LAST NIGHT’S TOWN HALL: Who Won and Who Lost

If you didn’t catch the town hall last night, here are the highlights. In your opinion, who do you think won?

With the Wisconsin primary less than a week away, Tuesday night’s GOP town hall was by no means a pro forma event; it was one of the last real opportunities for the remaining three candidates to adapt their campaign narratives before the delegate math is set. Only two candidates — Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — have a mathematical shot at the nomination, and the CNN forum gave voters a chance to size them up while they are locked in an all-out campaign dogfight.

If you are a small-government, constitutional conservative, the Ted Cruz you wanted to see showed up. His strengths — his intellectual firepower, policy depth and unshakable poise — were on full display.

His defense of more robust counterterrorism measures after the Brussels attacks, including increased surveillance when necessary of Muslim communities in the United States, showed that he won’t back down, despite the media firestorm he ignited with his comments on the issue last week.

It was in some of Cruz’s traditionally weaker stylistic areas, however — authenticity and charisma — that the senator managed to elevate his performance in a way that could affect the upcoming Wisconsin primary.

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For better or worse, Cruz often sounds like he is reading off a teleprompter even when he speaks extemporaneously. While his supporters may see this as further evidence of his brilliance, for some voters not yet on Team Cruz, his delivery can sound over-rehearsed and preachy.

In political rhetoric, the difference between earnest and oily is often very slight, and tonally, Cruz sometimes falls on the wrong side of that divide. This has been a continuing liability for him.

But Tuesday night felt different. Cruz not only appeared presidential, at times he exuded a genuinely calm, caring demeanor. When he spoke of his sister, whom he tragically lost to heroin addiction, the voters got a look into the soul of a man who, while tremendously ambitious and self-assured, has also suffered, lost and struggled.

If there is a missing component to Cruz as a candidate, it is in his ability to project empathy, to connect with people, to make it seem like he understands their problems, and to show some scars, too.

Finally, after months of debates, countless campaign stops and endless interviews, GOP voters were able to see Cruz as a guy who, if not the most obvious choice for a beer and a friendly chat, wouldn’t be a half-bad one if you gave him a chance.


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