When it came to the local guys, Jeb Bush needed to flex his muscles — and throw a punch or two. Marco Rubio — remember when he was the Republican “savior”? — needed some wind beneath his wings. And the rest of them — especially the beleaguered elected political insiders — needed to bring a lot more ooomph to the game, without looking crazed, hysterical or desperate.
After all, Donald Trump was expected to hog the spotlight again, as he did not only during the first debate last month, but also as he has for the whole month in between. Mr. Trump didn’t do them the favor of imploding, self-destructing or fading away. Instead, the possibility of a President Trump just didn’t seem as far-fetched as it did.
His popularity has surged despite spewing hostile words that would have tanked any other candidate and a stunning lack of specifics, especially in the area of foreign policy. He not only has achieved traction, he has zoomed to the top of the national polls.
So it’s curious that during Wednesday night’s debate Mr. Trump’s blowhard tendencies seemed less entertaining, less resolute and more tiresome than before. We’ve seen the tell-it-like-it-is shtick, and we wanted some substance from the frontrunner.
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He didn’t always come through and looked a bit diminished because his opponents’ vigor. And Team South Florida came on strong, for the most part, garnered strong applause at times. Jeb Bush, good-guy grin aside, threw and landed more than a couple of punches, demanding Mr. Trump apologize to his Mexican-American wife for his vitriolic anti-immigrant comments (he didn’t); declaring that as Florida governor, he rebuffed Mr. Trump’s big bucks to allow casino gambling (the billionaire denied this); and forcefully sticking up for big bro George W., asserting that he kept America safe, to huge applause.
Sen. Rubio, again, trotted out a personal family story, then delivered substantive sound bites that showed some foreign-policy smarts and a feel for what issues concern Americans most. He even turned his absences from the Senate into a heartwarming narrative of helping America “fulfill its potential.” Too bad he stuck his head in the sand about climate change.
Immigration took up a lot of airtime, with Mr. Trump again talking border walls, mass deportations and birthright and the flaws of the 14th Amendment. Gov. Bush, rightly, was having none of it, chiding Mr. Trump for a vision that would destroy communities and tear families apart — another applause line.
Mr. Bush finally looked like the adult in the group that the Republican Party assumed he would be — marijuana confession aside. Problem is, so did John Kasich, the level-headed, clear-eyed Ohio governor.
And the real standout? Former Hewlett-Packard exec Carly Fiorina, who though she punted a couple of times, was direct and resolute on issues both foreign and domestic. And the steely look on “that face” when Mr. Trump attempted to walk back his insulting comments about her looks by calling her “beautiful”? Priceless.
Mr. Bush just might have punched his way back to relevance; Sen. Rubio, perhaps, got the lift that’s eluded him. Could be a whole different ballgame if this continues.
The Sept. 14 editorial, We’re not impressed, should have made it clear that the thousands of political prisoners jailed annually in Cuba are usually quickly released. Officially, Cuba has about 100 political prisoners serving extended sentences.