Verbal grudge match among top Republicans ends in tie

Credit: Top Left: Courtesy of Connormah via Wikimedia Commons. Top Right: Courtesy of Distelf Credit: Top Left: Courtesy of Connormah via Wikimedia Commons. Top Right: Courtesy of Distelf

In what might have been the most heated debate yet, Republican presidential hopefuls once again took to the stage last Thursday to vie for their party’s nomination. Even though there are still five candidates left, the main show was Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and their attacks on reality television show host Donald Trump. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Governor John Kasich were present, but were too mild-mannered to really make a splash.

Until this debate, Cruz and Rubio had refrained from attacking Trump. However, with the primary season moving along, the two runners-up need to make their moves now if they want a chance to overtake Trump.

Rubio was the most successful, shaking off his past image as someone who just reads lines (sometimes reading the same line multiple times). The Florida senator was constantly harassing Trump, asking hard questions about the businessman’s past. Accusations that ranged from using illegal immigrants to work on the Trump Tower, to claiming that Trump just repeats empty phrases — a little ironic coming from Rubio, who repeated himself at the last debate.

As expected, Trump denied all charges and jabbed back at Rubio. In response to hearing that he had hired undocumented workers, he said he was the only person on the stage who had hired anyone, period. Trump made sure to point out the irony of the repetition.

Cruz attacked Trump as well, but was far behind Rubio in both quantity and quality of zings. Still, he was more of a presence on stage than either Carson or Kasich.

The last two were merely sideshows to the main attraction, both literally and figuratively. While Trump stood between Cruz and Rubio, Kasich and Carson were on the edges, occasionally dipping into the fray before quickly being shouted down. Despite their shared lack of participation, they went about it in different ways. Carson asked if he could be attacked as well, hoping for some more action, while Kasich explicitly refused to make comments regarding his opponents, attempting to stay above the mud-slinging.

That might be the most striking outcome of this debate: not who “won” or “lost,” but that the quality of discourse has fallen to shouting matches. Once during the debate, the closed-captioning registered “unintelligible yelling,” and that sums up the tone and substance of the night.

While some serious issues were discussed (or rather, briefly mentioned), and personal histories are important aspects of a candidate, most of the time was spent in a shouting match between the top three potential nominees. Trump has been attracting voters with his bluster, and Rubio and Cruz were trying to match that hot air with their own.

While the debate was spirited, it might not make much of a difference to voters. Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all performed well, and drew on their strengths. Nothing new was added to the race — except perhaps Rubio’s ability to think on his feet — and voters will likely already be set in their opinions of the candidates.

As the race continues, there will be three more debates, on March 3, 10, and 21. If Republican voters haven’t decisively picked a nominee by then, the race might turn into a messy fight at the national convention.