There's no question that Donald Trump is in the proverbial driver's seat when it comes to the race for the Republican nomination for President. There's a lot of reasons why Trump has lead comfortably throughout, not the least of which was formidable candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio being unwilling to engage him on a consistent basis. While Cruz has been willing to call out Trump when out on the campaign trail, Rubio has seemingly focused most of his invective towards Cruz and very little (if any) digs at Trump.
But that ended in Thursday night's debate as Rubio (who has had many solid performances and one forgetable one in previous debates) hammered away at Trump in a way that clearly rattled the billionaire businessman.
If there was one picture to sum up Thursday's debate, this was it:
The natural question to be asked is where was this six months ago? It's been very obvious to those who think rationally that Trump is a boorish empty suit with no substance and no ideological convictions. The fact Rubio and Cruz finally hit him with that ten debates into this election cycle smacks of a "kitchen sink" strategy.
To me the highlights of the evening were Trump being exposed as the utter fraud many have known him to be. Earlier this week Trump insisted that as President he'll be "neutral" on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, only to say Thursday he'd be Israel's biggest supporter. He then talked about supporting Planned Parenthood but then indicated he would defund it. He also talked about how removing Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was a mistake but only after he thought it was a swell idea in 2011.
But perhaps the gem of the evening was when Rubio got Trump so flustered when discussing health insurance reform that Trump repeated the same vacuous talking points over and over. And Rubio (who had been accused of repeating himself by Gov. Chris Christie in the New Hampshire debate a few weeks ago) pounced on that.
Not to outdone, Cruz pointed out the tremendous amount of money Trump poured into the campaigns of liberal members of Congress, all of whom were soft on illegal immigration. The idea being that someone like Trump being so adamant against illegal immigration with his rhetoric doesn't square with his actions.
Oh yeah, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) and Dr. Ben Carson were on stage too, though you'd hardly know it. I believe Kasich is merely hanging around at this point in an attempt to convince the GOP nominee to allow him to be the VP candidate on the ticket. Kasich has a little leverage, as a candidate has not won a presidential race without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy in 1960. As far as Carson, I can't tell you why he's still in. Again, he's a wonderful man with an inspiring journey from impoverished kid to renown neurosurgeon, but he's just not presidential material.
To summarize, I believe this was Rubio's best performance, it was Trump's worst and Cruz was very solid (but he still makes me boil with anger over the continued misuse of the word "amnesty").
So does this mean Trump is suddenly vulnerable now? Sadly, I doubt it. If you followed this debate on social media, the Trump supporters (and Trump himself) are so firmly entrenched in an alternate reality that if he defecated on the stage on live TV, his supporters would probably say something like "The GOP 'establishment' has been doing that to us for years, so it's a perfect metaphor."
Regardless, Rubio and Cruz did exactly what they needed to do if they are to have any hope of slowing down the Trump juggernaut. It sure would have been nice had this strategy been implemented months ago.