Donald Trump may just have won Iowa with his debate performance Thursday night.
The debate moment that everyone's talking about got an unexpected, if contradictory, bit of analysis from a very prominent Ted Cruz backer from the first caucus state. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was asked to comment on Donald Trump's blistering response to Cruz's attack on his "New York values," and indicated that Trump's response made him think Cruz had gone too far. However, King later characterized Trump's response as "below the belt."
On CNN's New Day Friday morning, anchor Chris Cuomo specifically asked King if Cruz's attack on "New York values," which Cuomo noted is a popular coded pejorative among conservatives, had "gone too far."
King responded "I didn't think he went too far until I saw Donald trump's reaction, then I thought it would have been better on the part of Ted Cruz not to have had that exchange."
King added that "it was one of the times where you saw Donald Trump actually show you more of his heart than we've seen on the campaign trail. He meant what he said."
However, later in the interview, King was doing a riff on Cruz and Trump as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and said that Trump's response was "below the belt":
It was like Ali versus frazier. Those were classical fights. I think Ali won on points, if you didn't score the blows below the belt. When some of those punches were a little below the belt, when he brought up September 11th, because there's no way to defend yourself from that. That wasn't the topic. He adopted it and brought it in. But he did it do deftly, I don't think that's what the perception was or that most people caught it that way.
It's hard to understand how King could concede that Trump's response was utterly heartfelt and winning one minute, then claim it was below the belt and deft the next, but King's impression of that conflict is noteworthy. If Trump's response landed this way on an Iowan who publicly backs Ted Cruz, it could be an indication of a wider problem for Cruz in a state that he has to win.
It's possible that Iowa Republicans will ignore this moment out of the deep cultural revulsion that Cruz was trying to tap, but it certainly wasn't helpful to Cruz, and it vividly illustrated a brilliant point of contrast between the two men. Cruz and Trump are both habitual liars, but what people often mistake for "authenticity" in Trump is actually an utter lack of pretense. This episode highlighted Cruz's surplus of same.
Elsewhere in diarrhea-mouthed conservatives, Joe Scarborough cracked wise about another violent tragedy this morning. During a discussion of Donald Trump's campaign tactics on Friday's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough made the observation that Trump had thrown the entire Clinton campaign into disarray simply by releasing an Instagram video that featured, among other things, a photo of the Clintons with Bill Cosby.
Following on that point, Sam Stein conceded that Trump's campaign tactics are "asymmetrical," which caused a giggling Joe Scarborough to blurt out his atomic zinger:
Scarborough: Also, one other thing. Over the past week and a half, with a single Instagram posting, he put the entire Clinton machine back on their heels.
Michael Steele: When the establishment looks at that, they go "Wow, who else could do that as effectively as he is dong that.
Sam Stein: I kind of disagree with this. I do think he's sort of asymmetrical in terms of the way he does politics...
Scarborough: Sort of asymmetrical?!? Hiroshima was sort of asymmetrical!
Scarborough's crack may, itself, be a product of the Trump Effect, in which everyone around him amps up their unfiltered rhetorical expulsions. That effect was on full display at last night's debate, as candidate after candidate lit themselves on fire to get noticed alongside Trump. Even Marco Rubio was getting his aggression on, and Carly Fiorina threw a bomb at Hillary Clinton that could be heard all the way from the kid's table. This is the new normal.
If anyone does get offended, Scarborough could just take a page from Trump's handbook and say "Look, I've got tremendous relationships with the orientals."