• Politics

Why Republicans Pulled Their Punches at the Debate

5 minute read

Republican presidential candidates toned it down Thursday evening in their final debate before next week’s winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio which could knock two of the four remaining candidates from the race. Seeking to strike a presidential tone, Donald Trump left the personal insults at home, instead delivering a message to the GOP establishment that is doing what little it can to try to stop him from winning the nomination: deal with it. “Be smart, and unify,” he said as he closed the debate, which was the most substantive of any this cycle. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio used the opportunity to reinforce their grasp of policy in contrast with Trump, who struggled with answers on immigration, Cuba policy, and Middle East peace, to name a few. By avoiding direct confrontation with Trump, the candidates were able to highlight their own presidential credentials and, in Rubio’s case, step away from the personal insults he deployed in the last debate that sent his poll numbers plummeting. John Kasich, as is his wont, sought to take the high road, saying he was trying to elevate the level of campaign discourse, but even he found a moment to draw contrast with Trump’s unfamiliarity with issues, defending the protesters in Tiananmen Square after Trump called the anti-authoritarian movement a “riot.”

With Tuesday’s races approaching, Trump is looking to wins in both Ohio and Florida to narrow the field and set him on the path to securing the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination. But he’s not taking anything for granted, with his campaign beginning aggressive preparations for the possibility of a contested convention. Trump’s team is looking to line up loyal delegates who will stay with the GOP front-runner through multiple rounds of balloting. Trump, meanwhile, said on the debate stage that he believes a plurality of delegates alone should provide someone the nomination, previewing his message should he fall short of the threshold.

Trump’s campaign is embroiled in controversy over alleged cases of violence. A protestor at a Trump rally was punched Wednesday, with the assailant arrested Thursday after intensive media coverage. And Trump’s campaign manager faces an accusation that he violently grabbed a reporter at Trump’s election night event Tuesday in Florida. Asked about the first instance on the debate stage, Trump rationalized the “passion” displayed by his supporters, while accusing protestors of violence, though no such cases are documented. On the second, Trump accused the female reporter involved of “making it up” for attention, though at least one other journalist witnessed the incident.

A 1964 ad previews a potential Democratic line against Trump. Hillary Clinton breaks with Obama on deportations. And an anti-Trump spokesman gets under the front-runner’s skin.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

Why Republicans Pulled Their Punches at the Debate
A subdued debate at a pivotal time [TIME]

Trump Steps Up Preparation for Contested Convention
Campaign looks to ensure delegates are loyal should he fail to reach critical threshold [TIME]

Clinton’s Stance on Immigration Is a Major Break From Obama
Hillary Clinton’s pledge not to deport any illegal immigrants except violent criminals and terrorists represents a major policy shift [Washington Post]

Why Marco Rubio Is Florida’s Not-So-Favorite Son
Failure to maintain political relationships, misunderstanding the shifting electorate, and other consequences in Florida of the senator’s six-year quest for the GOP nomination [Bloomberg]

The Obama Doctrine
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world [The Atlantic]

Sound Off

“We have some protesters who are bad dudes. They have done bad things. They are swinging, they are really dangerous, and they get in there and they start hitting people.” — Donald Trump accusing protestors at his rallies of violence, though there has been no documented case of such incidents, as he sought to defend his “passionate” supporters, one of whom punched a protestor at a Wednesday event

“I don’t know where Cuba is going to sue us, but if they sue us in a court in Miami they’re going to lose.” — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio responding to Trump’s assertion that Cuba would sue the U.S. over the embargo

Bits and Bites

Watch Celebrities Voice Support for Hillary Clinton in New Ad [TIME]

Kasich Defends Tiananmen Square Protesters Against Trump [TIME]

Watch Rubio Slam Trump for Saying ‘Islam Hates Us’ [TIME]

President Obama Jokes About Ted Cruz’s Canadian Heritage [TIME]

Donald Trump on Violence at His Rallies: Protesters Are ‘Bad Dudes’ [TIME]

Pro-Trump PAC Hires McConnell Veteran as Strategist [Politico]

White House Announces Plan to Make Baby Diapers Affordable [TIME]

President Obama Urges Senate to Act on Supreme Court Vacancy [TIME]

A 1964 Ad Could Preview the Democrats’ Plan to Fight Trump [YouTube]

Here’s Why the U.S. Military Is a Family Business [TIME]

The Parent-Child Discussion That So Many Dread: Donald Trump [New York Times]

Donald Trump Spars With Anti-Trump Campaign Spokesman [Twitter]

Ben Carson Plans to Endorse Trump [Washington Post]

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