The Fox Business Network staged what was easily the most boring Republican debate of 2015, so our expectations for Thursday night’s forum in South Carolina were low. But Donald Trump and Ted Cruz saved the day by finally putting aside their faux-friendship and attacking each other on mostly non-substantive matters. After Trump turned the Obama birther narrative on Cruz, the Texas senator tried to flip it back on the front-runner, with limited success. Then Cruz launched into an anti–New York diatribe only to wind up clapping when Trump reminded him about 9/11. Meanwhile, Chris Christie’s violent threats have stopped making sense, and we learned that like the rest of us, Ben Carson finds online comments scary and confusing. Here are the highs and lows.
Biggest Proposed Violation of International Law:
In the last debate, Ted Cruz revealed that he’s up for committing some war crimes, saying he’s in favor of “carpet bombing” Raqqa, though it’s home to hundreds of thousands of civilians. While the U.S. admitted that its sailors accidentally strayed into Iranian waters this week, Cruz opened the debate by vowing that “any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.”
Least Inspired Insult:
TRUMP: “We don’t need a weak person being president of the United States, okay? Because that’s what we’d get if it were Jeb — I tell you what, we don’t need that.” If “low energy” ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Boldest Argument for Disqualification From the Presidential Race, Non-Birther Related
RUBIO: “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being commander-in-chief of the United States. Someone who cannot handle intelligence information appropriately cannot be commander-in-chief and someone who lies to the families of those four victims in Benghazi can never be president of the United States. Ever.”
Boldest Argument for Disqualification From the Presidential Race, Birther-Related
Cruz was well-prepared for the inevitable question about whether he’s eligible to run for president. First he noted that Trump defended him just a few months ago. “Now, since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed,” he said. “But the poll numbers have.”
Then he argued that if you go deep enough down the birther rabbit hole, Trump isn’t eligible to run for president either because his mother was born in Scotland. “Donald, I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you,” Cruz said, to which Trump replied, “Okay, good. Because it wouldn’t work.”
If we go back far enough, are any of us really “natural-born citizens”? (Jeb Bush, probably.)
Most Surprising Revelations About President Obama:
RUBIO: “Barack Obama does not believe that America is a great global power. Barack Obama believes that America is a arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size.”
RUBIO: “I am convinced that if this president could confiscate every gun in America, he would. I am convinced that this president, if he could get rid of the Second Amendment, he would.”
Most Counterproductive Jab at the Moderators:
Ben Carson responded to his very first question with, “Well, I’m very happy to get a question this early on. I was going to ask you to wake me up when that time came.”
Best Use of New York Times–Bashing
When asked about his failure to report a massive loan he took from Goldman Sachs, where his wife works, to fund his Senate campaign, Cruz described it as a “paperwork error” and dismissed the report as a “hit piece.”
Honorable mention goes to Trump, who denied calling for “up to 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods,” saying, “That’s wrong. They were wrong. It’s the New York Times, they are always wrong.”
Saddest Attempt to Get a Word In:
CARSON: “Neil, I was mentioned too.”
CAVUTO: “You were?”
CARSON: “Yeah, he said ’everybody.’”
Biggest Waste of a Clinton-Bashing Opportunity:
While most people onstage would jump at the chance to attack Hillary Clinton, when asked if she’s an “enabler of sexual misconduct” in light of Bill Clinton’s “past indiscretions,” Carson pivoted to rambling about “all the divisiveness and the hatred that goes on in our society.” “Is this America anymore? Do we still have standards? Do we still have values and principles?” he mused.
Most Enlightening Admission:
The answer wasn’t a total waste, as we learned that Carson reads online comments sections.
Most Unnecessary Threat:
Chris Christie, addressing President Obama: “We are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.” He’s being forced out by term limits, Christie doesn’t have to physically assault him.
Best Use of the 9/11 Card:
When asked to explain his attack on Trump’s “New York values,” Cruz said, “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro–gay marriage, focus around money and the media.”
The crowd loved the anti–New York rant, until Trump reminded them that they love invoking 9/11 more. Cruz wound up literally applauding Trump for attacking him.
KASICH: “I served on the Defense Committee for 18 years, and by the way, one of the members of that committee was Senator Strom Thurmond from South Carolina.”
Most Unexpected Plug for a Michael Bay Movie:
Cruz, in his closing remarks: “13 Hours — tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them.” Thankfully, he did not segue into his impression of Sean Connery from The Rock.