There were a lot of punches and jabs during the Republican debate Thursday: Rubio hit Cruz with an avalanche of BS accusations in a single statement, knowing full well Cruz could never respond to even one of them in the time allotted, and Trump and Cruz duked it out over citizenship. But there was one moment that made me sick to my stomach. Not because of content, per se, but because of the reaction and applause it garnered from the audience and pundits.
Moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Cruz about his comment regarding Trump having “New York Values.”
BARTIROMO: “Sen. Cruz, you suggested that Mr. Trump ’embodies New York values.’ Could you explain what you mean by that?”
CRUZ: “You know, I think most people know exactly what New York values are. [Bartiromo interjects that she’s from New York] What–you’re from New York? So you might not. [Audience laughs] But I promise you, in the state of South Carolina, they do.
And listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media…
Not too many years ago, Donald did a long interview with Tim Russert. And in that interview, he explained his views on a whole host of issues that were very, very different from the views he’s describing now.
And his explanation–he said, ‘Look, I’m from New York. That’s what we believe in New York. Those aren’t Iowa values, but this is what we believe in New York.’ And so that was his explanation. And I guess I can frame it another way. Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I’m just saying.”
Solid answer–at least I thought. The phrase “New York Values” is something nearly every conservative will understand, which is presumably why Cruz utilized it. It means–as Cruz said–liberal. When a man to the left of Barack Obama is elected Mayor of New York City with 73% of the vote, you know it’s a liberal place. New Yorkers tend to embrace values that often run contrary to conservatism, such as abortion rights, higher taxes on the wealthy, open borders, an expanding welfare state, and a litany of other liberal policies. It’s obvious this wasn’t a hit on every New Yorker, nor was it a hit on their basic humanity. Cruz himself noted this in his answer when he said “there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York.”
I thought this was clear, then Donald Trump swung back with an attack so sickeningly disingenuous that it made my skin crawl. Trump put on his serious hat for this answer, which means that instead of his usual fast-talking and face-contortions, he spoke softly and deliberately with a normal face:
TRUMP: “So conservatives actually do come out of Manhattan, including William F. Buckley and others, just so you understand.
And just so–if I could, because he insulted a lot of people. I’ve had more calls on that statement that Ted made–New York is a great place. It’s got great people, it’s got loving people, wonderful people.
When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. You had two 110-story buildings come crashing down. I saw them come down. Thousands of people killed, and the cleanup started the next day, and it was the most horrific cleanup, probably in the history of doing this, and in construction. I was down there, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death–nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers. And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”
Yep. Trump invoked 9/11 when pressed on his extraordinary evolution from liberal to conservative. So, no substance in terms of the accusation lobbed at him, but rather an emotional appeal. It was such a ludicrous answer that I actually recoiled from the screen, then slowly leaned back in as I involuntarily squinted in sheer disbelief at the audacity of his pandering. It was like Rudy Giuliani on steroids.
It was clear to me that Trump’s answer was just an emotional deflection. In no universe would Ted Cruz demean the victims of 9/11, the heroes that rushed into the burning buildings, and the community that came together after the attack. That wasn’t his intention at all. It’s so obvious that even I–without being a mind-reader–know that to be absolute fact. Given this, I assumed Trump’s lame response wouldn’t make any impact. I was dead wrong.
After the debate, the pundits, from Krauthammer to Lowry, Stirewalt to Kurtz, overwhelmingly gave the exchange to Trump, noting how allegedly damaging it was to Cruz. What dimension am I in? Is this the bizarro world?! Surely the American people saw what I saw. Surely I’m not insane. Nope. Social media was alight with tweets like this:
New York values. pic.twitter.com/9ueseLwhAl
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) January 14, 2016
Is CRUZ really insulting New York values???
WTH is that????#GOPDebate
— Linda Suhler, Ph.D. (@LindaSuhler) January 15, 2016
Even allegedly intelligent conservative pundits were on board with the answer:
Yes, Cruz lost the "New York values" back & forth. @realDonalTrump was earnest & brought us back viscerally to 9/11 & its aftermath.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) January 15, 2016
That was the best statement Trump has made the entire cycle re: New York values #GOPDebate
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) January 15, 2016
Thank goodness there were people who weren’t falling for the nonsense:
— Matthew Barron Jr. (@mtthwbrrn) January 15, 2016
— Wendy Damron (@WendyDamron) January 15, 2016
— 4Tiles (@4Tiles) January 15, 2016
So I’m not crazy. Well, not about this at least. But to see so many people who call themselves conservatives, and more importantly, seem to have IQs above 3, jumping on the 9/11 pander-answer bandwagon–pardon my French–scares the hell out of me.
I spoke with my father after the debate, telling him how astonished I was, and he hit the nail on the head. He said: “The frightening thing is, people are truly that stupid–and they’re the ones that vote.”
Yep. That about sums it up.