The Republican Final Four Three

According to the Weekly Standard, anyhow:

Tonight’s debate showed that the GOP field is smaller than it looks. Technically, there are still fourteen people running, but the winnowing is far along. We probably have a final six and possibly a final four.

The three winners of the night were pretty obvious: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.

Rubio ended Jeb Bush’s campaign with the kind of body shot that buckles your knees. That’s on Bush, who never should have come after Rubio in that spot for a host of strategic and tactical reasons. But what should scare Hillary Clinton is how effortless Rubio is even with throwaway lines, like “I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.” Most people have no idea how fearsome raw political talent can be. Clinton does know because she’s seen it up close. She sleeps next to it for a contractually-obligated 18 nights per year.

Cruz was tough and canny—no surprise there. He went the full-Gingrich in his assault on CNBC’s ridiculous moderators. He did a better job explaining Social Security reform than Chris Christie, even (which is no mean feat). And managed to look downright personable compared with John Harwood, whose incompetence was matched only by his unpleasantness. If you’re a conservative voter looking for someone who is going to fight for your values, Cruz must have looked awfully attractive.

Then there was Trump. Over the last few weeks, Trump has gotten better on the stump. Well, don’t look now, but he’s getting better at debates, too. Trump was reasonably disciplined. He kept his agro to a medium-high level. And his situational awareness is getting keener, too. Note how he backed John Kasich into such a bad corner on Lehmann Brothers that he protested, “I was a banker, and I was proud of it!” When that’s your answer, you’ve lost the exchange. Even at a Republican debate.

And Trump had a hammer close: “Our country doesn’t win anymore. We used to win. We don’t anymore.” I remain convinced that this line (along with his hardliner on immigration) is the core of Trump’s appeal. But he didn’t just restate this theme in his closing argument. He used it to: (1) beat up CNBC; and (2) argue that his man-handling of these media twits is an example of what he’ll do as president. It was brilliant political theater.

Those were your winners.

Carson is irrelevant. He’s just the usual Republican Maybe-This-Will-Get-Me-Out-Of-Racism-Free card, the role previously played by Alan Keyes and Hermann Cain. He’s also anti-gun, so he’s a non-starter.

Cruz and Rubio are competing for the same Establishment dollar as well as the Unicorn vote, also known as the Hispanic Natural Republican. Cruz is tougher than Rubio and he also looks less like an overweight frat brother, so I think he knocks Rubio aside without too much trouble.

The real question is Establishment vs Grass Roots rebellion. And there, the verdict is far from in. And not that anyone here didn’t doubt that Jeb Bush was already cooked, but his epic fail raises some genuine questions about the idea that he is the smarter brother.

It’s hard to see how Jeb Bush recovers from his self-inflected wound at Wednesday’s CNBC Republican debate in Boulder when he went after Marco Rubio just after the young senator had hit one out of the park.  Rubio was defending himself from an editorial in the Sun Sentinel calling on Marco to stop “ripping off” the public and quit the Senate because of his poor attendance record.  Rubio responded that John Kerry and Barack Obama had been even more truant from the Senate while running for president and the paper had not only ignored that, but given these men their endorsement.  It was an example of  liberal media bias at its most obvious.  The crowd erupted in its first ovation of the night.  Advantage Rubio.

Clueless, Bush jumped in as if nothing had happened, taking the paper’s side and schoolmarmishly doubling down on Marco.  He got his head handed to him by Rubio (politely) and the audience.

Bush should just quit now. He’s an embarrassment.