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CNN Florida debate: Civil discussion proves it’s time for Rubio and Kasich to leave

As the four remaining candidates gathered at the University of Miami in Florida for the twelfth and final scheduled debate in the 2016 Republican race, there was a tangible sense of tension in the air.

(Note: Trump did say in a post-debate interview that more debates are being discussed.)

CNN Republican debateWith Donald Trump and Ted Cruz well out in front in the delegate race, Marco Rubio and John Kasich certainly must have realized this was their final shot to make a case for their candidacies – not only for next Tuesday’s primaries, but for the entirety of the campaign.

We’ve come an awful long way from that hot night in Cleveland back in early August of last year when ten candidates took the stage to begin the process of sifting through issues and positions. That night also offered the first national introduction to the political personality of Donald Trump.

To say Trump has dominated the 2016 race ever since is an understatement – and we’re not just talking about the polls, which he’s led from late July until now.

Trump’s off-the-wall behavior has drawn reporters and supporters to him in droves. We’ve since discovered that if there isn’t already a story in the works where Trump’s concerned, he’ll make something up to get his name at the top of the headlines.

But the campaign has been about more than just the circus atmosphere surrounding Trump. It’s also revealed the remarkable growth and maturity of several of the candidates. Through the months we’ve gotten to know Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, among others, all of whom provided some comfort in knowing the GOP does have principled alternatives to the feckless congressional leadership in the party.

As far as Thursday night goes, probably the biggest question yet to be solved was how much longer Marco Rubio and John Kasich would stay in the race. With Trump ahead of Cruz by 99 delegates and the others well behind them, many are realizing Cruz is the only candidate still with a legitimate shot at stopping Trump from taking the nomination.

There have been plenty of news reports in recent days concerning the mounting pressure for Rubio to get out ahead of the Florida primary. Meanwhile, John Kasich may not qualify to be on the ballot in Pennsylvania. Even if both of them end up winning their home states next Tuesday, there’s basically no realistic way for either of them to win the nomination.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz received his first official Senate endorsement on Thursday, welcoming principled conservative Utah Senator Mike Lee into his camp for the first of what should be many public backers. Lee’s announcement followed a day after that of fellow presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as there are signs the party is starting to coalesce around Cruz.

There were also rumors that Ben Carson is planning to endorse Trump. Al Weaver of the Washington Examiner reports, “As first reported by the Washington Post, Carson will endorse Trump in a news conference at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., which Trump owns. Carson -- who currently resides in the Sunshine State -- reportedly met with Trump Thursday morning to nail down the potential endorsement.”

Carson’s endorsement going to Trump is a potential blow to Cruz, though it wouldn’t seem to bring much more credibility to Trump. I can’t say with certainty, but I’m guessing Carson’s voters won’t be in a hurry to back Trump as a result of the endorsement.

Donald Trump is no Ben Carson, that’s for sure.

With these matters as the backdrop to Thursday night’s debate (CNN’s Jake Tapper moderated), the candidates engaged in probably the most civil and substantive discussion to date. Much of the credit goes to Donald Trump who nodded and smirked his way through opponents’ answers, but didn’t call anyone a liar or question their integrity in response.

Both Trump and Cruz made arguments near the end of the debate that the field should be narrowed to two candidates. Rubio avoided answering the viability question directly; instead he talked about standing with some guy in a folding chair who holds a “Marco Rubio” sign outside of an early voting place.

If my description sounds vague it’s because I didn’t really get Rubio’s justification for staying in the race.

For his part, Kasich said it was too early to discuss a possible contested convention. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said.

But when nearly half the delegates have already been awarded, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, John…we’re looking for a real contest. Donald Trump will not be stopped with four candidates in the field. Period.

Marco Rubio sounds like a flowery beauty pageant contestant with the majority of his answers, frequently mentioning his parents’ humble background and looking to a bright but hazy American future.

Marco doesn’t have much of a record to run on, so he needs to wow with rhetoric. In that sense, Rubio’s very good.

At the end of the night, Trump and Cruz still hold the power in the race. The map isn’t favorable to Cruz on Tuesday – but if Rubio loses in Florida and suspends his campaign, Ted can make a good case for taking the contest all the way through California in June.

Ted Cruz makes successful closing argument in the (supposedly) last debate

While Donald Trump and Marco Rubio were trading insults in the previous two debates, Ted Cruz was quietly making the case for his own candidacy.

As a master appellate lawyer and collegiate debate champion, Cruz never gets stumped by any questions. His record is clean, his message is clear and his demeanor is impeccable. To the extent that any candidate is “presidential” in comparison to Ronald Reagan, Cruz fits the bill – especially in comparison to Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Rubio has proved to be the master of the robotic 25-second speech, but you won’t catch Cruz repeating himself. As an example, he has a talent for refocusing any question on his message, such as when he’s asked about deporting the families of illegal aliens.

Cruz refocuses the issue to the Americans who are hurt by illegal immigration. It’s a different side of the “compassion” question.

On Thursday night, Cruz’s strongest moment came when he was asked about the tone of the campaign. He took Trump to task for asking for a show of support at one of his rallies.

Paraphrasing, he said, “We’ve seen for seven year a president who thinks he’s above the law…How many of you feel disrespected by Washington?”

“This is a job interview. We’re pledging our support to you, not the other way around.”

The very pro-Rubio audience gave him a hearty round of applause. Of course a little later on when Cruz made his pitch for uniting behind one candidate to take on Trump, they started chanting “Mar-co, Mar-co.”

Oh brother.

Cruz gave a terrific answer on education, passionately arguing for giving the power back to parents and local authorities in deciding their own path for learning. Cruz talked about school choice and home schooling – a very attractive option for a lot of people.

In my opinion, Cruz had another solid debate. I’m not sure he would be classified the “winner” – especially in competing with Rubio’s flowery rhetoric – but he solidified his place as the best alternative to Donald Trump.

And that’s good enough in my book.

Trump campaign manager earns membership in Trump Hall of Shame

Only in the completely unprecedented campaign of 2016 could an off-stage issue from Tuesday night manage to take so much attention away from the candidates themselves in the lead-up to Thursday night’s debate.

The subject of “campaign violence” was raised by CNN's Jake Tapper, but it didn’t really address the real issue – the thugs in Trump’s own campaign.

For those who might not have heard, news leaked out on Wednesday morning that a Breitbart reporter, Michelle Fields, was physically assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as the Republican frontrunner exited the room after speaking on Tuesday night in Miami.

Fields had been trying to ask Trump a follow-up question about his views on Affirmative Action when Lewandowski allegedly grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way, practically throwing her to the floor.

The incident was reported by both Fields and a writer from the Washington Post who witnessed the event and corroborated Fields’ account.

As would be expected from Trump’s people, they not only denied the episode took place, they began smearing Fields as a glory seeker.

David French of National Review reports, “The Trump campaign’s response has been beyond shameful. When faced with a corroborated, credible report of violence, its response should be to launch an immediate internal investigation and treat the alleged victim with respect. Instead, it responded with falsehoods and character assassination. But from the Trump organization would we expect anything less?”

Trump honk Ann Coulter even got in on the action, tweeting “Apparently, the woman herself denies it. (Because it didn't happen.)”

This event follows several others where Trump protestors were roughed up by campaign security or other surrogates of The Donald. Talk about a mafia atmosphere.

These altercations just seem to go along with the thuggish behavior of the candidate himself who calls competitors liars to their face and turns bright red whenever he’s challenged about aspects of his background.

Politics ain’t bean bag, but this is ridiculous.

Aren’t the people who support Trump the least bit concerned about the actions of Trump’s people who perpetrate violence and then blatantly lie about it? I can’t help but think if Trump somehow is elected president that these types of things will be the norm rather than the exception. Disgraceful.

As previously mentioned, Trump took a decidedly different tone on Thursday night than he’s employed in previous debates. But there’s little doubt his campaign is populated by a collection of questionable characters.

These are the people who are going to be controlling the government if Trump is elected in November. Any kind of dissent isn’t going to be welcome, and it’s not just going to be an intolerance from the Left.

Conservatives who support Trump should take a good look at the people Trump surrounds himself with. Lewandowski is a questionable character. Smearing people is a bad thing.

Trump needs to answer for this…preferably before Tuesday.

[UPDATE: Trump was asked about the incident after the CNN debate and he denied that it happened. Read for yourself.]

Marco Rubio should get out of the race, period.

We saw a little bit different Marco Rubio on Thursday night than we’ve seen in the past two debates. Rubio drastically toned down the personal back-and-forth with The Donald, preferring instead to go after Trump’s issue positions instead.

The shift in strategy was no doubt due to the utter failure of the “aggressive Marco” not only failing to dent Trump with the voters, but also resulting in Rubio sinking drastically in the past two weeks.

Marco didn’t win a single delegate in Tuesday night’s “Little Tuesday” primaries. A good portion of his support appears to have moved on to Cruz and there’s little hope they’ll come back, even if he somehow manages to win in Florida.

With this in mind, Rubio did have an excellent debate on Thursday night. His answer on reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was terrific, arguing that Cuba hasn’t changed a bit since Obama caved to the Communist Castro regime.

(It should be noted Cruz didn’t get a chance to answer this question…why should Trump be able to answer on Cuba and not Cruz?)

Rubio also gave a very solid answer on a “climate change” question, arguing he’s not convinced humans are responsible for the rise of the oceans – and that any potential solution from Washington would do nothing to help the environment while costing Americans plenty in additional regulatory costs.

The bottom line -- Rubio isn’t an awful candidate. He’s very good at articulating positions and when he’s not getting down in the mud with Trump, he comes across as an optimistic, promising future leader.

But Marco’s not going to be president – at least this time. If he were elected Governor of Florida and actually started governing according to the conservative principles that he pretends to espouse, I can see his political career being restored.

One of CNN’s commentators remarked after the debate that Rubio was basically trying to resurrect his legacy on Thursday night. I think that’s correct. Marco was back to his old self before the “attack Donald” Rubio showed up in the past two debates.

It’s too late for 2016. But at least when he loses in Florida on Tuesday and gives his concession speech, Republicans and conservatives won’t permanently look the other way.

Crazy Uncle John (Kasich) needs to clear the way for a Trump/Cruz one-on-one

Throughout the campaign I’ve largely stayed away from writing much about John Kasich. In the beginning he appeared to be a niche candidate like Lindsey Graham or George Pataki – a moderate Republican who was trying to compete with Jeb Bush for the establishment vote.

After all, as Governor of Ohio, he openly embraced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, shaming conservatives for opposing such a move while questioning their religious values in doing so.

Along the way, Kasich has maintained a mostly forward looking campaign, often mentioning that he is the son of a mailman who embodies the American Dream. He has relevant congressional experience as part of the Gingrich “revolution” in the 90’s and is often given credit for helping to balance the federal budget.

Kasich has managed to compete in a few states – most notably in New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan – but he doesn’t have a large following with the conservative voters who are favoring “outsider” candidates this year.

Kasich again reiterated his arguments on Thursday night, but I just don’t see how he’s going to break through at this stage of the campaign. Even if Rubio abandons the establishment lane (as he’s expected to do after next Tuesday), it only makes sense that his voters will go to Cruz.

The Ohio governor does not fit in with the “outsiders” and he refuses to distance himself from many positions that favor the establishment. For example, he consistently says he’ll recommit ground troops to the Middle East. Doesn’t he realize that’s a losing argument?

(Trump also said on Thursday night that he'd be willing to put in 20-30,000 ground forces.)

He also tries to take a middle ground on immigration, saying he has a “comprehensive” proposal that would pass Congress in the first hundred days.

Kasich’s plan includes building a wall and a guest worker program, but no citizenship.

That’s a non-starter with much of the Republican base. If he can’t be elected president, how would he implement his plan?

To his credit, Kasich speaks directly to the people. He doesn’t sugarcoat his answers with a lot of flowery rhetoric…unlike another candidate in the field. Even if you throw out his near-impossible path to the nomination, it’s hard to see how John Kasich will ever be elected president.

By refusing to attack Trump, the best that can be said of Kasich is he’s running for vice president. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take down Ted Cruz at the same time by failing to see the writing on the wall.

Summing it up – Donald’s “deals” don’t trump Cruz’s Constitution

As I’ve argued many times before, Donald Trump’s entire campaign is based on his promise to make better “deals” on behalf of the American people.

Donald hates the Iran agreement because Obama made a horrible deal. Donald hates the trade deals because Obama and the Republican establishment gave away too much to China, Mexico, Japan, etc… Donald hates American foreign policy because we’re taking care of all these countries without them paying, etc…

(For the record, I think he’s 100% right on that one).

Trump finally gave a pitch for the Constitution towards the end of the debate. But it’s clear Trump isn’t guided by much other that what’s between his ears.

We get the fact that Obama and the political class have screwed the country and accepted much less than what we Americans deserved. But how many people are really going to buy the argument that having Donald Trump in the negotiating chair is really going to make much of a difference?

Trump is an intriguing candidate and has been since day one. But there’s only one candidate left in the field who has both the ability and the credibility to win.

That man is Ted Cruz.

If Thursday night was the final debate in the 2016 Republican presidential race, the choice is clear. One candidate has consistently battled the establishment of both parties, the special interests in the business community and can possibly hope to get things done come next year.

Make your choice. The republic depends upon it.

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Trump's behavior, antics and excuses

Never before have I seen such a circus as now in this Conservative presidential election. It is liken to a nightmare and when I wake up, I realize this dream was not a nightmare but reality. First of all,I respect and will keep my support to Marco Rubio till the very end. He is the only candidate I trust to make strong and solid decisions, carry out his promise to unify our party and why shouldn't he, he is respected and supported by both Conservative houses, will evaluate our world conditions and act accordingly with the expertise of the appropriate advisers, and once again unify our nation of diverse Americans to live and work together towards a peaceful America.

The present Conservative two front-leaders in our party seem to share the arrogance and cockiness they portray. I seriously doubt I will vote at all if Trump wins the nomination. Frankly for the record I do not particularly support Cruz either, who to me reminds me of a sly fox waiting for the farmers to enter the farmhouse and then makes his run to the hen house. Cruz is disparate to reside in the White House.

I cannot and will not support Trump with his unusual and disturbing actions. The Trump supporters at rallies are out of control, instilled with hatred and anger by Trump, and frankly resemble protesters with lit torches in hand storming Washington DC to set afire every Federal Building, besides pushing and shoving objectors, screaming obscenities to the people of color and the disabled that are present, all awhile being encouraged by Trump himself at his rallies. What a disgrace for America and the projection we display to world leaders and nations.

Trump oddly considers himself as another Reagan, which is farthest from the truth, what an insult to the Reagan family and admirers. In fact nothing that Trump says is of value to me, he repeats the same scenarios over and over again at debates because he does not have answers or knowledge which seems to satisfy the media, in fact his media coverage is 10 times more than any other candidate, not just daily but an entire program publicizing Trump's every move and words.

Please anti-Trump supporters join me and the other TRUE Conservatives and help elect my candidate for President, MARCO RUBIO, who is the only answer.

Trump vs Cruz

I think this is a fairly written article. It IS time for a clear choice to be made between the only two candidates who have any real chance of getting the nomination.
For all our sakes, we BETTER get this settled and concentrate on beating Hillary/Bernie/Joe. If we remain fragmented and some of us get angry and refuse to back the eventual winner, then we ALL LOSE.
I say this while backing Cruz, but if Trump gets the nod, then I will vote for him if for no other reason than he is not a Democrat.