There is no doubt as to who was the gold medal winner of the CNBC GOP presidential debate last night: Ted Cruz. The silver medal winner was Marco Rubio. They both scored major points by blasting the major losers of the night: the outrageously biased panel of moderators of CNBC. These moderators made Rachel Maddow look like the epitome of fairness.
Conservatives have for years asserted that mainstream media has a blatant liberal bias. Nothing did more to prove this assertion than the performance last night of the CNBC moderators.
Another major loser was John Kasich. His bitterness at his lagging poll numbers was obvious. In this time of angst in the American electorate, candidates need to inspire optimism. Kasich was a doppelganger of the character Howard Beale in the movie, Network – mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
It was not a good night for Donald Trump and Ben Carson, although they performed adequately. Trump and Carson exemplify the declining viability of the lane they occupy, along with Carly Fiorina – the outsider lane. Nothing happened in the debate that will reverse this trend.
Most pundits inaccurately analyze the GOP presidential sweepstakes as having two lanes: an outsider lane and an establishment lane. In reality, there are three lanes: 1) The outsider lane; 2) the center-right lane, where the major players are Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush; and 3) the movement conservative lane, where Ted Cruz has total control. Cruz’s control was guaranteed with the meltdown of the campaign of Scott Walker.
This is the first GOP presidential campaign in which an outsider line has materialized. It is a development resulting from grassroots disillusionment with the Congressional leadership of Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Yet the outsider lane is only as viable as its candidates. And serious problems are developing for all three outsider candidates. Fiorina has never been able to sustain double digit poll numbers.
Donald Trump continua to be in a state of meltdown, as shown by his declining national and Iowa numbers. His previous sexist comments have caught up with him – he is falling way behind in the competition for women and Evangelical voters. And the Evangelicals are on their way to the campaign of Ted Cruz.
Ben Carson has a continuing problem with his lack of depth on national issues, except for health care. His inartful comparison of present circumstances in American politics with aspects of life in Nazi Germany amplifies his superficial approach to these issues.
So my analysis is that the three outsiders will decline, and their supporters, particularly the Evangelicals, will, for the most part, henceforth back Cruz. Ted Cruz has the ideal positioning in this campaign. He is the “insider-outsider” – he is inside government, but outside the establishment. He has the virtue of governmental experience, while at the same time being consonant with the Republican grassroots anti-establishment mood.
A word is in order on two other candidates last night: Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.
Chris Christie performed well, although not as well as Cruz and Rubio. Furthermore, nothing in his debate performance will enable him to overcome his burden of failure and scandal as governor of New Jersey. And his inconsistencies and judicial appointees continue to make him an object of deep suspicion among conservatives. Chris Christie will never be a top tier candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.
Let us not mince words: Jeb Bush performed very poorly last night. Yet he is the opposite of Chris Christie – Jeb has a stellar record as governor of Florida, rich in accomplishment and devoid of scandal, which amply exhibits his fitness for the presidency. And he is not out of it yet – his SuperPac has the monetary resources to broadcast his record of accomplishment to voters in the early caucuses and primaries. Still, there is no doubt that his campaign has been badly hurt.
My prognosis of the campaign this morning is as follows: The outsider lane candidates of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina will decline, as will the viability of the outsider lane. The campaign will be a two lane competition, with Ted Cruz commanding the movement conservative lane, and Rubio and Jeb competing for ownership of the center-right lane. Unless Jeb does something dramatic soon to reverse his decline, however, Rubio will win ownership of the centerright lane. In a contest between Cruz and Rubio, Cruz would be the favorite.
Ted Cruz is the most effective Republican communicator since Ronald Reagan. The best tribute to him was given by his former law professor at Harvard, the liberal Alan Dershowitz, who said the following:
“He (Ted Cruz) was always very active in class, presenting a libertarian point of view. He didn’t strike me as a social conservative, more of a libertarian.”
“He had brilliant insights and he was clearly among the top students, as revealed by his class responses.”
The most tantalizing possibility: A Cruz-Rubio ticket: Two Cuban American Republicans. This all-Hispanic ticket would dramatically change the image of the Republican Party!
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.