While it’s indisputable that Sen. Rubio and Sen. Cruz tag-teamed Mr. Trump during Thursday night’s presidential debate on CNN, there’s little dispute that Sen. Rubio was the most effective attacker Thursday night. The highlight for Sen. Rubio (and Mr. Trump’s lowlight) came during a debate over how to replace Obamacare. CNN’s Dana Bash started the exchange, asking “Senator Rubio, you said yesterday, right here in Houston, that Mr. Trump thinks part of Obamacare is pretty good. So, he says he is going to repeal Obamacare. Are you saying that you’re worried he won’t?”
Sen. Rubio responded, saying “He said he likes the individual mandate portion of it, which I don’t believe that should be part of it. That should not remain there. I think here’s what we need to replace it with. We need to repeal Obamacare completely and replace it with a system that puts Americans in charge of their health care money again. If your employer wants to buy health insurance for you, they can continue to do so from any company in America they want to buy it from.”
“Otherwise, your employers can provide you health care money, tax- free, not treated as income, and you can use that money only for health care, but you can use it to fund health care any way you want, fully fund a health savings account, the combination of a health savings account or a private plan from any company in any state in the country. And if you don’t have that, then you will have a refundable tax credit that provides you health care money to buy your own health care coverage.”
Ms. Bash then asked Mr. Trump what his plan was. Here’s Mr. Trump’s reply:
What we need — look, the insurance companies take care of the politicians. The insurance companies get what they want. We should have gotten rid of the lines around each state so we can have real competition.
We thought that was gone, we thought those lines were going to be gone, so something happened at the last moment where Obamacare got approved, and all of that was thrown out the window.
But, we should have gotten rid of the borders, we should have gotten rid of the lines around the state so there’s great competition. The insurance companies are making a fortune on every single thing they do.
That’s when Sen. Rubio pounced:
You may not be aware of this, Donald, because you don’t follow this stuff very closely, but here’s what happened. When they passed Obamacare they put a bailout fund in Obamacare. All these lobbyists you keep talking about, they put a bailout fund in the law that would allow public money to be used, taxpayer money, to bail out companies when they lost money.
And, we led the effort and wiped out that bailout fund. The insurance companies are not in favor of me, they hate that. They’re suing that now to get that bailout money put back in. Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means.
Visibly upset, Trump replied:
I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….
Rubio didn’t relent, asking “So, that’s the only part of the plan? Just the lines?” Then, after Mr. Trump returned to talking about “the lines”, Rubio replied “Now he’s repeating himself.” The reply was so strong that Glenn Beck, who supports Ted Cruz, tweeted “Rubio is killing it.”
That’s the moment when Trump was exposed as an empty suit with a nasty temper. David French at National Review had the headline of the night, saying “The Emperor Trump Has No Clothes — But Was He Disrobed Too Late?”
That last part is the important part. Did these attacks come too late to stop Trump’s momentum? The answer to that question will be decided by whether Sen. Rubio can talk some of Sen. Cruz’s supporters to vote for Sen. Rubio. If that happens, then the dynamic shifts. If they stay loyal, then it’s a tough fight for Sen. Rubio.