Live-Blogging the March 3, 2016 FOX News Republican Presidential Debate

Congratulations, Republican Party, you pretty-much get Donald Trump for a Presidential candidate.  Why am I even covering this?  Well, here it is…

10:52 pm: Senator Rubio will support Trump if he is the Republican nominee; the Republicans must beat the Socialist or the dishonorable criminal.

Senator Cruz will support Trump if he is the Republican nominee, because he promised he would, and just ask Texas where he won the Republican Presidential Primary because he is a man of his word, and by the grace of God he will keep his word when he is President!

Governor Kasich will support Trump if he is the Republican nominee (he says with slight discomfort), but he still thinks that he will be the Republican Presidential nominee.

Donald Trump will support any of the other 3 men onstage if they are the Republican Presidential nominee, though they should be grateful because he deserves all of the credit for bringing “millions and millions of people” into the Republican Party.

OK, that is where I leave you tonight.  If you’ve watched any of these near-continuous debates before now, you’ve heard the Republican candidates’ closing statements before.  The claim I want to leave you with is Donald Trump’s claim to have brought new people into a growing Republican Party.  Donald Trump is expanding the Republican Party with all of his…put-downs and swaggering promises: That is an empirical claim.  Shall we let November settle the issue?

10:45 pm: Hey, North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un has said he wants his country’s nuclear weapons ready to launch at a moment’s notice.  Don’t worry, we’ll get back to what this debate is really about now.

10:38 pm: Trump is asked if he thinks there should be any restrictions on firearms access; he doesn’t support any.  (He won’t let any of the Republican Presidential candidates outflank him on the right on guns.)  He returns to a talking point he has made many times before, that the San Bernardino terrorists wouldn’t have been able to kill so many people if more of the employees of the targeted workplace had been armed.  More guns in the workplace!  We need to be safe!

It’s amazing how many workplaces in other countries are free of gun violence without armed employees in them…

10:36 pm: Senator Rubio is asked about Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a personal right to ownership and bearing of firearms, but does not preclude a variety of regulations on the purchase and possession of firearms.  The Senator is asked what restrictions on gun purchases and ownership are tolerable.

The Senator’s answer?  “As few as possible.”  He insists that gun control just doesn’t work because criminals won’t follow the law.  He keeps repeating 25-year-old Republican talking points, but his considerable qualities of communication have gone off-message now.  But there’s always time to talk about unrestricted access to firearms.

10:30 pm: Senator Cruz attributes the decline of the City of Detroit to “DECADES of failed left-wing policies.”  A right-wing lawyer turned Tea Party Senator hopes to rise to the Presidency; unlike Governor Kasich, he can’t talk about what he has done, but he can promise to fight the vague attribution of decades of failed left-wing policies.  I wonder what happens when a man who is constantly feeding-off of confrontation actually finds himself in executive office, with no one else to attribute as a big heavy without having weakness imputed to him.

Oh, that’s right–Season 4 of House of Cards drops tomorrow!

10:26 pm: Governor Kasich speaks of his accomplishment in achieving an agreement with Cleveland municipal leaders to establish a nimbler managerial system for the city’s public schools.  It’s sad to see the effect Donald Trump’s presence in this primary cycle has had on me, yours truly, in drawing my own attention and time away from as decent and qualified of a Presidential candidate as John Kasich, whose administration of Ohio has been broadly popular.  This is one of the most-popular Governors in the United States, and he is the least-heard from on this stage.

10:22 pm: Senator Rubio applauds Governor Snyder for his…promise of accountability (I assume he means the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Flint Emergency Financial Manager at least) for the lead poisoning of Flint through its river-drawn tap water.  He accuses Democrats of making a partisan issue in holding Governor Snyder accountable for what happened in Flint.  There is no way Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and Emergency Financial Manager for Flint don’t have some responsibility as the lead agencies that ignored the evidence of this mounting tragedy; Senator Rubio comes close to a pretty morally-bankrupt partisanship in circling the wagons on what happened in Flint.

10:02 pm-10:12 pm: Trump spends a good 10 minutes or so defending Trump University.  Some of the students at Trump University paid up to $36,000 to get real estate advice which, in Senator Rubio’s words, “You could pull off of Zillow.”  Donald Trump’s defense is weak-enough not to warrant repeating–Many of those in the suit spoke well of the course before they sued me; the suit has been ongoing for years because I am confident enough of winning the suit and I don’t want to encourage other lawsuits; even that you’ll have to wait and see when I win this lawsuit in a few years…All of these attacks on Donald Trump’s character–My, have there ever been a lot of those–seem to constitute a trial-by-fire for Trump supporters, like the basis for a common mythology and history of battles joined.

10:00 pm: Donald Trump is asked a potentially-embarrassing question by Megyn Kelly (no doubt his favorite moderator) about rhetorical about-faces he has made in the past…He is asked about accepting Syrian and Iraqi refugees, support for the Iraq War, and whether or not George W. Bush lied to get us into the Iraq War.  He parries this surprisingly well–He changed his mind on Syrian refugees when he heard that the United States would accept tens of thousands, Trump was receptive to the idea of the Iraq War but ultimately was unconvinced by the case for it, etc.  Even FOX is failing to build a case against Trump that will stick–this, a man who just routinely says what is convenient.

9:52 pm: Senator Cruz says that name-calling and cursing doesn’t make a leader, to significant applause.  There is a sizable anti-Trump contingent in this audience, and they are eager to see Trump held to account for blustery speech…and I wish this entry could say something about the substantive ideas that these candidates were espousing.

Oh, here’s something: Cruz wants to rebuild the military, “the way Ronald Reagan did.”  Senator Cruz is probably winning his running competition with Senator Rubio in giving odes to Ronald Reagan…Every Republican is talking about rebuilding the military; Barack Obama wants to increase military spending, but Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t agree to overall spending levels that will support more military spending.

9:50 pm: Asked if American military personnel would follow his orders to kill the families of terrorists–wives, children–which would be a war crime, Trump insists that “Oh, they’ll do it.  They’ll listen to me, believe me.”  He focuses on the brutality of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; is that really an argument in favor of a tactic that would make us into an international malefactor and open our soldiers and Marines to war crimes prosecution?

9:42 pm-9:48 pm: There is a background bellow of yelling from Donald Trump supporters in the debate audience.  It has an undeniable belligerent tone to it, if you’re wondering.

9:40 pm: Donald Trump defends the H1-B visa program for tech workers, saying that there is a dearth of qualified workers for some positions in the technology sector.

Senator Cruz offers a pretty good counter, focusing on identified abuse of the H1-B visa in which some tech workers from abroad have been brought in from other countries for temporary employment, with existing American tech workers required to train their own replacements.  He also attacks Trump, for the 2nd time, for his use of H2-B visas to hire seasonal hospitality employees.

Trump responds that it’s very difficult to find enough seasonal hospitality employees in the Miami region; that has plausibility, and it would require particular knowledge of the regional economy to gainsay.

9:26 pm-9:31 pm: Senator Cruz attacks Trump twice in about 5 minutes for his campaign contributions to various Washington politicians.  He’s trying to make the case that Trump is corrupt (though Cruz avers that it’s understandable fora businessman to make campaign donations for favorable zoning resolutions–Does Cruz really want to argue that private campaign financing is “free speech”?), and he AGAIN returns to his talking point that Trump gave thousands to the Gang of Eight Senators who favored immigration reform.

Senator Cruz gets applause for saying that Trump represents the Washington establishment as a major campaign cash contributor.  He gets cheers for this, and it’s a fair rejoinder to Trump’s populist persona, but Rubio’s more-bitter and -personal attacks seem to get louder cheers…This audience may in fact be partly-packed by the establishment to make Senator Rubio into the party’s Saint George.  I anticipate that this won’t work.

9:15 pm-9:22 pm: Senator Rubio gets a “tough” (that is, unanswerable) question from Wallace: “How many jobs have you created?”  Senator Rubio starts off stuck with the awkward response, “Government doesn’t create jobs,” it can create favorable conditions for the private sector to create jobs, etc.  He’s paraphrasing what former Speaker Newt Gingrich said many times during the debates of the last Republican Presidential Primary cycle.

What we’re seeing here is the final reductio ad absurdum of the Republican Party’s encouraged contempt for government: “Oh, you’ve been in the Senate for the past 5 years?  What good could you be doing there?”

9:09 pm: Senator Cruz talks about his personal integrity as a consistent Conservative.  (He certainly is consistent on messaging!)  He promises to “repeal Obamacare.”  I don’t know what to say; he seems almost a separate show here, not the main affair.  Ted Cruz is the biggest challenger to Donald Trump right now, and he isn’t even part of the same conversation.

I never thought Senator Cruz would be a relative source of substance in this primary cycle, but that’s how far this party has fallen.

9:06 pm: Senator Rubio looks very tired onstage.  He looks haggard in his first appearance onstage.  He must not be able to believe how far off the rails his party’s Presidential Primaries have gone off the rails in just a few months.  Rubio defends his personal attacks on Trump on account of his personal vitriol against others for petty reasons.

In response, Trump does something remarkable: He acts like a secure man.  He doesn’t hit back; he takes back his previous attack of Senator Rubio as a lightweight.  He notes Rubio’s “small hands” jab against him, and he both shows the audience that he considers his hands large, and offers assurance that the other implied anatomy is also large.

There is a lot of laughter and applause from the audience.  This is all being said and applauded at a Presidential debate.  This kind of back-and-forth used to be widely-regarded as unacceptable in this venue.

9:04 pm: Trump has to defend his reticence to disavow the Ku Klux Klan: More booing from Trump supporters!  This is a remarkable change in the internal dynamic of the Republican Party; say what you will about George W. Bush, he was trying too facilitate greater diversity within the Republican Party.

9:02 pm: Chris Wallace asks Trump about Governor Romney’s put-down of Trump’s business record, personal statements and disposition.  Booing from the audience.  The Trump constituency is intensely-committed; they don’t want to hear critical scrutiny of their candidate, they are just not interested.

9:01 pm: FOX News learned their lesson from an earlier ABC debate: The candidates are already onstage!  You can’t have a logistical nightmare with the walk to the podium if no one has to move to get into position…

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