Trump. After all, calling him out on his health care hypocrisy left Cruz (and Rubio) arguing in favor of letting people literally die in the streets. That may be a high price to pay for exposing Trump as a policy fraud.

What’s more, as emotionally satisfying as it was to see Donald Trump get continuously dunked on all night, we may be months past the time when this kind of ridicule could have done serious damage to his candidacy. At least within the Republican primary. The man has practically lapped the field nationally, and holds commanding leads in Rubio’s home state of Florida and John Kasich’s home state of Ohio. Depending on which poll you look at, he could be on his way toward knocking out Ted Cruz in Texas, as well. So although Rubio and Cruz may have drawn blood last night, it would be wishful at best to say that they made enough of Trump’s voters see the light in order to close their respective gaps.

In any case, per Rubio’s instructions, Google “Trump Polish workers.”


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Kaname Fujiwara

    “I will not let people die on the streets if I’m president” is apparently a controversial statement in the Republican primary

  • dcinsider

    The most fascinating thing about the circular firing squad formed by the GOP candidates is how this party intends to come together in a cohesive fashion in the fall behind Trump. Some sitting GOP officials, including a US Senator, has said he will not vote for Trump.

    Cruz and Rubio hate the guy’s guts.

    Now they all hate Hillary, I get it. But how do you overcome this divide? The GOP will rally around Trump, and many are trying to do so now, but in the end, how can the GOP recover and win?

    I don’t see a path to victory for Trump or the GOP this fall if things don’t change immediately. People have short memories, and Rubio, Cruz, and the rest will fall in line behind him, but we all know it depends upon the enthusiasm of supporters to GOTV.

    And you can easily imagine the commercials with Cruz and Rubio attacking Trump the Dems will be airing all fall.

  • MACV

    … they feel that their GOP/Conservatives have let them down … they’re mad and they’re not going to take it anymore.

  • It wouldn’t matter if he got specific because his supporters aren’t interested in policies. They’re just pissed off at the world, and he’s giving them a voice: he’s incoherent and bombastic and inconsistent because they are.

  • Trump isn’t a progressive. He’s Trump for Trump and only Trump. He openly says whatever he thinks people want to hear, but doesn’t mean a word of it.

    He’s an authoritarian proto-fascist and a mentally ill malignant narcissist on an egomaniacal bender…which sadly fits in perfectly with today’s Republican party, hence why he’s running for their presidential candidate nomination and not in the Democratic party.

  • Or someone we know who will insist that Clinton and Sanders are both 100% equal to Trump in every important way…

  • But he can’t get specific, because not a single one of his plans are workable in the real world. And to the point, he also can’t be terribly specific because his plans are nothing more than nebulous assertions of impossibly successful results.

    Trump just makes up shit as he goes along, occasionally adopting some conservative talking point as his own, indulging in conservative heresy when he feels like it, and always — ALWAYS — insisting his non-specific fantasies will result in the most amazing results in all of human history. Without proof and without a track record of being anything other than a wealthy self-promoting con-man.

  • The_Fixer

    I think describing Trumpo the Clown as being a “Leftist” is not accurate.

    His political identity is… a Corporatist. To him, good policy centers around what makes money, or at least how he thinks it should be made. I don’t think he has any allegiance to either party. To him, ideal-based policy, religion, or anything that requires “getting behind” ends when the considerations of business come into play.

    This is a natural outgrowth of something you bring up: “Trump says that he can easily change into whatever he wants at any given time……and he proves it constantly.

    Three things that remain constant through any changes are his loud, boorish behavior, his ego, and his dedication to making a buck.

  • The_Fixer

    I have a feeling that if he got specific with his plans, a lot of his TEA party support would vanish.

    At some point, he’s going to have to get specific with what his “great” plans entail. I can’t wait for the collective head explosion of the Right Wing when that happens.

  • FLL

    Trump is something of a walking soundbite, no? “Everybody’s dumb.” “We’re going to make America great again.” “Win, win, win.” Either Bernie or Hillary, who are discussing actual substance, would destroy Trump in a debate.

    (Cue the Republican pom-pom squad in 5…4…3…2… )

  • At one point, the CNN closed-captioning team gave up and posted this:

    http://media.salon.com/2016/02/gopdebate-614×412.jpg

    Seems a fairly cogent summary of what happened during much of the shouting-match which some people continue to insist is a debate.

    In a way, Carson was right in whining how he’d been denied opportunities to speak, over and over, because as soon as one candidate uttered another’s name, the one being criticized suddenly was given a couple minutes to respond.

    It’s dismaying though, the sheer mountain of clusterfuckery these men are inflicting on the country. Think about what you just wrote, Jon: Cruz and Rubio were attacking Trump for not being 100% orthodox in his conservative dogma, which is the boot-heel to the face of anyone not lucky enough to be born wealthy. With Trump responding, at least on the healthcare angle, with his promise basically to let health insurance become just like our credit cards: Sold across state lines, based in the state with the shittiest regulations, and eventually sold by just a couple of monopolistic corporations. In short, “See, I am so a conservative.”

    Trump defends Planned Parenthood by mentioning all of the important healthcare services they provide to women, especially poor women….and Cruz is allowed to lie once again, un-refuted, that they’ve been systematically committing crimes.

    Trump says you can’t negotiate a solution to the Israel / Palestine crisis without bringing both groups to the table, and both Cruz and Rubio basically took the usual hardline “the Palestinians have no legitimate leaders, so fuck negotiations” position.

    I will agree though, completely, that Trump’s opponents were finally exposing the fact Trump’s plans never have any significant details beyond a few talking points, that they’re mostly just boasts about how perfect his secret plans will be. But I noticed how time and time again, the particular angle the criticisms took were always on those small points where Trump doesn’t come across as a heartless radical-right bastard.

  • david ramseur

    Yeah, because the supposed anti-establishment candidate Trump should know that fighting corruption and exposing the Washington cartel does not make many friendships. Trump says that he is anti-establishment but has donated to the most corrupt politicians as any good cronyist would do, even in full knowledge of their many efforts against the American people/way of life. Trump says that he will continue to make backroom deals with them even though there is no good faith that they have any good intentions for America! He want’s to negotiate with the Palestinian terrorists, the Iranian psychopaths, etc…. This is either naiveté, stupidity, or a Trojan horse for the enemy. Trump says that he can easily change into whatever he wants at any given time……and he proves it constantly. He directly contradicts his own platform. He says that he was the establishment, and follows that up with “you have to be a little establishment”! That any Christian or conservative would actually support such an open leftist with major character failings illustrates the absolute ease by which people can be utterly deceived!

  • david ramseur

    The crystal clear contrast was imprinted in my mind when Cruz told Trump to relax and Trump shouted at him that he was a basket case.

  • Don Chandler

    At one point it seemed Ted Cruz might be supporting Obama last night when he commented on how a good President is not going to be well liked in the Senate/[Congress]. Maybe someone like Lindsey Graham will nix ‘Senator’ Cruz before he even leaves the Senate chambers ;)

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