It turns out that Trump’s absence affected the debate in a lot of interesting ways. Obviously, he wasn’t physically on stage, taking the polling leader’s share of the questions or mugging and frowning for the cameras at every turn. Without Trump’s glitz, bombast, insults, and obvious lack of homework on certain issues, the substantive content of the debate clearly was raised a few notches.
Even more interesting was the candidates’ effort to fill the perceived leadership vacuum left by Trump’s decision to skip the debate. Ted Cruz clearly wanted to present himself as the big dog, but we didn’t think it worked out very well for him. It’s as if Trump’s antics in prior debates gave some cover to Cruz’s persona, and without Trump there Cruz was finally alone in the spotlight. He’s not really ready for prime time.
Why? Cruz reminds me of the time Uncle Mack, Dad and I went to buy a casket after Gramma Webner died, years ago. For all of his wooden expressions of sympathy, the guy who sold the casket was shameless in trying to play on guilt to unload the most expensive casket he could. Cruz has the same unctuousness, the same practiced mannerisms, the same scripted responses, and the same inert sense of humor. His attempts to act as if the other candidates were ganging up on him, and that the moderators weren’t being fair with him, all fell flat. Some people say Cruz isn’t likeable, but I would describe it more as not being genuine. He was the most contrived guy on the stage — and that’s not a good thing.
I don’t know how Trump’s power play with Fox News will work out for The Donald, but I think it really hurt Cruz.