Nobody in the Republican field is better at finding ways to serve red meat to the conservative base than Cruz. On a question about immigration, Cruz reiterated his hard-line opposition to President Obama’s reform plan while simultaneously bashing the media.
The consequences of illegal immigration, he said, would be viewed much differently “if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande. Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press. Then, we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation.”
Cruz's path to the nomination runs directly through the party’s most conservative voters. In Milwaukee, he yet again made inroads with them.
Carson nabs the final spot in the winners' column as much because of what didn’t happen—renewed questions about the veracity of his personal story—as what did. The retired neurosurgeon gave a more polished performance than his previous sedate showings, at times pivoting effectively to topics he wanted to talk about.
When moderator Neil Cavuto asked Carson about stories alleging inconsistencies in his biography, for instance, he changed the subject to a favorite of conservatives: Benghazi.
“When I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton," he said, "who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video—where I came from, they call that a lie.”
To be fair, Carson faded as the debate went on. But few things have slowed his ascent to the top of the polls this year; if anything, Tuesday strengthened his hold over his sizable group of supporters.
The media’s predictions of the billionaire’s political future have proven wrong time and time again. But even with that in mind, it’s hard to think the man who still tops some national polls did much to help himself. If nothing else, Trump increasingly feels more like a sideshow than a main attraction during these debates, with Rubio, Carson, and Cruz sucking up more and more airtime.
Even Rand Paul, a frequent subject of Trump’s tirades in the past, scored on Trump after he finished a long rant about China and the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. China, the senator from Kentucky pointed out, wasn’t part of the deal.
Trump hasn’t faded much in the polls so far, and he’s unlikely to suffer a swift descent anytime soon. But as the debate proved, increasingly, the Republican race isn’t about him anymore.
Like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush before him, it’s not a good sign when a candidate complains about a lack of questions and airtime. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich did just that, according to a report from Politico, complaining to debate moderators during a commercial break that they weren’t giving him enough of a chance.