His voice dropped, his hands stayed on the podium mostly as he recalled those painful moments of the September 11 terrorist attacks seared into the nation’s conscience forever.
Donald Trump, who has dominated the Republican race for the White House, was most unlike himself, as one commentator pointed out, and won the moment and the debate.
“You had two 110-storey 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.”
Trump was replying to a charge from Ted Cruz that he was not conservative enough — a frequent feeling on the party’s right — “not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan”.
Trump was ready for it, with a September 11 card.
Charles Krauthammer, a leading conservative pundit who doesn’t like Trump much, was impressed and called the moment “electric”. Another anti-Trump conservative said, “He crushed it.”
Cruz, Trump’s closest rival in the race and the man at the other end of his diatribe, was left speechless, and that’s something as he is a formidable debater going back to his college days.
Experts and commentators were split on who won the sixth Republican debate on Thursday night — some said they thought Cruz won with his quick repartee and aggression.
Cruz turned the “birther” issue, for instance, to hit Trump, saying he was born to a Scottish mother. Trump has said Cruz’s birth in Canada imperils his chances of becoming president.
Cruz’s comeback on Thursday night did rattle Trump a bit, who mumbled that he was born here in the US unlike Cruz — “big difference” — but he recovered soon enough.
Whatever the score, their “bromance” seems over.