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Two key takeaways from the seventh Republican debate and Trump’s rally.

Donald Trump shunning the debate didn’t work out so well for Ted Cruz, who became the debate’s central target. He’s wanted more of the spotlight, so this was, oddly, both his and the establishment’s preference. As the New Republic’s Brian Beutler pointed out, the debate became “a microcosm of the Republican establishment’s peculiar commitment to making Cruz, rather than Trump, their main target.” He whined about being attacked by the moderators and sullied his policy talk with five false claims about the Affordable Care Act. The result, wrote Beutler, was that Cruz “offered up his worst performance of the cycle.” 

Trump, meanwhile, has started to cast himself as commander-in-chief in waiting, an addition to his customary pitch that people should vote for him because he is a) rich and successful and b) leading in the polls anyways. “He presents himself as the champion of the vets, and he’s holding up their sacrifice and suffering as a model of American greatness, which he wants to restore,” wrote Jeet Heer. “This Trumpian narrative elides his deferments during the Vietnam War and mockery of John McCain’s suffering as a prisoner of war. But Trump is not one to let past behavior stand in the way of current claims.”

By not sharing a stage, Cruz floundered, while Trump just kept on expanding his own mythology.