Neil Cavuto was hoping to pick a fight when he asked Cruz to respond to Trump’s recent accusation that the Canadian-born Cruz may not be a “natural born citizen” eligible to run for president of the United States. He got one.
Over the next few minutes—it will probably be the longest exchange of the night, which says something about how substantive this debate has been—Cruz was on defense and Trump was on offense and a strange thing happened: Cruz came out on top. Trump more or less stuck to the Trump script—he talked a lot about his poll numbers (higher than Cruz’s); he was arrogant (he offered Cruz the VP slot); he cited experts who agree with him. He belittled Cruz, in other words. And while he wasn’t quite the high school bully he is with Jeb!, he was the same Trump that has repeatedly foiled opponents’ attacks on his credibility, seriousness, and conservative credentials.
But while other candidates lost by fighting back, Cruz largely stayed quiet. He patiently responded to a few of Trump’s more bombastic attacks and patiently raised doubts about the credibility of his experts. Trump got flustered and seemed like he might fly off the handle in a couple of instances. (He didn’t.) Cruz won by refusing to take the bait. It’s doubtful that this represents any shift in the election, but it still represents an important development: Donald Trump finally lost an exchange.