11:03 (Ed): All right, I may have more on this tomorrow, but here’s how I see it: Rubio kept hitting Trump all night long, the first candidate to really do that – and he was effective at it. Cruz oddly dodged a couple of opportunities to do so and spent almost as much time on Rubio, but he did well overall. To pick one winner, though, it would have to be Rubio, who used ridicule more effectively and more directly to the point that Trump has no substance, only repeated sloganeering.
Trump did poorly, but seemed to get a second wind in the last half-hour or so. Rubio clearly rattled him, so much so that Trump kept harping on Rubio’s supposed sweatiness in the post-debate interview. John Kasich did pretty well, mostly under the radar, but he kept his focus on policy and experience. Ben Carson did better than in prior debates, but that’s a low bar. He’ll be out by the time CPAC rolls around.
10:35 (Ed): Aaaaaand this is bogging down again over personal exchanges with Trump.
9:59 (Ed): Rubio’s tax returns will come out tomorrow or Saturday, and Cruz’ tomorrow. Trump’s getting audited.
9:40 (Ed): Rubio’s getting under Trump’s skin by asking, “What is your plan?” repeatedly on health care. Got a big crowd reaction, and Rubio seemed to be having fun. It’s pretty clear who Trump will be targeting in the next few days; so far, it won’t be Cruz.
9:26 (Ed): Hugh gave Cruz a softball to hit Trump on judges, and Cruz passed, only to get attacked by Trump anyway. Cruz may have learned a lesson, and ended up in a personal exchange with Trump.
9:16 (Ed): Clearly, both Rubio and Cruz came prepared to attack Trump, but Rubio managed to get everything including the kitchen sink into the first segment. He went after Trump on foreign workers, Trump University fraud claims, the million-dollar fine for illegal workers, and even Trump’s inheritance. Cruz attacked Trump somewhat less vigorously and also aimed at Rubio, but the gloves are clearly off.
Update, 8:31 (Ed): The show starts with slightly less-hyperbolic canned introductions. Great to see President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush in attendance.
Original post follows …
Is this the last chance for someone, anyone, to derail Donald Trump’s march to the nomination? Tonight’s CNN/Salem Media Group debate, coverage of which begins at 8:30 pm ET, will be the last formal event before the so-called SEC primaries on March 1st. Fifteen states will go to their markers, and by the time the sun rises on March 2nd, we should find out whether anyone is still in range of Trump in delegate counts. Second-place finishes won’t do the trick any more; someone will have to win a state or two, or come close enough to tie for delegate allocations, to make it interesting.
That means someone has to go after Trump tonight. Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have begun rattling sabers in that direction. The CNN and Salem panel (including our own Hugh Hewitt) will undoubtedly poke that particular bear early on in the debate, and anyone responding aggressively will likely find themselves on the receiving end of a Trumpian backlash. With everyone focused in that direction, though, we should also keep in mind that the moderators will likely try putting Trump on the spot, too. There has been rising criticism about Trump Fever springing from mainstream media’s easy rides, and this debate team might want to apply a little more scrutiny — especially since the field keeps narrowing.
Cruz and Rubio showed some intent to get aggressive with Trump in last night’s townhall forum on Fox News with Megyn Kelly. Ted Cruz seemed to do best yesterday, helped in no small part by being present on stage. Cruz came across considerably warmer and more personable in that format, adding in some self-effacing humor and bantering well with Kelly. Rubio gave sharp policy answers but seemed a bit tired, while being handicapped in communication with the satellite hookup. John Kasich had a poor performance, starting off with a trainwreck clash at the beginning and only somewhat improving by the end of the half-hour segment. Ben Carson did better than in the debates, but that’s a rather low bar.
Let’s face it — the only way this debate could be a gamechanger is if Trump utterly flames out. Observers have waited for that to happen for almost a year, and … it never does. I’d guess that Trump lays back and waits to see whether Cruz and Rubio spend the night ripping each other rather than him, which has been happening for quite a while, too. Until that changes, why should Trump take a risk now?
The Hot Air team will be adding updates as the debate unfolds, in reverse chronological order, with the most recent update at the top. Our Twitter remarks will be in the post to the right on the front page, so be sure to have both tabs open and keep refreshing this page only.