It took seven months of campaigning to prove it, but Donald Trump is a human being.
The Republican debate-viewing public learned this Thursday night, when Ted Cruz was asked to explain what he meant when he said, on Tuesday, that Trump embodied “New York values,” as if that’s a bad thing.
When the Texas senator said that, he was responding to Trump playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at campaign rallies in an effort to needle Cruz for being born in Canada. Cruz said that perhaps Trump should play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” instead, a wink-wink to the folks in Iowa, no doubt, where Cruz briefly overtook Trump in the polls before the real estate magnate regained his lead this week.
“I think most people know exactly what New York values are,” Cruz told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who replied that she is a New Yorker, and she doesn’t know what that means.
“Listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York,” Cruz explained. “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.”
At the end of the day, Cruz smirked, “Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.”
Candidates pettily attacking each other over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things is the definition of the modern debate. Candidate A takes dig at Candidate B, who uses his or her speaking time to recite Talking Point A, which is unrelated to the topic at hand, but who cares? Rinse, repeat.
The race for the Republican nomination has, in recent weeks, seemed to narrow down to Trump and Cruz, with the other candidates fading into the background. And as Trump has begun to feel threatened by his former friend (Cruz was for a time the only candidate who refused to criticize Trump; conventional wisdom said it was because he planned to inherit Trump’s voters when he inevitably bowed out), Trump has ginned up controversy over Cruz’s place of birth. The man who once sent private investigators to Hawaii to search for President Obama’s birth certificate is now loudly wondering whether Cruz is really eligible to be president.
It seemed like a given that, in response to Cruz’s slight, Trump might call him a maple syrup-guzzling loser who can’t stay on top of the polls in Iowa and would never make America great again like The Donald will.
But when the attention turned to Trump, something unexpected happened.
First, he corrected Cruz—Manhattan produces conservatives, he said, “including William F. Buckley and others” (and what kind of Democrat would name-drop William F. Buckley?), and then he seemed to stand up taller.
“He insulted a lot of people,” Trump said of Cruz. “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.”
The crowd applauded and, as if to admit defeat, so did Cruz.
“You had two 110-story buildings come crashing 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,” Trump said.
“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.”
Cruz just looked at the camera with a nervous smile. Suddenly his suit seemed too tight.