Venetian Casino Was the Site of the Fifth Republican Debate on Tuesday
The Venetian Casino on the Las Vegas Strip was the site for the fifth Republican Debate on Tuesday. The Venetian serves as the headquarters of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, whose chairman is high-powered Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.
The choice of venue is symbolic, because Sheldon Adelson is going to be one of the top Republican donors in the 2016 Presidential Election, second only to the Koch Brothers. Adelson supports the GOP’s social conservative policies and support of Israel. He also hopes to convince the majority party in Congress to ban online gambling, though those efforts have proven fruitless so far.
Nevada’s Role in Shaping US Politics
The debate in Nevada has national implications, but it also has statewide implications in Nevada. This year, the leaders of Nevada pushed to have the state’s caucus early in the nomination process, which gives Nevada more influence on the eventual nominee. After Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, no state is likely to have a bigger role in shaping the nomination process.
Nevada is also a wild card, because it is so new to this early, pivotal stage of the primary season. The state’s electorate does not seem as engaged as those in Iowa or New Hampshire, which means the local coverage of the Tuesday night debate at the Venetian could have a key impact on the race. This was the first time in over a month the Republican candidates have been on the stage together. Coming into the debate this time around, Donald Trump had opened up his largest lead yet. National polls show he holds 41% of the GOP vote at the moment. At the time of the last debate, Trump was in a virtual dead heat with Dr. Ben Carson, with both sitting in the 22% to 24% range.
Ben Carson Quotes
Since then, Ben Carson’s campaign has faltered. Carson sits at 9% in the national polls. Carson took a swipe at Donald Trump (and perhaps the politicians) when he said, “I don’t do a lot of talking. I do a lot of doing. And really it says more about a person than how much they talk. Some people say, ‘you’re weak because you’re not loud, and you’re not boisterous, and you’re not rude,’ but the fact of the matter is look and see what I’ve done.”
In combatting charges he does not have the experience to lead the nation, Ben Carson sounded a tone both Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina likely approved: “There’s a false narrative that says only the political class has the wisdom and ability to be commander in chief.”
Ted Cruz versus Marco Rubio
Carson’s support appears to have gone to Donald Trump in the month since the last debate, as well as the two candidates now closest to him in the polls: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Ted Cruz is the new second-place challenger with 14% of the GOP support. Cruz is a favorite of the Tea Party, known for his unyielding stance on legislation and fiscal policies. The Texas senator is also known to quarrel with his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate, because he believes they are too moderate.
Marco Rubio once was considered the “Crown Prince of the Tea Party”, but he is considered more of an establishment candidate than Trump, Carson, or Cruz. Marco Rubio was the President of the Florida Senate before he became a U.S. Senator, so he has legislative accomplishments on his resume that the other leading candidates do not. Many see Rubio as a potential compromise choice between the right wing of the Republican Party and the Establishment Republicans who traditionally have run the party.
Cruz and Rubio sparred ofted on Tuesday night, perhaps vying to be the man ready to step forward if Donald Trump falters. The two men landed titan blows against one antoher in the most spirited exchange of the debate. Ted Cruz criticized Marco Rubio on his immigration policy, claiming he sided with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Schumer on an immigration policy which would open the United States to infiltration by ISIS. Rubio fired back, saying Cruz had three times voted against defense bills which would had weakened the US military’s ability to confront ISIS. Cruz defended his action by saying he made those votes to keep a campaign pledge asking indefinite detention of US citizens by the military.
Staking a Claim on 2nd Place
Both attacks hit their mark, because Republican voters are as hawkish on defense as they are suspicious of immigration. Pundits seemed to believe Ted Cruz got the better of the exchange, though the fact Rand Paul joined in the attack on Rubio might have had to do with that impression. It is evident Cruz and Rubio see one another as each other’s greatest rival in staking a second option to Donald Trump.
Interestingly, neither attacked Donald Trump directly. Ted Cruz is leading in Iowa, so his strategy appears to be cordial with Trump, in hopes Trump overlooks him in the run-up to the pivotal first official vote of the primary season. The Iowa Caucuses begin 7 weeks from now.
Donald Trump Continues to Drive the Debate
Rubio is seen by Establishment Republicans as the best choice, now that Jeb Bush and other traditional Republicans have faltered in the polls. The rest of the field seemed to understand that fact on Tuesday night, because many treated Sen. Rubio as the man to take down a few notches.
For his part, Donald Trump continued to single out groups he feels are a threat to the United States. This time, his target was Muslims, in the wake of the San Bernadino terrorist attack. CNN moderators put him on the defensive by asking about his seeming attacks on 1st Amendment rights in saying he would “shut-off” the Internet to stop the terrorists from recruiting. Trump reframed the question when he asked rhetorically, “They can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”
Bush versus Trump
As usual, Donald Trump’s main foe was Jeb Bush. This time, though, Jeb seemed to press forward with his attacks in a more spirited fashion, calling Trump “the chaos candidate”. He frustrated Donald Trump by talking over him as Trump was making a point, and even taunted him at a point. Trump mocked Jeb Bush’s suggestion he would be tough on terrorism, mocking the very idea Jeb was a “tough guy”. He later complained that everyone “was coming after me.”
The remainder of the field sits at 5% or less. No one has been more of a disappointment than former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was the presumptive nominee with many experts before Donald Trump entered the field. Trump’s flamboyance and race-baiting have pushed the agenda to the political right, while pushing moderates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie to the side — though the latest polls show Christie might be gaining steam.
Christie continues to have solid results in the debates, though his moderate policies make him unelectable in the 2016 atmosphere. Chris Christie’s moderate Republican values and his prosecutorial resume make him an attractive running mate option, though. He did nothing to harm that perception on Tuesday night.
While Nevada could play a key role in the race, voters don’t seem as engaged as those in other lead-in states. Michael Green, a UNLV associate professor of history, said Nevada is a “newcomer”. He added states like Iowa and New Hampshire “have more of a historical resonance,” so they are a bit easier to predict.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the University of Nevada, Reno political science department, said the unsettled state of Nevada’s electorate makes the caucus hard to predict. Herzik said, “It’s also really hard to poll — you don’t know who’s going to show up at the caucuses.”
For one thing, Nevada is unionized, so much of the electorate has no sympathy for Republican Party economic policies. By the time the Nevada caucus takes place, several candidates are going to drop out. Those which do not poll well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are likely to have trouble raising funds. They’ll also be pressured to drop out of the race, to allow their support to go to another party-friendly candidate.
“It’s Only Iowa”
Of all contests, the Iowa Caucus is the most pivotal, because it is the first. Frontrunners in the polls have seen their momentum cut down in one night of caucusing in Iowa, such as Howard Dean in 2004. Howard Dean was leading by a wide margin only a month before the Democratic caucuses in Iowa in 2004, but he finished in third place when he failed to resonate with Iowa voters. Long before his scream on national television, his candidacy was in trouble.
Donald Trump’s 41% in national polls looks unbeatable, but it’s one thing to do well in telephone polls, and another to do well when voters go into the polling booth. He appears to see the excellent poll numbers as making him the inevitable candidate, because he said this week he would support the GOP nominee and even hinted he would choose his own daughter, Ivanka, as his running mate. It would not be the wildest idea he’s had in this campaign season.
Trump comes out of the last 2015 debate with a strong lead nationally, but his brashness seems to hurt him in Iowa. If the current polls are right, Donald Trump is going to lose the Iowa Caucus, likely to Ted Cruz. If that happens, then the overwhelming question coming out of Iowa will be what good months on top of the polls did for the former casino magnate, and whether his campaign is in trouble.
If that happens, you can expect the love affair between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to end.
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