The 10th GOP debate proved to be the most entertaining yet, as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio launched a coordinated assault on Donald Trump to stop him from running away with the Republican nomination in the coming weeks. Coming days after Trump racked up his second- and third-consecutive victories, and as many in the GOP were teetering between depression over and acceptance of the bombastic front-runner as its new standard-bearer, they each sought to dial the stages of Trump back to bargaining.
Republican operatives are cheering the united front against Trump, believing once again there may be a chance to block the front-runner, and have one message for the candidates—don’t let up. “It’s a start, but you need to tell the story of all the people he screws, all the workers he hurt, all the ridiculous failures, etc.,” says David Kochel, a senior advisor to Jeb Bush’s ill-fated campaign. “[It] needs to be full on. Assault his character,” he added. Kevin Madden, a former top aide to Mitt Romney gushed that it was ” a sorely needed concentrated attack on Trump,” but said they need to keep the fire up. “Rubio needs to take this approach every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week from here on out.”
In television interviews Friday, Rubio looked to keep up the pressure, branding Trump with an epithet of his own to match “choker” and “low-energy” that he has branded the other candidates with. “This guy is a con artist,” Rubio said, on NBC’s Today Show. Meanwhile his super PAC released two new television spots attacking Trump.
While Rubio and Cruz shared a target, the nature of their criticism and the strategy underpinning it differ substantially. Cruz was focused on shoring up his support for Super Tuesday on March 1, when he needs a win in Texas and a strong showing across the South where he’s bet his campaign. Rubio’s game is more longer-term, focused on the winner-take-all races on March 15 and emerging as the face of a consolidated anti-Trump movement. The pair have come a long way from their refusal to condemn or criticize Trump for most of 2015, a reflection of their narrowing pathway to the nomination.
But it remains to be seen whether the effort against Trump was too little, too late. Trump, for his part, felt the confidence to attempt a pivot toward the general election, defending Planned Parenthood’s non-abortive health services, saying he’d fight to maintain coverage for preexisting health conditions, and arguing he’d be expanding the GOP’s reach to voters. The strategy was a risky one.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich kept his focus squarely on a positive message designed to appeal to the party’s moderates and GOP-leaning independent voters as he looks to win in Michigan and Ohio, rather than contest Super Tuesday. And Ben Carson appeared on stage.
Across the aisle, Hillary Clinton is arguing that she’s not a natural politician, as past statements haunt her and rival Bernie Sanders.
Here are your must-reads:
Why Donald Trump Can’t Lose
A coordinated attack on Trump may be too little, too late [TIME]
Rubio and Cruz Have Same Target, Different Strategies
In beating up on Trump, they hope to accomplish different goals [TIME]
Why Democrats Fear Donald Trump
He’s not the joke they’ve been making of him [MSNBC]
Clinton Expresses Regret for ‘Super-Predators’ Comment From 1996
During campaign stops, Democratic rivals both face criticism for past comments [Washington Post]
“I am not a natural politician like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, and so for me it really came through the root of service.” — Hillary Clinton on Morning Joe
“My party has gone bat-s— crazy” —South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham at the Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner
Bits and Bites
Watch Al Franken Read Mean Tweets About His Endorsement of Hillary Clinton [Entertainment Weekly]