Littwin: Why did GOP candidates make nice with Trump?

In what was basically the Republicans’ closing argument against the bizarre notion that Donald Trump might actually win the party’s nomination, Trump’s competitors decided, for the most part, not to argue at all.

In what may have been the final GOP debate, in what should have been a night of folks-you-can’t-be-serious desperation, the candidates decided to try civility instead, making nice with The Donald as he made nice with them.

Trump didn’t call Rubio “Little Marco” or Cruz “Lyin’ Ted,” and, in return, they, along with John Kasich, didn’t say Trump was a con man who would destroy the party and possibly the country. Conceptually it was a disaster, and in just about every other way, too.

If the purpose of the debate — as it had to be — was to show that Trump was an ill-informed demagogue who is playing to people’s worst instincts, it was a spectacular failure. I can’t say what was the worst moment of the night because there were so many. But it may have been, late in the debate, when CNN moderator Jake Tapper finally got around to asking Trump about the white guy who sucker-punched a black protester as he was being peacefully escorted from a Trump rally.

Trump said he didn’t like it, but explained that his supporters are incredibly angry at what’s happening in America.  “There is some anger,” he said. “There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects. But I certainly do not condone that at all.”

Of course, as Tapper then noted, Trump has infamously egged on his supporters at various rallies, saying once that he wished he could punch a protester. Called on it, Trump replied that, hey, some of the protesters are “bad dudes.”

There was nothing unexpected in Trump’s response. (He later called the Tiananmen Square protests a “riot.”) What was, well, sad, though, was that the other guys let him get away with it. They each had a chance to weigh in and none of them hit Trump for the ugliness he encourages in his supporters or the report that his campaign manager had grabbed a Breitbart reporter with sufficient force to leave bruises. Cruz came the closest when he mocked the one-hand pledge taken at a Trump rally, but Trump said it was all a joke and Cruz, for once, backed down.

What was going on?

You saw the previous debate, right? And the one before that? The chaos. The nastiness. The Rubio penis joke.

In the most recent Super Tuesday, Rubio, the great establishment hope, got zero delegates and rarely broke out of single digits. He had to apologize for trying to out-Trump Trump – he said he had embarrassed his kids — and instead went back to being Rubio the serious policy candidate, the one who parrots his stump speech at every debate. Of course, that version of Rubio wasn’t doing much better in the voting, but at least he was getting a few votes.

Cruz, meanwhile, has set himself up as Trump’s main competition, and all he wants to do is keep it that way. There was no advantage to Cruz playing the bad guy, even if that’s his default position. If it does come down to Trump and Cruz, Cruz is counting on the fact that even if no one in the party likes him, he’s not quite as scary as Trump. And Cruz, who was in fine debating form, did say that if Trump were the nominee, Hillary Clinton would be president.

Kasich’s play is, of course, to be above the fray, and that’s pretty much where he stayed. And so about a half hour into the debate, Trump, a model of restraint by Trumpian standards, commented on how surprisingly civil the night was — and that was that.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t policy clashes. Trump showed how little respect he has for the process by coming to Miami without preparing anything to say about Cuba. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, embarrassed him on the topic, or would have if Trump could be embarrassed or, for that matter, if Rubio weren’t so reflexively opposed to relations with Cuba. Cruz, after listening to Trump stick to his anti-Islam rhetoric and trade-war threats, explained that the world was a little more complex than saying “China bad, Muslim bad.”

You’d think in a serious policy debate that Trump would be the sure loser. He was called out for saying he could fix Social Security by attacking waste and fraud. And that Common Core had been imposed on the states. And so it went for most of the night, and yet Trump was clearly the winner.

There are still months to go in the primary season, but next Tuesday is being called Super-Duper Tuesday, with voting in winner-take-all Florida (where Rubio has to win), in winner-take-all Ohio (where Kasich has to win), in Illinois, in Missouri, in North Carolina. Trump could well sweep. Cruz needs some kind of split decision. If the math holds, all Rubio and Kasich can do is try to stay alive by winning in their home states and hoping something happens.

Trump, meanwhile, ended the night by calling for the party to unify around him. And why not? It was the same night he had announced that Ben Carson was about to endorse him — the same Ben Carson he had once called a psychopath. On Twitter, they were saying that, with the endorsement, Carson had just proved Trump’s point. And at that point, I don’t know what else there is to say.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. Made nice ?

    Well…. because Trump is a good honest man who is right about just about everything for starters….

    And to attack him only makes one look like a treasonous moron.

  2. It’s refreshing to see hubris transformed into humility.

    The ever-smug Mr. “I’ve always had a pretty good handle on politics” Littwin has, temporarily at least, been supplanted by the only slightly more palatable Mr. “Anything is possible in this election season” Littwin.

    It would, of course, be unfair to single out Mr. Littwin’s lack of, well, skill in failing to forecast this year’s political turmoil but it does illustrate what an echo chamber liberal political punditry is.

    This from Wesley Pruden:

    “But we’re all at the mercy now of progress, and columnists, commentators and pundits go straight from graduate school to a column, a microphone with a camera, certified like a CPA as a fully fledged doctor of humbuggery. This leaves them at the mercy of the flimflam artist, with no understanding of why and how an audience laps it up.

    David Remnick, the editor of the precious and erudite New Yorker magazine, told his readers last summer that Mr. Trump was such an ignoramus, who knew nothing about politics, that his “whole con might end well before the first snows in Sioux City and Manchester.”

    They’re still shoveling snow in New Hampshire — the last of it is expected to melt in time for the Fourth of July parade — and Mr. Remnick is still puzzled about why and how it happened.”

    And this from the Huffington Post:

    “In the mounting, panicky attempts of elites to derail the Sanders candidacy, one strand dominates.

    You find it woven through every sage piece from the old-school pundits of the Times and the hip insider websites like Vox. Yes, they say, he’s saying some useful things. But he can’t really make them happen. He’s talking “puppies and rainbows.” Real “reform is hard.” The Times editors, in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton, managed a matchless condescension: His ideas about breaking up the banks or guaranteeing health care for everyone, they intoned, “have earned him support among alienated middle-class voters and young people. But his plans for achieving them aren’t realistic.” Wait ’til you’re older and richer like us, and then you’ll understand how change happens.

    In fact, these pundits couldn’t be more wrong about where change comes from. And neither could Hillary Clinton.”

    Or this from Newsweek’s Sharon Begley:

    “In short, what experts think matters far less than how (pundits) think, or their cognitive style. At one extreme, hedgehogs seek certainty and closure, dismiss information that undercuts their preconceptions and embrace evidence that reinforces them, in what is called “belief defense and bolstering.”

    Mr. Littwin is the prototypical hedgehog! But because his opinions appear in print many readers endow those opinions with a credibility they don’t deserve and can’t, on their own, sustain.

    Are Mr. Littwin’s observations more tenable simply because he “has covered four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow”?

    Well, no.

    But he will continue to distort some facts while ignoring others simply to reinforce predetermined positions.

    After all, he’s a columnist, it’s what he does.


    Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton will crush Donald Trump next November, if they both happen to be their respective parties’ nominees. We’re told that Trump is too brash, too crude, too inexperienced, and too offensive to present a real challenge to a seasoned pro like Clinton.

    As has been the case repeatedly where Trump is concerned, however, that conventional wisdom may prove not simply wrong, but entirely backward.

    Clinton has two major weaknesses as a candidate – presuming, of course, that voters can and will overlook her apparent dishonesty. First, she has to build her own winning coalition of voters, being unlikely to reproduce Barack Obama’s and entirely unable to resurrect that which put her husband in the White House nearly a quarter century ago. Second, and more importantly, she must overcome her own record of foreign policy failure, which is obviously tied to Barack Obama’s record and, less obviously, to George W. Bush’s record as well. – The Hill
    So polling shows a Trump-Clinton race would be close, if the election were held today. But the polling doesn’t indicate that Trump can “beat her easily.” It doesn’t even show that he is the strongest Republican candidate in a race against her. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Clinton trailing Sens. Ted Cruz, the winner in Iowa, and Marco Rubio, the third-place finisher. –

    “In one major poll, Bernie Sanders is now leading Hillary Clinton nationally. In most others, he’s not far behind from the former Secretary of State. Vermont’s Senator already has an “edge over Clinton in matchups with GOP opponents,” dispelling Clinton’s electability myth. In an average of national polls,

    Bernie Sanders is less than eight points from Hillary Clinton, after being over 50 points behind in 2015. In addition, there’s only one person capable of challenging a Republican in 2016 without James Comey declaring national security was jeopardized by a private server. –

    Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate capable of winning the White House in 2016. Please name the last person to win the presidency alongside an ongoing FBI investigation, negative favorability ratings, questions about character linked to continual flip-flops, a dubious money trail of donors, and the genuine contempt of the rival political party. In reality, Clinton is a liability to Democrats, and certainly not the person capable of ensuring liberal Supreme Court nominees and President Obama’s legacy.” –

    “Things are tighter for the Democrats, where Hillary Clinton leads Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by 44 percent to 42 percent. As with the Republicans, Mrs. Clinton wins on electability and leadership, but Mr. Sanders is seen as more truthful and better at relating to the needs of voters.

    The Quinnipiac survey had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.” – New York Times

    “Call it “democratic socialism” to make yourself feel better, but what we have is an old hippie regurgitating cut-rate Lenin. And it’s obvious — especially when contrasted with the Democrat alternative — this kind of radical idealism is what really propels the Democratic Party.

    “Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together!” Sanders roars in the ad. All genders, ethnicities, races, ages, and sexualities will meld into one and force government to “work” for everyone. The thing is, if we weren’t divide by our gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, Democrats wouldn’t win any elections.” –

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

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