Hey, Trump had his best debate yet, says ... Ted Cruz

In for a penny, in for a pound. When Ted Cruz threw a change-up four days ago and announced his endorsement of Donald Trump, Cruz supporters and other Never Trumpers wondered whether Cruz would simply let his announcement suffice, or start actively defending the man he once derided as unsuited for the presidency.

Wonder no longer:

Tonight we received insight into what a Hillary Clinton presidency would look like for Americans. We know that her policies would kill jobs, reduce wages, and continue the downward spiral our country has endured under President Obama.

Tonight, Donald Trump had his strongest debate performance of the election cycle. He drew strong contrasts with Hillary on taxes, regulations, law and order, and the disastrous Iran deal.

Er … okay. Trump had some strong moments — most of them early in the debate — but became inconsistent and seemingly unable to extricate himself from tough topics later. Cruz’ praise might only be true in the most literal sense, as Trump had to engage one-on-one for 90 minutes rather than shift attention to multiple candidates sharing the stage with him. Trump held up all right and probably exceeded expectations in that sense, but any fair assessment would note that Trump didn’t dominate last night’s debate the way he managed to do in earlier GOP primary debates. Even the “strong contrasts” that Cruz mentions sound like a stretch, and it’s very curious that Cruz didn’t list the one policy area in which Trump drew the strongest contrast — trade.

David Harsanyi’s assessment seems closer to the mark:

In any event, Trump lied a lot. And Hillary lied a lot, although she does it with far more dexterity and subtlety — on her trade position, on taxes, on murder rates, on NATO and so on. Then again, “Our candidate lied less than yours!” is an argument regularly used by partisans in 2016. With this measurement, it seems the consensus on cable news was that Clinton won. If I was forced to call it, I’d also probably give the debate to Hillary on points. Largely because Trump needlessly pummeled himself in the second half.

Yet media consensus has a terrible track record in 2016. So no one should underestimate the effectiveness of Trump’s populist positioning on trade or law and order. Perhaps we shouldn’t underestimate how a dismissive and smirking Hillary plays in certain places in America, either. However the polls shake it, though, I feel confident saying that everyone in country is now dumber for having listened to this debate.

I’d be more inclined to give it to Trump on points, but not on traditional debate grading. Hillary had to make Trump look unqualified for the office, and she didn’t — and Trump’s points on trade and manufacturing, as well as corporate tax policy, will resonate with voters better whether or not they’re good long-term policy or not. Trump lived to fight another day, and that leaves him as a viable option to the Clinton Restoration.

As for Cruz, his Facebook post reiterates the “binary choice” paradigm he cited in endorsing Trump. Hillary Clinton will be a disaster for the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment, foreign policy, and more. But that doesn’t mean Trump had his strongest debate performance yet, and one gets the sense that Cruz is stretching to rationalize his late decision.