The latest republican debate was less raucous than previous efforts, the candidates perhaps realising that the anger and the personal comments made both them and their party look bad.
Even Donald trump remarked "how civil" things were.
What we got was a wide-ranging debate covering a host of topics important to American voters. The public now perhaps has a better idea of where the candidates stand rather than who they can’t stand.
The stakes are much higher for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and both had perhaps their best night so far.
The Texas senator believes this will eventually come down to a battle between him and the frontrunner Donald Trump. He attacked but without the vitriol of previous encounters. And he didn’t even bother going after Rubio, which was perhaps wise given that the Florida senator was on home turf.
Cruz demanded policy details from Trump, not just sound bites. He ridiculed the idea of imposing import tariffs as part of any trade war with China, insisting that would be bad news for ordinary voters.
"We’ve got to get beyond the rhetoric of China bad and actually get to how do you solve the problem". Cruz is currently the only candidate who can actually block Trump’s path to the nomination, something the billionaire businessman was forced to acknowledge at the end of the debate. The Texas senator went after Trump like the Harvard-trained lawyer he is.
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Marco Rubio ditched the insults about Trump’s tan and the size of his hands. They don’t play well with voters and that has worked out badly for him. Instead, when he went after Trump, he did so on matters of policy.
He attacked Trump's comments that "Islam hates the US" pointing out there are many American Muslims who love their country and have died for it. And he criticised his position on restoring relations with Cuba, which provided his best moment of the evening.
For that alone, he may have clawed back a number of votes in the state before Tuesday’s all important primary. And that is his last hope in this race. A win would deprive Trump of the state’s 99 delegates and changes the face of his campaign. It remains a long shot but his team will be pleased that when he had to perform, he did well.
A loser on the night was John Kasich. In the stormiest of debates, the Ohio governor has seemingly been a voice of sanity. Although he never gets as much talk time as the others, his measured and calm approach appeals to voters.
It makes him stand out. But on a night when everyone was being fairly reasonable, there was no chance for Kasich to shine. And that could be a problem. He too needs to win his home state on Tuesday.
And even if he does, he will still have a struggle to win the nomination. It wasn’t a bad night but it wasn’t a great night either.
For Donald Trump gone were the personal attacks on “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted”. He didn’t respond to Cruz and Rubio every time in the way the famously thin-skinned businessman has done in the past. Although to be fair the attacks were fewer, less personal and lacked the nastiness of the previous few debates.
Instead this was a more measured and controlled Trump. Ted Cruz clearly employed the strategy of suggesting Trump wasn’t smart enough to be president and didn’t understand the intricacies of foreign policy and macroeconomics. And he was caught out a few times - not least on what was happening between the US and Cuba.
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But his supporters don't care. They don’t pay attention to the details of what he’s saying, they like that he’s tough and apparently uncompromising. The bigger difficulty will come if he wins the nomination and still isn’t on top of these issues and doesn’t know his own policy inside out when he moves on to the general election.
If there were a sign of how much worry there was that the rowdy debates had impacted the Republican Party, it came before the debate even got under way. The Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, took to the stage to affirm the party would support whoever won the nomination.
It was a reaction to the growing #neverTrump crowd, who are working hard to derail him. The fact that we are this late in the election cycle and there has to be a plea for party unity must be worrying.
The fact that Rubio did well, and Kasich not so much, is significant. They know they have to win their home states or their campaigns are over, and a win for Donald Trump in either place will virtually seal the deal for him. Tuesday just became a lot more interesting.
Source: Al Jazeera