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Presidential Horse Race 2016: CNN Republican Town Hall reveals wide and deep divide between Trump and Cruz

It technically wasn’t a “debate,” though with the amount of attention Donald Trump and Ted Cruz directed towards each other throughout the evening, it might as well have been.

I’m speaking of the CNN Republican Town Hall which took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Tuesday night. Each of the three remaining Republican candidates appeared in succession for one-hour segments, facing CNN Town Hallroughly fifteen minutes of questions from moderator Anderson Cooper on hot topics of the day and then taking queries from audience members.

Some of the questioners from the audience were announced as supporters of each candidate, some weren’t.

Most if not all of the citizens’ queries were followed-up by Cooper, partially to get more direct answers to the questions but also to stir up more controversy (or at least it looked that way to me) where possible. It is CNN, after all.

After about a year on the campaign trail, all of the candidates seemed very comfortable in talking with Cooper about their candidacies and positions. Aside from the “personal attack” part of the program, the discussion of the issues was somewhat helpful in exposing the candidates’ different views on government.

But it looked to me like the largest divide between the candidates clearly exists on a personal level. Ted Cruz could barely hide his contempt for Donald Trump and Trump was equally dismissive about Cruz’s legitimacy.

The vast chasm between Cruz and Trump was particularly evident on the matter of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s formal criminal charge in Florida, which was announced on Tuesday (more on this below). Cruz suggested Lewandowski’s thuggish behavior was characteristic of the type of campaign Trump has run throughout.

Trump not only defended Lewandowski, he passionately argued the charges were false (despite video evidence to the contrary) and even claimed that reporter Michelle Fields battered (legal term) him the same night by touching his arm.

I think he was just trying to be funny, but not many people appeared to take it that way.

Watching the faces of the people behind Trump, I noticed several looks of utter disbelief in what Trump was trying to argue. Was Trump actually comparing a journalist’s light touching of his arm to what Lewandowski did, which was clearly revealed on video (in addition to a corroborating witness in Washington Post reporter Ben Terris)?

Even wishy-washy John Kasich said he would fire his campaign manager if he’d done the same thing, though the candidate admitted he hadn’t personally seen the video.

Content-wise, the different styles of each of the candidates were on full display. Cruz looked directly at each citizen (and Cooper) in answering their questions. Ever the detail oriented lawyer, Cruz often prefaced his answers with lengthy discussions of the background for his views, often drawing interruptions from Cooper who seemed intent on only getting simple “yes” or “no” answers to complex questions.

Meanwhile, Trump hemmed and hawed through his responses, basically restating his simplistic answers to complicated issues but usually condensing them into very straightforward, understandable positions.

The Donald talked about his many and varied successes as a negotiator, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was able to “win” such a great deal in his life because he talked the other side into capitulating.

Good luck getting the Democrats to cave-in like that, Donald. Not likely...they can talk forever, just like you.

Lastly, John Kasich got up out of his chair to address questioners, trying his best to present himself as the “common sense” candidate. It sounded good, for sure, but there’s nothing about Kasich that indicates he’s anything other than a standard Republican who’s basically arguing he can run the government better than the other party.

It’s an argument that was roundly rejected in 2008 and 2012 – and I doubt it would work in 2016, either. Kasich again cited polls showing him ahead of Hillary Clinton. Big deal, John. Republican voters have spoken time after time on what they truly want.

People are hungry for an outsider this year and the choice is down to Trump and Cruz.

Wounds run deep between Trump and Cruz

Last week I argued the Republican Party would unite around the eventual nominee once the dust of the nasty campaign was settled and he moved on to the general election.

After Tuesday night, I’m not so sure anymore. Ted Cruz refused to say whether he would support Trump and Trump claimed he didn’t need Cruz’s support to win. Trump went even further in claiming he didn’t need Scott Walker’s or Jeb Bush’s backing either.

Just like with Trump’s answer on Lewandowski, I sensed a collective gasp reverberating through the room. Is the Republican frontrunner really saying he doesn’t need the support of his colleagues to win against Hillary Clinton?

I don’t know if it’s a serious detachment from reality or the utterings of a demagogue, but Trump’s tough guy dismissive and insulting stances aren’t going to help bring more people into his camp.

I’m not saying Cruz answered the question well either. It is clear there is a lot of damage done there between them – and unless the two of them come to some sort of détente soon, it might be too late to save the party in July, much less November.

In terms of policy, there doesn’t seem to be a huge stated difference between the two (at least in terms of foreign policy). Cruz knows every detail of his policies; Trump paints his with a broad brush.

But between them, it’s gotten extremely personal and I’m not sure how that aspect of their feud is going to be healed.

Normally you might bring in a party statesman to bridge the divide but Trump has bashed Mitt Romney relentlessly, Ronald Reagan is no longer with us and I highly doubt the Bush family would intervene on his behalf, either.

There’s a big problem there.

Tuesday night’s town hall didn’t really add much to the “debate” on which candidate is the most suitable to take on Hillary Clinton, but it did provide a glimpse into how each one would act as president.

If that’s the case, we all might be in trouble.

Near the end of his segment, Donald Trump said, paraphrasing, “Before he died, my father said ‘Everything Donald touches turns to gold.’” Well, if Trump doesn’t find a way to act in a more dignified manner, his political career is about to turn into a much different kind of foul smelling organic substance.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes the right choice, endorses Cruz

Of course the candidates knew going into Tuesday night’s town hall meeting Cruz received a major endorsement earlier in the day, that being from former presidential candidate and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Ryan Lovelace of the Washington Examiner reports Walker said in a statement, “After eight years of the failed Obama-Clinton Administration, Americans are looking for real leadership and a new direction.

“Ted Cruz is a principled constitutional conservative who understands that power belongs to the states – and to the people – and not bureaucrats in Washington. Just like we did in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz is not afraid to challenge the status quo and to stand up against the big government special interests. He is the best-positioned candidate to both win the Republican nomination and defeat Hillary Clinton. That's why I endorse Ted Cruz for President of the United States.”

Throughout the campaign I’ve argued most endorsements don’t mean much, but there’s no taking away from the potential impact a Walker nod could make in a tight primary race in Wisconsin.

Walker said during a radio interview he would be campaigning with Cruz ahead of next Tuesday’s primary, but the real value of his backing comes with the party organization and infrastructure he brings to the table. Having won three statewide elections in the past six years, Walker’s people likely know where all the voters are, which will greatly aid in turning them out.

While Walker’s overall approval rating in the state is below 50 percent, Lovelace mentions he enjoys the support of 85 percent of Wisconsin’s Republicans.

National conservatives will also take note of Walker’s backing. Ever since he successfully fought and won against Wisconsin’s public employee unions in 2011, Walker’s been somewhat of a folk hero to the conservative cause. Those were difficult times as the nation witnessed tens of thousands of leftists marching on the Wisconsin statehouse demanding for Republicans to leave in place the unions’ dominance over their members.

Thankfully, Walker and the legislature didn’t budge. It set a precedent for others to follow and much of the credit belongs to Walker himself.

For all his attributes, Walker didn’t run a very successful presidential campaign. He hired the wrong establishment people, couldn’t get his issues straight in interviews and didn’t have an answer to Donald Trump’s attacks on his record.

But just because Walker wasn’t well received as a potential national head of the party on his first introduction doesn’t mean he isn’t respected. He’s still considered a young Republican with potential, a man with a reputation for being willing to take a principled stand in the face of the most withering attacks the left can drum up.

On the whole, Walker’s endorsement is a very positive development for Ted Cruz.

Trump’s thuggish campaign manager charged with criminal battery in Florida

Another interesting development emerged ahead of Tuesday night’s CNN town hall. Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery in Florida, stemming from an altercation with former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields on March 8.

Video footage from a security camera clearly depicts Lewandowski moving towards Fields as she spoke to Trump and pulling her away from the candidate as she was in the process of asking him a question.

Trump, of course, defended his man, just as you would expect him to.

Hadas Gold and Nick Gass of Politico report, “Trump himself followed up on Twitter, strongly defending Lewandowski and asserting that footage of the encounter proves that he’s innocent. ‘Wow, Corey Lewandowski, my campaign manager and a very decent man, was just charged with assaulting a reporter. Look at tapes-nothing there!’ Trump wrote.”

Um, the only problem is, there IS something there, Donald.

Even Trump-friendly Breitbart’s senior editor at large, Joel Pollak, Tweeted the video footage changed his view of the incident. Breitbart had drawn some controversy in failing to support Fields’ side of the story – now they’ve reversed course.

Ultimately, the Florida criminal courts will decide whether Lewandowski’s bullying behavior warrants a penalty. More than likely he won’t be thrown behind bars for the incident, but the real “punishment” may come in the form of bad publicity for the Trump campaign.

We saw just how badly it makes him look on Tuesday night at the CNN Town Hall.

Taken with all the other accusations of condoning violence at Trump rallies, it doesn’t make the candidate himself appear very favorable. Lewandowski’s behavior and Trump’s denial that it even happened only adds fuel to the fire from those who claim Trump is running a Mafia-style operation, not a political campaign.

Most candidates would cut the deadwood free with an appropriately worded apology. Not Trump…but then again, he’s not most candidates.

I don’t think we’ve heard the end of this – and that’s bad news for Trump, since Lewandowski’s court date is set for May 4, right in the middle of several important primaries. Instead of talking about Trump, the media will be discussing Lewandowski and violence instead.

It’s bad for him and bad for the party. There are no winners here.

John Kasich takes his eye off the prize, shocked when no one notices him

Finally today, as of now, Donald Trump has 739 delegates. Ted Cruz counts 465, Marco Rubio tallies 166 and John Kasich claims 143. As everyone knows, only Trump, Cruz and Kasich officially remain in the Republican presidential race.

With 1237 delegates needed to secure the party nomination ahead of this summer’s convention, there are a total of 944 still up for grabs in the remaining state contests through June 7.

Only Trump and Cruz have any mathematical chance to win the nomination outright. Kasich is just along for the ride. Or, as it’s become clear, his sole purpose is to stick around long enough in hopes of depriving Trump of the necessary delegates to win on the first ballot.

Which brings up the question…when running for president, is it more important to run to win or just prevent someone else from winning? Shouldn’t the voters have something to say about who the party nominates?

Apparently Kasich has already answered those questions as his campaign has purportedly reached out to the Cruz folks in suggesting they join together to stop Trump. Kasich even enlisted Mitt Romney to act as a go-between.

The good news is Cruz would have nothing of it.

Dana Bash and Abigail Crutchfield of CNN report, “Kasich adviser John Weaver told CNN that Romney urged Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe to contact the Kasich campaign, but Roe has yet to do so.

“Roe told CNN he did speak with Romney, but declined to disclose details of their private conversation…What Roe did tell CNN was that the Cruz campaign has no desire to work with Kasich because they do not believe there is any advantage in it to the Texas senator.”

I can sort of understand Romney’s part in all of it – he’s not running for president (this time at least), so his only purpose is to try and make sure Trump doesn’t win the nomination.

Mitt also might be trying to intentionally cause turmoil in the process in order to get him or another establishmentarian on the ballot, but that’s a story for another day.

The real question is why is Kasich keeping up with this charade? And if his sole purpose is merely to stop Trump, why doesn’t he just get behind Cruz and encourage all other Republicans to do the same? Also, if his intention is just to pull the rug out from under The Donald, why isn’t he doing his part to expose the reasons why Trump must be stopped?

Kasich has staked his campaign on a positive message, but with no chance remaining to win the nomination by “traditional” means, there’s no reason he can’t enthusiastically critique the aspects of Trump’s record that he disagrees with.

Short of letting it all out against Trump, Kasich looks petty and selfish – and many others are taking notice, too. With Scott Walker’s endorsement of Cruz on Tuesday, there is no evidence that even the Ohioan’s fellow governors are supporting what he’s doing.

Both candidates were asked about the “cooperation” issue (probably because it was a CNN story). Both basically reiterated their positions, though Kasich claimed he hadn’t spoken to anyone about it and it was his campaign that was conducting the overtures.

People naturally side with a winner, at least if they feel he wins for a reason. Cruz’s campaign manager is correct – there’s nothing to gain for Ted by joining up with a guy who arguably can’t help in achieving the goal.

Cruz’s aim is to win. Not just to stop Trump. He even said so during Tuesday night’s town hall.

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"...Normally you might bring

"...Normally you might bring in a party statesman to bridge the divide but Trump has bashed Mitt Romney relentlessly,..."

Party Statesman?????????????????? Sorry, but I fail to see how anyone could put Mitt Romney in that category. Yes I voted for him...Yes I contributed $$ to his campaign, but his interference in this campaign season has been so acerbic that there is nothing he can say or do that will ever change my mind. He is a nasty man, even nastier than Harry Reid was when he attacked Mitt Romney on the Senate floor! And that was a Democrat attacking a Republican! We don't need such attacks on fellow Republicans! The next line of the article states RR is no longer with us...well, I doubt very seriously if he would approve of Mitt breaking the 11th commandment so that reference wasn't necessary.

As for 'thuggish' behavior on the part of the campaign manager...let's not kid ourselves. This woman pushed herself right up to the candidate and then cried when she was pulled away! Sorry...but I'm sick and tired of women, especially of this particular age group, demanding they be taken seriously and be allowed to play with the big guys, and then as soon as something doesn't go their way, they cry foul. I would bet a nickel that if a guy had done the same thing she did, he would have also been prevented from getting close to the candidate...and he would not have gone crying to mommy. This woman has made a career of this and it is time to call her out. I understand that when she was with Daily Caller she made a similar claim (November 17, 2011) against NY law enforcement. If she wants to play at the campaigns, i.e., tackle football, then she had better be prepared - if not, stick to PTA meetings and flag football.

Either she is in or she is not...but enough of this playing the victim card! If she needs a 'safe space' perhaps she should stay home! (and this comment comes from a woman who has never played the 'victim' her entire life)

Kasich is in it to stop Cruz

It seems obvious to me at this point that Kasich's only reason for being in the race is to stop Cruz. There is no way that Kasich can really think that he is taking significant votes or delegates away from Trump. If his supporters aren't voting for Trump already, then they're obviously not going to vote for Trump (after all, their chosen candidate has declared that his only purpose for being in the race is to stop Trump).

It is also not possible that Kasich is actually in it to win, because his advisors can't all be stupid enough to think that by some miracle all of the delegates at the convention will suddenly dump Trump and Cruz, change the nominee qualifications, and vote for Kasich. It just isn't going to happen.

So that leaves only one possible reason that Kasich is in the race: he is trying to stop Cruz from defeating Trump. Maybe Kasich is so delusional that his advisors have actually convinced him that he's helping to stop Trump, but somewhere there has to be a skunk in the woodpile. We've all lamented that Kasich is hurting Cruz. It's obvious. So why isn't it possible that he's being used as a means to foil Cruz and hand Trump the nomination?

Yes, I believe the establishment would be far happier with Trump than Cruz (many of them have said as much). I think the war between Trump and the establishment is partly a charade at this point, designed to help Trump and keep a true conservative (Cruz) from securing the nomination.