We owe Trump fans a celebratory thread about this, as his response last night to Cruz was his best answer of the debates. You could see it coming from a mile away, too. Having brought up “New York values” a few days ago, Cruz had to own it when asked about it despite knowing that Trump was prepared to dump 9/11 on his head. Not a major problem for Cruz — Trump deflected an attack that might have cost him votes in Iowa but probably didn’t win him any new ones — but it’s striking today to see how universal the consensus is that Trump, the amateur pol, clearly got the better of the debate champ on what’s usually an easy applause line for the Republican base. As you’ll see below, even Steve King, national co-chair of Cruz’s campaign, admitted on CNN this morning that Cruz got momentarily owned. And the media, so much of which is based in NYC, is naturally in raptures. Trump nemeses Megyn Kelly and Charles Krauthammer applauded him after the debate ended for the shrewdness of his answer. (Although Krauthammer was wrong when he called it the “moment of the debate.” The real moment of the debate was Trump saying, “I will accept the mantle of anger.”) How weird is the Strange New Respect for Trump for defending New York? This weird:
Just this once, Trump's right: New Yorkers value hard work, diversity, tolerance, resilience, and building better lives for our families. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 15, 2016
Cruz “insulted 20 million people,” Trump told CNN last night after it was all over. Which raises the question: Is there any way for Trump to actually gain some votes from this? Not in Iowa or the south, I know, but like I said yesterday, this primary won’t be won in those places. If it’s close and the race drags on into the summer, blue states will become increasingly important — especially the ones that award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, which the early states where Cruz is strong aren’t allowed to do. Can Trump turn an attack on “New York values” into an insult to blue-state Republicans everywhere? Here’s one possible way:
I think the real reason I hated the Cruz NY comment is because I hate the culture war. Cruz is happy to use that way if it wins.
— PoliMath (@politicalmath) January 15, 2016
What a mindfark it would be if Donald Trump, the guy who wants to bar Muslims from visiting the U.S. and to build a wall to keep out Mexican rapists, started attacking Cruz for hyping cultural differences. It’d be an easier segue than it seems, though: We face too many threats from abroad, Trump could say, to risk electing a president like Cruz who wants to divide America against itself for his own political gain. Today it’s “New York values,” tomorrow it’ll be “California values” or “Chicago values” or whatever. Pandering to local pride is a cheap way to ingratiate himself to blue-state Republicans and to attack Cruz’s comparative lack of appeal in purple states in the general election. It’s also a way to confound the media narrative, which will be going full tilt next summer if the’s the nominee, that he’s some sort of new George Wallace who panders relentlessly to white cultural resentments. If he ends up in, say, Pennsylvania preaching American unity and dumping on Cruz for lame culture-war panders, that narrative won’t stick as easily. (The one-liners write themselves: “We can’t Make America Great Again by pitting Americans against each other.”) As weird as it is to imagine, in a two-man race with Cruz, Trump could end up as the “healer.” And if you think that’s ridiculous, make peace with the idea that Trump is going to try to tweak his image at some point in this process if he thinks he can gain electorally from doing so. He’s admitted more than once in interviews that his demeanor as president would be a bit different than it is now, on the campaign trail. If he wins the nomination, he’ll spend the general election campaign talking less about the border than about protecting entitlements and Bill Clinton being a sex offender. He’s an opportunist; if he sees an opportunity to put Cruz at a disadvantage by changing his tone, he’ll happily do it. It’s a matter of him concluding that “unity” will get him more votes than it’ll lose him. It probably won’t right now, but check back in six weeks.
Exit quotation: “The bromance is over.”