The personal and political tensions between Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took center stage during CNN’s town hall with the GOP presidential candidates Tuesday night, with both candidates, as well as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, backtracking on their commitments to support the eventual GOP nominee.
A week ahead of Wisconsin’s primary, where 42 “winner-take-most” delegates are at stake, the topic of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski getting charged with battery earlier in the day hung over the evening . “Would you ask him to resign,” was the first question CNN’s Anderson Cooper posed to Cruz, who immediately said he’d dismiss a staffer in such a position.
Coming on stage second, Trump batted away the issue involving Lewandowski and a reporter earlier this month. Trump even argued that Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields — wielding a pen at the time — posed a threat to him when his staffer grabbed her.
Trailing in the race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced the crowd third. Cooper asked him what it was like to watch the Trump-Cruz fight “from the sidelines.” But Kasich — the only candidate to stand up to engage with the audience — made a case for staying in the race, arguing that he’ll do well in the states coming up.
Here’s what political analysts and strategists thought of the town hall:
Pete Seat, former George W. Bush spokesman and Indiana GOP consultant: “Donald Trump had the most to defend, Ted Cruz the most to gain and John Kasich the most to explain. And yet, I think Anderson Cooper came out on top. His comeback to Trump that the front-runner’s rationale for attacking Cruz was the ‘argument of a 5 year old’ was the line of the night and the perfect synopsis of the entire 2016 election cycle.
“For Cruz’s part, he showed a personal side seldom seen speaking passionately about his daughters, his sister who died from a drug overdose and even cheese. But that was overshadowed when he chose to … dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge questions on supporting Trump as the nominee, the National Enquirer allegations, supporting bipartisan opioid abuse legislation and even his greatest failing — one of the most basic job interview questions!
“Unsurprisingly, Kasich handled himself the best of the three. His path to the nomination is as likely as pigs flying, but he explained his reasons for sticking around well and answered the policy questions asked of him with a depth of knowledge befitting a president.”
Keith Appell, Republican strategist: “Ted Cruz exceeded expectations tonight and showed he’s a multidimensional candidate who will be very tough to beat in a general election. His answer on the women in his life, and how they’ve affected him, was money. In contrast, Donald Trump came off a bit delusional as L’affaire Lewandowski has completely sidetracked his campaign. Tough talk can be appealing, but mixing arrogance with ignorance is a turnoff and a weakness.”
Mindy Finn, former senior adviser on digital for the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “ Tonight, Donald Trump admitted that he will not support the GOP nominee. He’s more loyal to his campaign manager who was arrested for assaulting a reporter than to the Party of Lincoln and Reagan. That speaks volumes. He’s a minority candidate who has benefitted from a crowded Republican field and delegate math. In the remaining states and at the convention, the majority will not sit by quietly. They will fight for their voice to be heard in the process, and I believe, ultimately prevail. ”
Republican strategist: “
Ted did pretty well for himself, but Trump was as unhinged as the rest of this day has been. Honestly, staring at the guy eat up the scenery and bellow nonsense is just astounding.”
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