Upsetting longtime front-runner Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican Caucuses on Monday. This, after Trump boycotted Thursday’s Fox News/Google debate because host Megyn Kelly (who had displeased him in the first debate) returned.
Meanwhile, Democrat and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed victory over independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in what the Iowa Democratic Party called the closest caucus in history. Democrat and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Republican former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dropped out of the race completely after poor showings Monday.
The previously anemic Democratic debate schedule was beefed up considerably Sunday. Clinton, Sanders and the Democratic National Committee have agreed to four additional debates, starting with MSNBC’s Thursday match-up at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The next Republican debate will be hosted Saturday by ABC News at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Tuesday will be the next true test, as voters in that state head to the polls.
The seventh Republican undercard debate was held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines and featured three familiar faces and one surprising one: Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and, for the first time since the very first Fox News debate Aug. 6, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Santorum came out swinging against the media and the debate format, even objecting to the word “undercard.” Fiorina joined the media bashing bandwagon. Gilmore has an admirable level of self-confidence for someone with no chance of winning and fought for equal time. Hosts Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer actually asked some tough questions. Fox News has consistently been the most challenging for the candidates. Who would have thought?
Highlight: After subliminally attacking Trump as an “entertainer,” Santorum admitted he and Huckabee were attending Trump’s counterprogramming event. (Fiorina, who clashed with Trump before, and Gilmore, the only veteran in the race, did not attend.)
Hosted by Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, the Republican primetime debate featured Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whose fans cheered too loudly every time their candidate said anything.
Cruz took center stage and tussled with the moderators. “If you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage,” he half-joked, invoking Trump’s line. Fox News compiled video clips of Cruz and Rubio contradicting themselves, a tactic they could have spread more evenly over all the candidates. Christie unsuccessfully tried to take back the role of bully with Trump gone. Carson faded into the background. Not having Trump around actually gave Kasich, Bush and Paul room to breathe.
Winners: Bush, Paul, Kasich, Cruz.
Losers: Rubio, Carson, Christie.
Highlight: Rubio: “ISIS is a group that wants to trigger an apocalyptic showdown in the city of Dabiq — not the city of Dubuque; I mis-said … that wrong one time — the city of Dabiq in Syria.”
Trump won everything before it started. This event was two hours because the debate was two hours. He turned his fright at being grilled by Kelly into a flag-draped, $6 million fundraiser for nearly two dozen veterans organizations. This is all a show for TV; and he has been on TV for a long time.
Pay attention, folks: This is Public Manipulation 101.
It was odd seeing Huckabee and Santorum on stage. Neither, especially Santorum, wanted to be photographed standing behind a podium with “TRUMP” on the front. (I wonder who would have shown up if Trump had held this event during the undercard?) It was also interesting as Huckabee bested Mitt Romney in Iowa decisively in 2008, and Santorum only beat Romney by 34 votes in 2012. Romney was the party’s eventual nominee. Huckabee and Santorum were not.