That Fox News debate may have been the lowest in American history. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the morning of March 3, 2016, Mitt Romney gave a speech. He said the Republican nominee should be either Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich. He gave the speech that Jeb Bush should have given at any point over the past six months. He spoke about the problems of the future but also of the bright potential we have as a nation. But really, it boiled down to this: Donald Trump must be stopped.
“I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger, and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good.
“Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.
“His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
And then he exposed Donald with this:
“Watch how he responds to my speech today. Will he talk about our policy differences or will he attack me with every imaginable low road insult? This may tell you what you need to know about his temperament, his stability, and his suitability to be president.”
Donald Trump took the bait, and responded in his usual manner.
“He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, ‘Drop to your knees.’ He would have dropped to his knees. He was begging me. And did you see how great– he said, ‘Oh, I’m not big like him and he’s a great businessman’ and all that stuff… He was a disaster.”
Yeah, remember when Trump asked Romney if he could host a debate and Romney said no, or when Trump asked Romney for a prime speaking gig at the Republican national Convention and Romney said no? Anyway, doesn’t matter.
So these were the events that set the table. The Fox News debate in Michigan was moderated by Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier. Here were 74 things I learned from watching.
1. The crowd is rowdy and obnoxious and we haven’t even started yet. I miss the debate audiences that practiced decorum. I don’t want my presidential debates to feel like an episode of Jerry Springer.
2. Chris Wallace reads some Romney quotes to Donald Trump and asks him to respond “with substance, not insults.” Trump insults Romney (because he can’t help himself), then Trump says he believes in free trade, but China and Japan and every country we do business with, we’re getting crushed on trade. We’re losing $500 billion to China, $58 billion to Mexico. They don’t know it yet but we’re losing $190 billion to Japan.
3. Wallace asks Trump about the KKK. Trump “totally disavows” KKK and David Duke, but still uses the “I was confused about the groups” excuse. He tends to use confusion as an excuse a lot when he gives bad answers. Is he lying, or does he have dementia?
4. Baier asks Rubio about personal attacks. Rubio says Trump has been mocking everyone with personal attacks, so if anyone deserves to be attacked, it’s Trump, but he says he really hopes tonight’s debate is on policy and on issues. He points out it’s the media who has given an incredible amount of airtime to Trump’s attacks. Let’s start talking again about the issues facing the country.
5. Trump takes back his “lightweight” comment, but then brings up Rubio’s crack about his hands. “Nobody has ever hit my hands.” (It’s happened for decades.) Then, America, Donald reassures us that (without saying the actual word) there’s no problem with his penis size. This is what it has come to.
6. Kelly asks Cruz about the results he’s been getting with conservatives and evangelicals. Cruz says this isn’t about insults. This is about Obama. This is about the truck-drivers with stagnant wages, the college graduates with student loans but can’t find a job. It’s easy to say “Makes things better” and put in on a cap. He pledges to repeal ObamaCare and implement a flat tax. Says he’s the one campaign that can and will beat Trump.
7. Trump says he’s won 10 states, Ted’s won 3 or 4. “He’s getting beaten very badly.”
8. Rubio says two-thirds of the people who have voted have not voted for Trump, and those people do not want to turn the party of Lincoln and Reagan over to someone who thinks the Nuclear Triad is a rock band from the 1980’s, who time and again has proven he doesn’t have the principles.
9. Trump replies by talking about polls. Rubio points out Trump does the worst in polls against Hillary Clinton. Trump says “Wrong.” (Fact check: Rubio, Cruz, Kasich all poll better against Clinton than Trump. In fact, Trump says he beats her in the Fox poll and the Q poll, but she beats him by 5 in the Fox poll and 1 in the Q poll.)
10. Baier asks Kasich about Romney’s blueprint, where Rubio needs to win Florida and Kasich needs to win Ohio. Kasich says talking about process is boring. He points out he beats Hillary by a larger percentage of anyone else. (“One poll!” Trump pipes in.)
11. Baier asks why Kasich isn’t doing better. He say you guys wrote me off before any votes were cast, you wrote me off before New hampshire. He says the votes are moving north to his territory and as more people hear his message, the more votes he’ll pick up, and he’s going to keep doing this.
12. Wallace asks Rubio about when he called Trump a con-artist, but he’s built a business. ‘Question: How many jobs have you created?’ (Ouch.) Rubio says Trump inherited millions and— Trump keeps saying ‘Wrong!’ as Rubio tries to speak. Rubio says Trump can vow to stop having his stuff made in China and Mexico. Go to his website to see a real plan.
13. Trump starts with “This little guy has lied about my record so much…” Audience boos. He says his financials show he’s worth over $10 billion. Wallace asks him how soon he will move his clothing maufacturing from China and Mexico. Trump talks about devalued currencies, doesn’t say when.
14. Rubio: “The answer is he’s not going to do it.” You see when you challenge him, he launches an attack with the “little guy” thing. Audience applauds. Trump interrupts. Rubio brings up Trump Steaks. Trump says everything Romney said was false. (This is laughably untrue.) Trump keeps repeating “Little Marco” like an 8-year-old bully. This is embarrassing.
15. The very boisterous audience also likes to dab when the camera is on them. Jerry Springer, I’m telling you.
16. Wallace asks Trump about solving the deficit. Trump says he’ll cut waste, fraud and abuse. Wallace puts up some numbers. He points out the EPA and Education Dept. have a total budget of $84 billion between them but the budget deficit is $544 billion. “Your numbers don’t add up, sir.”
17. Trump says the pharmaceutical companies have “hundreds of billions of dollars” in waste. Wallace says no, next slide, you say Medicare could save $300 billion by negotiating drug prices. Medicare’s total spending on drugs is $78 billion. Wallace is exposing how Trump is just making stuff up. Trump still insists he’ll still save $300 billion by negotiating.
18. Wallace to Cruz: You’ve called for abolishing the IRS. Who will collect the taxes then? Cruz says you’ll be able to do your taxes on a postcard. Obama’s IRS is so corrupt we need to abolish it.
19. What is that thing on Cruz’s upper lip? Now it’s on his lower lip. Now he’s eaten it. Oh dear.
20. Trump says for 40 years, he’s supported everybody to get what he wants. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, whatever. As a businessman, I owed that to my company, my family, etc. We need to get things done.
21. Kasich says they modestly raise the minimum wage in Ohio but he’s not for raising the federal minimum wage. He says he’s the only one on stage with experience at actually balancing the federal budget. It isn’t easy, but you have to affect everything.
22. Kelly asks Cruz about Jeff Sessions’ endorsement of Trump. Cruz says that Donald said he was just doing business by writing checks to liberal Democrats. Cruz says Trump funded Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who implemented ObamaCare. Cruz says Trump’s written ten checks to Hillary over the years, including four for her 2008 presidential campaign. Trump shrugs it off, says he supported Reagan and Bush too.
23. Trump is the guy who makes deals. Cruz is the guy who shuts down government.
24. Kelly will now ask Trump a direct question. It was an amusing “So! We meet at last…” moment.
25. She asks him about his off-the-record interview with the New York Times, but Buzzfeed is saying that it featured his remakrs that he’d be “flexible” on his immigration policy. Trump said being off the record is an important, powerful thing. Trump says he’ll honor it. he says he will never release off the record interviews.
26. Kelly follow-up: How flexible are you on this issue? Trump: Not very flexible. WALL!
27. Kelly starts to ask Rubio about the Gang of Eight bill. Crowd boos. Rubio says first of all, it’s up to Donald to release the off-the-record NYT interview. Crowd moo-boos through most of his ansewer on immigration like a mob of cows.
28. Trump says sounds like Rubio’s talking about a little negotiation on immigration. A little give-and-take is okay. She asks him again if he’ll release off-the-record NYT interview. He say he has too much respect for off-the-record. Never mind that being off the record is the interviewee’s choice, and the interviewer would almost always put it on the record at the interviewee’s request.
29. Kelly asks about Trump’s flip-flops on more visas. Trump says, “I’m changing, I’m changing.”
30. Kelly asks Cruz about his former support for H1-B visas, and now he’s against it. Cruz says the abuse of the H1-B program has been “rampant.” He wants a six-month moratorium. He asks how many waiters and waitresses are in the audience. Some applause. Cruz points out how Trump’s hotel wouldn’t hire American workers, he hired cheaper labor on H1-B visas. Trump hired 17 of 300 that applied.
31. Rubio says that what Trump said wasn’t accurate (Trump: “Wrong!”) that he didn’t (‘Wrong!”) hire any of the (“Wrong!”) Americans that applied. Trump says his hiring practices are legal and this is how other hotels do it. Cruz again calls for Trump to release the NYT tapes, to show whether or not you’re telling the truth. Trump says “You’re a lying liar, Lying Ted!”
32. This audience sounds like they’re going to break out into fights.
33. Baier asks Rubio about ISIS. He talks about denying them operating space. You can tell Rubio’s sick.
34. Kasich reminds everyone Clinton worked to depose Gaddafi. Now Libya’s a failed state.
35. Baier tells Trump that 100 foreign policy experts signed an open letter due to his support for expanding torture and killing the families of terror suspects. He says the military will refuse to carry out illegal orders. Trump says they won’t refuse. “They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” And there it is. Trump said that when he’s president, he’s going to order the military to commit war crimes. His final fascist conclusion: “If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
36. Cruz gets to respond. “Yelling and cursing doesn’t make you a tough guy.” Cruz then goes on to talk about Reagan following Carter and I’m thinking, “TRUMP JUST SAID HE WOULD COMMIT WAR CRIMES!” Cruz misses his chance.
37. Baier asks Cruz about changing his stance on Edward Snowden. Cruz says he waits to see what the facts are.
38. Baier asks Trump who are the “best people” he keeps talking about on national security. Trump names Richard Haass, General Keane, and Colonel Jacobs, then he pivots to Snowden and pats himself on the back for figuring out early that Snowden was a spy.
39. John Kasich takes this time to let people know that 700 foreign policy experts were surveyed on which candidate would be the best to conduct US foreign policy and 55% picked him. Then he points out he personally worked with Reagan on building the military and building the economy.
40. Kelly plays the tape they would’ve played at the Iowa debate of Trump changing his position on Afghanistan, on Syrian refugees, and whether George W. Bush lied about WMD’s. She said there were many more examples of contradictory statements, so how is this “telling it like it is”?
41. Trump says he confused Afghanistan and Iraq. (Lying or senile?) Insists again he was always against Iraq, despite what he said on Howard Stern. Trump said he flipped on Syrian refugees because originally he thought it was going to be a smaller number, but the next day he heard it would be larger. When he had more information, he changed his tune. (He sounds like a kid explaining that the dog ate his homework.)
42. Kelly: What is your core? Trump: I have a very strong core, but I’m flexible.
43. Kasich says politicians tell people what they want to hear, then they go to Washington and don’t keep those promises. People want change, they put outsiders in, the change doesn’t happen, and people are getting more and more frustrated. We need someone with a record of achievement, not just talk.
44. Rubio starts to speak and gets instantly booed. Rowdy, annoying crowd. He says there’s a difference between flexibility and telling people whatever you think you need to say, which is what Trump did throughout his career. Like Trump University. He said whatever he had to say to get people’s money for a fake university.
45. Trump says he could “very easily” settle the Trump U case, but he doesn’t settle when he’s right. We have a 98% approval rating (Rubio: “That’s false.”) We have an “A” from the Better Business Bureau. (Rubio: “That’s false.”)
46. Kelly points out the BBB’s most recent rank was a D-. Trump said it was changed to an A. (No it wasn’t.) Kelly, to clarify, said that there are over 5000 plaintiffs in the Trump U class-action lawsuit. Kelly reads the Court of Appeals ruling, comparing the Trump U victims to the Madoff victims. Trump says “Give me a break.”
47. Rubio says he personally spoke with one of the victims. He points out that people paid $15,000 for what they could have just pulled off Zillow. Rubio says he’s trying to do to the American people what he did to the Trump U. victims. “He’s trying to con people into giving them their vote.”
48. Trump says “Oh, yeah? You’re the con artist!” Says the people of Florida can’t stand him.They wouldn’t elect him dog-catcher!
49. Rubio says you’ll notice how he won’t answer the question. Trump keeps yelling “Little Marco!” and it sounds like there’s a section of the audience ready to fight.
50. Cruz asks a question to the people at home. “Is this the debate you want in the general election?” Rubio’s taking on Trump the most, but Trump’s dragging him down to his level. Cruz now has a chance to look above it all here. Do people really want a presidential candidate involved in a fraud case — and Trump starts interrupting, over and over. Ted finally says, “Count to ten, Donald. Count to ten.”
51. Trump starts yelling about polls. I’m up in the CNN poll! I won 10 states.
52. Cruz says, sure let’s look at the CNN poll, it shows Trump loses to Clinton by 8 points. That same poll shows me beating Hillary Clinton. You don’t win by nominating a candidate who’s been on every side of every issue.
53. Trump says recent polls show him beating Clinton “very, very easily.” (Not true.)
54. Kasich ties to sober up the mood, talks about the real concerns of the people he’s meeting in town halls. Kasich says Ted’s right about stagnant wages. People are hungy for someone to fix this mess.
55. Baier asks Rubio about Flint, Michigan, and the crisis there. Why haven’t GOP candidates talked about it more? Rubio says he has talked about it, but he says politicizing it is a little unfair. He said Gov. Snyder has taken responsibility. He said everyone is outraged by what happened. No one woke up one day and said “Let’s poison kids.”
56. Kelly asks Kasich about Detroit’s urban blight. If the federal government bailed out the auto industry, shouldn’t it also bail out Detroit’ schools? Kasich said his plan for Detroit would be similar to what they did in Cleveland. They did an overhaul. Says Cleveland is coming back, and the same can happen at all urban schools. They need vocational education, mentoring, school choice with vouchers and charter schools.
57. Kasich is coming off as the most presidential tonight.
58. Wallace asks Cruz for specifics on what he would do to bring manufacturing jobs back. Cruz says Detroit has been decimated by “60 years of failed left-wing policy.” Rattles of a bunch of stats on how successful Detroit used to be. Wallace asks his question again. Cruz says you bring manufacturing jobs by pulling back federal regulators, the EPA, and so forth.
59. I don’t think less regulation would’ve solved the Flint water crisis.
60. Baier asks about cupcake makers being forced to bake for a same-sex wedding, say some faith leaders haven’t liked his answer. Kasich says as a man of faith, he focusses on the “do”s and the “dont”s will take care of themselves. He says the “do”s are humility, loving your enemy, and caring for your neighbor.
61. Kasich says selling goods is one thing. Being asked to participate in something you don’t agree with is a separate issue. He says he believes in traditional marriage and didn’t agree with the Supreme Court ruling but he hopes things would settle down. If you go to a photographer to take pictures at your wedding, and he says no, find another photographer. Don’t sue him. We need to respect each other more, be more tolerant, can’t we have common sense? Can’t we come together and love one another without putting more laws in the books?
62. Baier asks Cruz if a gay couple should be able to adopt? Cruz says marriage and adoption should be state issues and he’s a big believer in the 10th Amendment. He says he could negotiate on things like marginal tax rates, but he will not compromise on religious liberty.
63. Baier asks if Trump wants to respond, Trump says he mostly agrees with what Ted said.
64. Baier asks Rubio about Scalia’s comment about there being room to regulate guns. What limits would he draw around the Second Amendment. “As few as possible.” Says when people talk about gun laws, they need to realize criminals don’t follow gun laws.
65. Trump says he’s a big defender of the Second Amendment. Says there should have been guns in Paris. Baier says he supported a ban on assault weapons in 2000. Trump said he doesn’t support it anymore. Crowd moans.
66. Cruz says any SCOTUS judge that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer sign off on will be a left-wing judge, and by the way, Trump wrote checks to Reid and Schumer. Trump says Cruz was the strongest supporter of John Roberts. Cruz says Trump “has a tenuous relationship with the truth.” Trump keeps interrupting. Cruz says “Breathe, breathe.”
67. Rubio: “When we’re done with yoga, can I address this?” Cruz: “I hope we don’t see yoga on this stage.” Rubio: “Well, he’s very flexible, so…” (Biggest laugh of the night.)
68. Wallace asks Rubio to tell Trump why he’s unprepared to be commander-in-chief. Rubio says Trump hasn’t shown the seriousness on foreign policy. Says the military absolutely will not kill the families of terrorists. Says millenials today have the potential to be the greatest generation in 100 years, but that can’t happen if the world is dangerous and unstable. The next POTUS will have to clean up the foreign policy mess of the last 8 years, which is why Hillary can’t be the next POTUS.
69. Trump says Rubio’s not a leader, believe me, believe me. Trump doubles-down on the military. “They will do what I tell them.” Crowd boos. Still, Trump gives no answer on how. Just says he’ll do stuff. Then he brings up polls again.
70. Rubio says “Once again you ask him for a policy and he just attacks.” Rubio then goes into detail about our foreign policy issues. Says Trump expressed admiration for Putin. (Trump: “Wrong!”) Again, is Trump lying on purpose or is he senile?
71. Cruz is asked about North Korea. Cruz says Bill Clinton’s failed foreign policy allowed North Korea to get to this point. He lays a pretty detailed plan, culminating with pressuring China to keep their thumb on North Korea.
72. Wallace plays a clip from a Kasich ad where it suggests a Trump-Putin ticket. Wallace asks if he thinks Trump is naive about Putin. Kasich: “I’m not biting.” He says he’d arm Ukraine and tell Russia if you anyone in NATO or Eastern Europe, it’s an attack on us. We’ll beef up our cyber command to combat China. Says we’ll work with our allies in the Middle East.
73. Last question, Baier reminds everyone of their pledge seven months ago to support the Republican nominee. Rubio says he’d support Trump because he’s better than socialist Sanders, or Clinton currently under FBI investigation. Cruz says he’d support Trump because he will keep his word. Kasich says yeah, but when it’s all said and done, I think I’ll be the nominee. If Trump ends up the nominee — “sometimes he makes it a little bit hard” — but you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee. Trump gives a little speech before agreeing he’d support whoever the nominee is too.
74. Kasich concludes he will fix Washington. Rubio (who’s looking really sick) says now is the time to embrace our opportunities. Cruz says to the military and working class, he will have your back. Trump says everyone will be very, very proud.
So there it is. I see today Trump’s walked back his flips on H1-B visas, and he’s changed his mind on torture and ordering the military to commit war crimes. I also see Katrina Pierson said Trump will not release the NYT off-the-record recording “because there’s nothing to show.” Laughable.
In an alternate universe, three grown-ups would have a substantive debate. But Trump’s still there. In a normal world, I would say Trump lost the debate by talking about his anatomy and repeatedly advocating for torture and war crimes, for constantly lying, for demonstrating that he just doesn’t have a command of the issues like the other three, but it’s all moot. The #NeverTrump movement lost steam when the other three candidates still said they’d support Trump if he were the nominee. No point in saying what they should have said. They said it. It’s out there.
Of the four men in the race, I think it helped John Kasich the most. Ted Cruz has some good moments. Marco Rubio was probably harmed more than helped by getting into the most with Donald, and by reaffirming the pledge at the end. “He is a con-artist, but I’ll still support him if he’s the nominee.” What?
The Republican Party and “conservative media” can only blame themselves for Donald Trump happening. I found Reihan Salam’s Slate piece to be a pretty good prosecution of the case, and what to do next. Quit sucking up to the donor class and make the working class the priority.