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June 20th, 2019

Insight

Here's how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz should have answered the 'will you support Trump' question

Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza

Published March 7, 2016

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spent 119 minutes Thursday night savaging Donald Trump as fundamentally unfit to be the Republican nominee. Then, in the final minute of the 11th Republican presidential debate, they changed their tune --- totally.

Asked whether they could and would support Trump as the GOP standard-bearer in the fall election, both Rubio and Cruz (and John Kasich) said yes.

"I'll support Donald if he's the Republican nominee, and let me tell you why," Rubio said. "Because the Democrats have two people left in the race. One of them is a socialist. . .the other one is under FBI investigation."

"Yes, because I gave my word that I would," offered Cruz.

I understand why both men pledged to support Trump. Because they knew that the moderators would eventually ask Trump -- as they did -- whether he would pledge to back the Republican nominee in the event it wasn't him. And neither Rubio nor Cruz wanted to give Trump any wiggle room on that question.

They got what they wanted, sort of. "Yes, I will. Yes. I will," Trump said when pressed on the question by moderator Chris Wallace.

But, but, but. This is Donald Trump we're talking about. Do you think that if he goes into the Republican National Convention with the most delegates and somehow winds up not winning the nomination that he will say to himself, "Well, I can't run as an independent because I said at that debate I wouldn't?" No chance.

Instead of trying to put Trump in a box on the question of a third party bid, what Cruz and/or Rubio should have said is some version of this:

"'I have been a Republican and a conservative all of my adult life. I believe deeply in the principles on which this party was built and on which it still stands. Because of my commitment to those principles, I cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump if he is the Republican Party nominee. I simply do not believe he is either a Republican or a conservative.'"

That could work! It would paint Cruz or Rubio as a principled defender of what the party stands for as opposed to just another sour grapes politician. And, most importantly, it wouldn't fundamentally undermine the entire case that both men spent not only Thursday's debate but much of this campaign making: That Trump is simply too flexible on issues and policies to represent the Republican Party in the fall.

Neither man did that. Missed opportunities, which, in a lot of ways, is the two-word summary of this race for all of the not-Trump candidates.

Previously:


03/04/16: Winners and losers from the 11th Republican presidential debate
03/03/16: The Republican establishment waited too long to stop Donald Trump. Now they probably can't
03/02/16: Winners and losers from Super Tuesday
02/29/16: Why Donald Trump is remarkably dangerous to the Republican Party
02/29/16: 4 reasons why Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump
02/26/16: Winners and losers from the 10th Republican presidential debate
02/24/16: Donald Trump is on course to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the GOP nominee
02/23/16: This Donald Trump explanation of his Iraq position is just so mind-boggling
02/22/16: Jeb Bush never really had a chance in the 2016 presidential race
02/18/16: Senate Republicans will never hold a Supreme Court vote this year. This poll shows why
02/17/16: South Carolina isn't Bush Country anymore
02/12/16: Winners and losers from the 6th Dem debate
02/10/16: Winners and losers from the New Hampshire primary
02/06/16: Winners and losers from the fifth Democratic presidential debate
01/29/16: Winners and losers from the 7th Republican presidential debate
01/27/16: Ranking the Republican 2016 field
01/25/16: Trump is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. Period
01/22/16: Who had the worst week in Washington? Hillary Clinton
01/18/16: Feeling bad for Jeb Bush
01/15/16: Winners and losers from the sixth Republican presidential debate
01/12/16: Here's exactly how Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton
01/11/16:The fantasy scenario that could become reality for Hillary
12/30/15: The five big lessons from a weirdly watchable year of politics
12/21/15: Winners and losers in the third Democratic presidential debate
12/16/15: Winners and losers from the 5th Republican presidential debate
12/16/15: Cruz, not Trump, looking like GOP favorite for 2016
12/04/15: Ted Cruz is the sleeping giant in the Republican race
11/24/15:Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign
11/23/15: A ranking of GOP presidential candidates who can still make a case --- and the nominee
11/16/15: The remarkably unappealing anger of Donald Trump
11/11/15: Winners and losers from the fourth Republican debate
11/02/15: Jeb Bush says he still doesn't get why his terrible debate performance matters so much
10/29/15: Winners and losers from the third Republican presidential debate
10/22/15: Paul Ryan might be saving his party. But at what cost?
10/20/15: Six things we know Joe Biden is thinking
10/19/15: Who had the worst week in Washington? Lincoln Chafee
10/14/15: Winners and losers from the first Dem presidential debate

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