Donald Trump was, well, his usual uber-confident, indignant, belligerant self.
But on this night, Sen. Marco Rubio matched that with an air aimed at suggesting he was completely flabbergasted that Trump would utter the words he kept repeating.
Sen. Ted Cruz, on home Texas turf, long ago dumped his bromance with Trump and prodded him about what might be hiding in his taxes and why he deployed his wealth on behalf of so many liberals over the years.
And they yelled at each other simultaneously, to produce a political cacophony.
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Actor and comic Patton Oswalt captured at least one form of the nation’s zeitgeist Thursday evening with a collection of can-you-believe-this-is real tweets riffing off the last Republican presidential debate before Super Tuesday.
Salon declared Oswalt was “winning the Internet” with his minute-by-minute, often crude, quips. “It’s weird how Rubio and Trump just yelled at each other for a minute but (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich looks like he took the brunt of it.”
One of the dramatic highlights of the debate came when, first, CNN anchor Dana Bash, and then Rubio and Cruz pressed Trump for specifics on his Obamacare alternative.
Trump contended that he could force insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions even as he eliminated a mandate that all Americans acquire health coverage.
That suggests a very alternative view of the key, controversial bargain struck at the heart of the love-it-or-loathe-it Affordable Care Act. Trump also said he would nationalize the market for health insurance rather restrict the offerings state-by-state.
Both Cruz and Trump and suggesting that was pretty thin soup. Trump flung back that he thought Cruz was a liar and mocked Rubio for an earlier debate performance where he robotically repeated a non sequitur answer.
Conservative Breitbart.com, often landing in the Trump camp, ran a headline declaring “Rubiobot calls Trump ‘con man’ five times.”
Trump, as he is so wont to do, continued his insults against the senator from Florida afterward on Twitter.
Redstate.com, another conservative outlet, led this morning’s website with a declaration that Trump had laid an egg.
“Let’s be honest,” wrote Moe Lane. “Marco Rubio no longer holds the dubious title of ‘major candidate with worst 2016 debate performance.’ Even if you like Donald Trump, if you have any honesty in your heart at ALL then you have to admit that he wasn’t ready for the debate last night, got caught in whopper after whopper, led with his chin when being attacked by either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, and – this is the best part – went on CNN TWICE afterward to tell America that he hires immigrants for his hotels because they do the jobs that Americans just won’t do.”
At left-tilting Slate, under the headline “Rubio Finally Learned How to Attack Trump,” Jim Newell took glee in the gladatorial, intra-party mudslinging of Thursday night that saw Trump’s rivals give as good as they took.
“Marco Rubio probably had a strong enough performance to earn his roughly 10,000th “IT’S OVER, RUBIO IS NOW PRESIDENT!” cycle of overenthusiasm from the Rubio-industrial hype complex that has built up his sweaty, faltering candidacy throughout this campaign,” Newell wrote in the piece that suggested Rubio had finally hit on the art of mockery.
Across the Web, CNN and particularly moderator Wolf Blitzer came under attack for the free-for-all evolution of the night’s discourse. Not only did it become difficult to make out what the candidates were saying because so many spoke simultaneously, Kasich and, especially Ben Carson, got left out of the discussion.
Trump, as always, declared victory. But drew some attention for the creative spelling in a tweet.
And the headlines at Politico Friday morning simultaneously declared Trump the “likely GOP nominee,” that Rubio had successfully stuck the frontrunner with the label “con man” and that he got “under Trump’s skin.”
Mitt Romney may have also picked at a scab by saying a few days before that Trump should release his tax returns, and that those returns could contain a “bombshell.” When the topic came up in the debate, Trump said he would after ongoing audits wrapped up. Later, Trump said he thought he’d been targeted for an audit because of his Christianity.
Then Romney went Trump on Trump, using Twitter to say “Methinks the Donald doth protest too much. Show voters your back taxes” — those not tied up in audit. “#WhatIsHeHiding.”