Saturday night’s GOP debate was undoubtedly the punchiest, most-talk-over-your-competition shouting match of the entire campaign season. And among all the spirited back-and-forths, one particular exchange about businessman Donald Trump’s willingness to change his mind revealed a stunning lack of civility in a race that seems to be nosediving into name-calling.
CBS debate moderator John Dickerson asked Trump about his proclivity for changing his mind, and Trump had no qualms about admitting that he’s flexible.
“You have to have flexibility,” Trump said, offering up a quote that might actually be more effective in an attack ad than many of the racist or misogynist statements Trump has made.
But the conversation took a dramatic turn when Trump began accusing Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) of robocalls that, he said, are telling South Carolina voters the real estate mogul isn’t going to run.
“This is the same thing he did to [former neurosurgeon] Ben Carson,” Trump continued, referring to the controversy in Iowa. “This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now I know why he doesn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues” in the Senate.
As Cruz tried to begin to respond, Trump once again called him a “nasty guy,” but Cruz forged ahead.
“It is fairly remarkable to see Donald defending Ben after he called him pathological and compared him to a child molester,” Cruz said, “both of which are offensive and wrong.”
As Trump again tried to talk over him, Cruz, who has been trying to present himself as the real conservative in the race, accused Trump of supporting Planned Parenthood funding when Republicans in Congress were trying to defund the organization.
“Donald has this weird pattern,” Cruz said, “when you point to his own record, he screams, ‘Liar! Liar! Liar!’”
“Where did I support it?” Trump repeatedly asked.
After Trump sufficiently interrupted Cruz enough to get a response -- “Excuse me! Excuse me!” Trump kept shouting -- Cruz said voters could watch Trump say nice things about Planned Parenthood on his website.
With Trump continuing to shout over Cruz about Planned Parenthood, Cruz moved on to his larger argument: that the next president will appoint a number of Supreme Court justices and that Trump doesn’t have the conservative record to show he’ll appoint judges to the satisfaction of Republicans.
“If Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals,” Cruz said.
“If Donald Trump is president,” Cruz continued, as Trump again started shouting over him, “your Second Amendment will --“
Cruz couldn’t even finish his thought as Trump hollered.
Dickerson, who seemed content much of the night to just let the GOP candidates fight among each other, tried to bring the conversation back from a screaming match.
“Hold on, gentlemen. I’m going to turn this car around!” Dickerson said.