Some will call it an act of consummate political courage: refusing at the onset of a presidential debate to rule out the chance of running as a third party candidate. When pressed, Donald Trump, as is his wont, did not back down. He did not seem to care that a third party candidacy would put another Democrat in the White House.
Others will call it a threat, worthy of a bully. Donald Trump opened the debate by saying: my way or I might well destroy you. In some quarters, people respond well to such bravado.
Couple that with a bullying retort to Megyn Kelly and you get a picture of an insecure candidate, whose petulance has somehow allowed him to amass a bevy of fawning admirers.
Some think it’s straight talk, a welcome reprieve from the stifling inanities of political correctness. And yet, there is no special virtue in being a rude and crude bully.
Sad to say, if your candidacy does not contain very much substance and if you have no real command of the issues, you have little other choice than to attack, demean and insult people. After the debate Trump called pollster Frank Luntz: “a low class slob” and retweeted a remark to the effect that Kelly was a “bimbo.”
If you have no class, at least pretend that you do.
If you are that thin skinned and that prone to become lathered up over a debate, then perhaps you should find another line of work. Trump was the one candidate who did not demonstrate the kind of self-assured confidence and command of his brief that one expects in a president. For that, he followers love him.
When Megyn Kelly called out Trump on his insulting statements about women, he first offered a great retort, suggesting that he was thinking about Rosie O’Donnell, but then he took out after Kelly, suggesting that if she didn’t like it, it was too bad. Later, Trump added, in a slightly whiny tone, that she had not been very nice to him.
In many cases, certainly in her question about Trump’s vulgar put downs of women, she was just quoting him.
Trump seems to operate by the law of the talion: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever happened to: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Surely, what Kelly said is a lot less nice than what opposition research will dig up about Donald Trump. He should be able to answer them without attacking the questioner.
In effect, the moderators were not especially nice to Mr. Trump. But, niceness has not been Trump’s stock-in-trade. He tends toward the vulgar and boorish, to say nothing of gross generalizations: all Mexican politicians are brilliant and all American politicians are stupid. If that is the case, why are so many Mexicans trying to leave their country and to come here. If that is the case, why is Mexico such a dismal failure? In addition, as Marco Rubio sagely noted, most of the people who have recently been coming here are Central Americans.
Anyway, Trump’s loyalty to the Republican Party being what it is, Kelly was also correct to ask him: “When did you actually become a Republican?”
As the old saying goes: if you can’t handle Megyn Kelly, what makes you think that you can deal with world leaders?
Those who believe that Trump is well placed to be a conservative standard bearer might note that the National Review has been among his staunchest critics. Kevin Williamson’s take-down—linked on yesterday’s Trump post—was far more brutal than anything coming from the left.
This morning Rich Lowry comments on the debate spectacle:
From the very beginning you could tell that Trump on a debate stage was going to play much differently than Trump has the last several weeks. It’s one thing to flirt with a third-party run in statements to the press and another to say you’re considering it while participating in a Republican presidential debate. Same with bragging about buying off politicians, and taking advantage of bankruptcy procedures. He, of course, couldn’t answer about his evidence that the Mexican government is pushing people over the border. And his slap at Megyn Kelly was a classic case of not knowing your audience. The last month has been Trump making the rest of the field look small; tonight was the opposite.
He, of course, couldn’t answer about his evidence that the Mexican government is pushing people over the border. And his slap at Megyn Kelly was a classic case of not knowing your audience. The last month has been Trump making the rest of the field look small; tonight was the opposite.
The biggest winner? The Fox moderators who were prepared, tough, and fair.
The moderators are professional journalists. No one should have been surprised that they acquitted themselves as such. The leftist slander of Fox journalists as Republican toadies is so entrenched that people are surprised when they act professionally. No one should be.
Some conservative commentators criticized the Fox moderators for their tough questioning, but nearly all of the candidates were prepared to address them. The overall quality of the Republican candidates is exceptional; unfortunately, they are, for now, being overshadowed by Trump.
In New York Magazine Gabriel Sherman wrote about the conflict between Trump and Fox News:
Having spent the past six weeks rhetorically slashing at his Republican rivals, it makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would eventually run out of targets and find himself in a war with the party’s media arm: Fox News. At the GOP primary debate Thursday night in Cleveland, Trump’s on-stage clashes with the Fox moderators, and his post-debate complaints about the network’s treatment of him, were among the most talked about storylines to emerge from the Quicken Loans Arena.
If your take-away from the debate is that the moderators were not very nice to you, you do not look like a winner. You look like a whiner.
Commenting on Brett Baier’s opening question, question that created a moment of great political drama, Sherman notes:
The audience howled and hissed. Trump glared back like he was negotiating a thorny contract dispute. Whether Ailes scripted this or not, it was a triumph. While Trump may see politics as a negotiation, Ailes surely knew that the thousands of Republicans packed into the stands do not. So far, Trump has succeeded by presenting himself as the anti-politician who would save the country. Tonight, he looked like a spoiler.
Trump is very good at the media. After all, he is a brilliant marketer. But, Roger Ailes is very good himself. Whoever scripted that opening moment got the better of Donald Trump. When the audience boos you, it’s not a victory… even if Ann Coulter thinks it is.
Frank Bruni should not have been surprised by the Fox moderators, but he was honest enough to give them great credit for a job well done:
On Thursday night in Cleveland, the Fox News moderators did what only Fox News moderators could have done, because the representatives of any other network would have been accused of pro-Democratic partisanship.
They took each of the 10 Republicans onstage to task. They held each of them to account. They made each address the most prominent blemishes on his record, the most profound apprehensions that voters feel about him, the greatest vulnerability that he has.
It was riveting. It was admirable. It compels me to write a cluster of words I never imagined writing: hooray for Fox News.
Bruni accepts that the network was trying to produce enough drama to keep the nation’s eyes glued to their screens. And yet, there was more to it:
But Fox accomplished something important. It prevented the Republican contenders from relying on sound bites and hewing to scripts that say less about their talents and more about the labors of their well-paid handlers.
And the questions that the moderators asked weren’t just discomfiting, humiliating ones. They were the right ones, starting with a brilliant opener: Was there any candidate who was unwilling to pledge support to the eventual Republican nominee and swear off a third-party run?
The questions may have been discomfiting, but I did not find them humiliating. They were focused, direct and brought out issues that will certainly be used by any Democrat in a general election.
Do Republicans want a candidate who does not believe in an abortion exception for rape, incest and the life of the mother? Scott Walker does not. When he was pressed on the point, he did not back down, even when he was asked about the possibility of sacrificing a woman’s life.
Walker said that there were other alternatives, which might be true. But, you know and I know that, if he is the candidate, this issue will very likely sink his candidacy. Remember Todd Akin….
Bruni believes that, from the onset, Trump was unmasked and that the rest of the debate focused on substantive disagreements and probing questions about candidate records:
And thus, in the first minute of the debate, Trump was undressed and unmasked, and he stood there as the unprincipled, naked egomaniac that he is. He never quite recovered. His admission of political infidelity was the prism through which all of his subsequent bluster had to be viewed.
By putting the candidates on the defensive and on edge, Fox created the mood for an exchange as raw and revealing as one between Christie and Rand Paul over national security, federal eavesdropping and the collection of personal data.
That back-and-forth was debate platinum, because it was simultaneously fiery and substantive, impassioned and important, a perfect distillation of the two sides of an essential, necessary argument.
I would agree with Bruni and with Lowry and with the Wall Street Journal that Trump lost. Why else would he have been up at 3:00 a.m. tweeting insults. Of course, many of us have been wrong about this for so long, that we ought to stop predicting it.
Bruni offers this assessment of Trump’s debate performance:
I do think that Trump lost: He said nothing, not one syllable, that infused his candidacy with any of the gravitas that it sorely needs, and there was something pouty and petulant about his whole performance. Some of his rivals managed, even under the Fox fire, to look grateful to be there and to enjoy themselves, at least a bit. Marco Rubio did.
As it happens Rubio did exceptionally well, as did Ted Cruz. The latter did not receive as much attention and Bruni forgot that he was there, but Cruz is exceptionally smart and exceptionally talented.
I suspect that a lot of people barely noticed that Jeb Bush was there, either. His answers were too defensive to make him appear like a leader.
And of course, the evening’s most impressive zinger came from Mike Huckabee. Not for nothing has Huckabee been noted as a great communicator:
It seems like this election has been a whole lot on a person who has been very high in the polls, who doesn’t have a clue about how to govern, a person who has been filled with scandals and could not lead. And of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.
As for who does have a clue about how to govern, the predicate does describe a number of Republican candidates, especially those whose candidacies are based on their performance as government officials. Somehow or other conservatism should have some relationship to experience and competence. It's not all about good ideas or bad behavior.
Everyone was impressed by Carly Fiorina’s performance at the earlier debate, but there is no chance that she could be nominated or elected. And there is no real chance that she could govern the nation effectively.
Of those who are running on achievement the strongest was obviously John Kasich, a man who did well enough to move on to the next round. Kasich made himself sound like a moderate alternative to Jeb Bush and many people believe he succeeded at that.
Allow Bruni the last word:
Candidates should have to convince us. They should square their slogans with their records, and that’s what Fox made them do. On this night, the network that pampers Republicans provoked them instead. It was great television, and even better politics.