Trump and Cruz Slouch Toward Bethlehem and Iowa Caucus After Latest GOP Debate

So far much of the GOP public programming has been great television, if terrible for the US as a whole. There have been feuds, amazing facial expressions, moments of hilarity and humiliation, and some banter that could barely have been more entertaining if it were scripted. Last night, however, we saw the party’s narrative take a detour into a trope that we’re all too familiar with — one character goes off and deals with an isolated subplot and we’re supposed to care about both them and the usual cast of characters back on the main set. In a bid to avoid Megyn Kelly (whom he formerly kind of stalked, allegedly?) or show up Fox News or both, Trump skipped the debate last night to hold his own, separate event in Iowa, and the other clowns all piled into their hilariously tiny car to go argue with each other. As usually happens with that narrative device, it made last night’s events both confusing and boring.

At this point, most of the candidates are set in their soundbites and their selling points; there were few surprises on the debate stage last night, except that I am still surprised every time that John Kasich is still in the race. Most interesting to watch was Ted Cruz, considered Trump’s closest competitor in Iowa. In the past few debates, Cruz has decided to capitalize on Trump’s role by antagonizing him, piling on the witty barbs and knowing glances at the camera. It wasn’t necessarily a winning strategy; Trump devotees tend to think that he’s the winner in any exchange he enters no matter what the details are. But it became apparently last night how dependent upon Trump as a foil Cruz has become; without him, he got into squabbles with the moderator, getting booed as he bickered about the debate logistics, sounding desperate.

BUSH: No, you weren’t. Your name wasn’t mentioned, Ted.
CRUZ: … Actually, I was…
BUSH: … Chris, keep it coming…
WALLACE: … I don’t think that your name was mentioned…
CRUZ: … Chris, your questions that you…
WALLACE: … Sir, I think — I think the question was…
CRUZ: … What was your question…
WALLACE: … It’s not my question that you get a chance to respond to, it’s his answer.
WALLACE: You don’t get 30 seconds to respond to me…
CRUZ: … Your question was you have disagreed…
WALLACE: … You don’t get 30 seconds to respond to me…
CRUZ: … (inaudible) opening statement.

I would feel embarrassed for him if he weren’t a horrible person whose presidency would be a deadly threat to many communities in the US, including people I love! Although one would perhaps expect that Trump’s absence would be embraced as a chance for the other candidates to truly dominate without having their debate derailed by a wild card, it seemed like they couldn’t let go of him; Cruz tried a rehearsed joke about him that didn’t really land, and the first few moderator’s questions were all about Trump, too. As Regina George would say, why are they, like, so obsessed with him?

So if Cruz didn’t look so hot in this debate, how did Trump look? Well, he held a rally for himself and for veterans but also for himself at Drake University, starting about 20 minutes after the debate. I could tell you how many people attended the rally — 700, the full capacity of the Drake University hall it was held in — or how much money it raised — $6 million, one million of which was Trump’s own, which he says is going to 22 different veteran’s groups — but that doesn’t really tell you whether it was more or less successful than a debate, in the same way that comparing a reality cooking show and a bake sale would be meaningless. The real question isn’t who did better last night; it’s who’s going to do well in a few days in Iowa.

As of this very moment in time, Five Thirty Eight is giving Trump 48%, and Cruz 41% in terms of their chances of winning Iowa. What does that mean? Let’s say, for a second, that Trump does win the Iowa caucus. And the New Hampshire primaries, for that matter. Does that mean he’ll be the RNC’s nominee for sure? Well, it’s statistically likely, but statistics don’t mean everything — there have certainly been cases where candidates won in Iowa and New Hampshire but didn’t end up being nominated, and this year’s election is very strange in many ways; the RNC, it seems clear, would much rather elect a well-behaved establishment candidate than Trump. Like the weather, the closer we get to the event in question, the better our guesses are about what exactly is going to happen — but they’re still just guesses, at least until they’re not! Bring on the stressful waiting game!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Just needed to say that your title is ON POINT. Excellent joke/reference/word of warning, all wrapped up in one.

  2. Rachel, Thank You so much for suffering through these debates for us. I really, really appreciate it. I always say I should watch the debates but there’s always something else I’d rather be doing so I don’t. :/

    • francine, literally anything you do with your time besides watching the debates is a better choice than watching the debates. no one could blame you. last debate i used the commercial breaks to clean my bathtub and that was SIGNIFICANTLY better than watching it. save yourself!

  3. “Most interesting to watch was Ted Cruz, considered Cruz’s closest competitor in Iowa”

    I think this is supposed to say “…considered TRUMP’s closest competitor in Iowa”? Or at least someone other than Cruz himself!

    • whoa that sentence turned out much more #deep than i was expecting. will fix right now, thank you!

    • I’m wondering the same thing. Or if this is a reference to how Cruz is terrible and his own worst competitor.

  4. I am honestly just terrified of all of these people. I mean, genuinely afraid. Every year the GOP candidates seem to get more extreme with more detrimental policy proposals.

    • Right, it seems that every time they lose, they think it’s because they’re not extreme *enough* so they just double down. Sometimes I think at some point they’ll go so far to the right that we’ll end up in some kind of bizarro world where they come out on the other end and start taking lefty positions. But their authoritarian tendencies mean that would probably suck too.

    • I would like to watch that in the form of a romantic comedy in which their rivalry turns to chemistry, followed by… —-dramatic narrator voiceover— a love that would turn an election on its head. After many struggles, they mend their ways and realize that the only thing to do is to leave politics and devote their lives and fortunes to charity work. They attend the inauguration of a sane Democrat wearing his&his apology banners.

      • yes as steve jobs said, the successful comes up with a product the public wants and the genius comes up with a product the public doesn’t yet know it wants. Trump/Cruz porn is entirely in the latter category.

    • Thank you, I just imagined that and throw up a little inside my mouth.

      It also made me asked myself, is there still a LGBTQ Republican member? If there is, how is that possible, how do you live with yourself and with all the shit these candidates are saying all the time?

  5. What’s wrong with Ben Carson? Is he talking riddles? Is he a poet abusing metaphors? Is he suffering narcolepsy?

    “Putin is a one-horse country. Oil and energy.” What a hell does this mean?

    • I think Ben Carson is just out there napping, and when an intern nudges him, he mumbles, “Soundbyte. Surgeon? Putin. Horse, Putin rode a horse. Reagan maybe? America. Uteruses! Babies, life. Putin?”

  6. I love this piece (including the title). Thanks again, Rachel.

    It so perfectly captures the sticky horror of watching the GOP candidates do their thing this year…

    “…and the other clowns all piled into their hilariously tiny car to go argue with each other.”

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