The March 10 Republican debate has been described as the most substantive gathering of the GOP presidential candidates yet. The discussion was policy-oriented and the tone was so civil that even businessman Donald Trump marveled at how everyone was keeping calm and getting along.
Despite being the last debate before the March 15 primary contests in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, the CNN-moderated event was surprisingly low on drama. The four remaining GOP candidates gathered on the University of Miami debate stage.
“So far, I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” Trump said at one point, reports the BBC.
Even President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager David Axelrod was impressed.
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“Wow is this a different debate than last week’s,” Axelrod tweeted out, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Calm. Substantive. So far.”
It was a stark contrast from the March 3 Fox News debate, which was deemed a disaster for all involved. The critical consensus of the latest match was that all four candidates turned in strong performances, but that no one managed to land a big enough body blow on front-runner Trump to impact the race.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who must win his home state to remain in the race, had the best lines of the night. The senator’s favorability ratings had suffered after he began making juvenile jokes about Trump’s hands and bladder. In the latest debate, Rubio was able to rebuke the business mogul with wit and without being directly confrontational.
After Trump voiced that he believes that enough Muslims hate the U.S. to make all of them suspect, Rubio pointed out that there were many American Muslims serving in the U.S. military. Trump accused Rubio of being politically correct.
“I’m not interested in being politically correct,” Rubio responded. “I’m interested in being correct.”
Rubio later said that, on the topic of Islam, Trump was saying what many Americans thought privately but “presidents can’t just say whatever they want. It has consequences.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was the most aggressive Trump challenger, trying to pin Trump as a Washington, D.C., insider.
“If you have a candidate who has been funding liberal Democrats and funding the Washington establishment, it’s very hard to imagine how suddenly this candidate is going to take on Washington,” Cruz said.
Both Cruz and Rubio, sons of Cuban immigrants, strongly disapproved of the recent opening of U.S. relations with the country. Trump was in favor but said that he wanted to negotiate a “better deal” for the U.S.
Rubio responded by detailing how a better deal would include a vast changes to Cuba’s regime, listing off specifics that made Trump appear to be ignorant on the island nation.
The worst moment for Trump came when he declared to the crowd that no one was a bigger supporter of Israel than he was, his statement being met with crickets and boos, USA Today reports.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio was given a minimal amount of time in the spotlight, often an afterthought for the moderators. The governor often cited that he had the most executive experience among the candidates.
“We hear about taking on Washington,” Kasich said. “I took on Washington and I won. I actually got the budget balanced when I was a member of the Congress, the chairman of the budget committee.”
The candidates were able to discuss social security, the VA and even climate change without descending into nasty back-and-forth. However, many observers were surprised that Trump’s challengers held back on the scandals enveloping his campaign.
Asked about the violent incidents that have occurred at Trump’s rallies and how his top aide has been accused of physically assaulting a female reporter, the other candidates all danced around directly criticizing Trump for inciting aggression.
It was strange that the candidates who are struggling to halt Trump’s momentum would not take the opportunity to capitalize on new and potentially devastating points of weakness. Instead of paint Trump as dangerous, the candidates allowed the front-runner to brush off the controversy with ease.