The Trump Hurricane Hits The First GOP Debate

It's a Donald Trump debate, where the facts are made up and the truth doesn't matter.

GOP Debate Aug 15

Five hours after what I suppose you would call the “also ran” crowd held their debate in an obviously empty cavernous stadium, the top ten Republican candidates for President met in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio for what I can only describe as an utterly surreal debate that centered in large part around Donald Trump:

Shedding any pretense of civility and party unity, Donald J. Trumpoverwhelmed the first Republican presidential debate on Thursday night by ripping into his rivals and the moderators alike, but also drew fire fromJeb Bush and other rivals who are seeking to stop Mr. Trump’s breathtaking surge.

Mr. Trump displayed his trademark pugnacity from the start with a bravura moment: refusing to rule out a third-party run for the presidency if he does not win the party’s nomination. Facing loud boos from audience members in a Cleveland sports arena, he held his hand up in defiance as several other Republicans looked flabbergasted.

“I have to respect the person that, if it’s not me, the person that wins,” said Mr. Trump, the billionaire businessman and reality television star who has attracted legions of fans in part by attacking traditional politicians like Mr. Bush, who Mr. Trump has said should not be president. He then quipped, “If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent.”

In the first of several freewheeling moments in the debate, Mr. Trump’s statement drew an instant, contemptuous retort from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who nodded to Mr. Trump’s past donations to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“He buys and sells politicians of all stripes,” Mr. Paul said. “So if he doesn’t run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton, or maybe he runs as an independent?”

Mr. Trump — whose withering put-downs have become legendary, his favorite pejorative being “loser” — was true to form in dismissing Mr. Paul.

“Well, I’ve given him plenty of money,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s outsize presence in the two-hour debate, shown on Fox News, was an emphatic reminder that, after eight years out of power, Republicans’ quest to regain the presidency will be complicated in the months ahead by their own internal divisions. While Mr. Trump may not ultimately become the nominee, his appeal among some conservatives has underscored how hungry many in the party’s base are for an uncompromising and authentic figure who will challenge the political order.

Unpredictable and often rambunctious, the Republican gathering was anything but a tentative affair, unlike so many other first debates of campaign cycles. Mr. Trump repeatedly made the most of his center-stage position, and ensured he would star in weeks of video clips.

In addition to refusing to rule out a third-party bid and sparring with the Fox News moderators, he boasted that the Clintons attended his third wedding because he demanded it and said, “Our politicians are stupid” while dismissing President George W. Bush’s tenure as “a catastrophe.”

Even as some of the other Republicans showed moments of strength, with Mr. Paul frequently going on the attack, it was little match for the bombast of Mr. Trump.

Establishment-oriented Republicans had hoped that two terms of President Obama would make grass-roots activists pragmatic about 2016, perhaps rallying around a well-known, well-financed candidate like Mr. Bush. But the popularity of Mr. Trump’s message suggested that the party’s rank-and-file were just as interested in finding a pugilist.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush, who have been lashing out at each other for weeks, mostly over tone and fitness to be president, barely tangled at all. But near the end of the debate, in a moment that encapsulated the race, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Trump, who has portrayed some Mexican immigrants as rapists, was a “divisive” figure who would ensure that Republicans continued to lose.

“I want to win,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re not going to win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day: dividing the country, saying, creating a grievance kind of environment. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message.”

Mr. Trump shot back that the threats against the United States were too urgent for such concerns about “tone.”

“When you have people that are cutting Christians’ heads off, when you have a world at the border and at so many places that it’s medieval times,” Mr. Trump said, “we don’t have time for tone — we have to go out and get the job done.”

The exchange of fire between Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush — the dominant figures in the race, and two American household names — offered a preview of the broader debate to come between Republicans who believe the party must be more inclusive to win the presidency again and those determined to speak to the boiling anger in the conservative grass roots. Few of the fights were over policy, however: Mr. Trump, for one, offered few substantive details about his plans for the country.

A trio of Fox News moderators, delving deep into the records of the 10 candidates, posed a series of difficult questions, while also trying, with occasional success, to provoke arguments among them over areas of disagreement. In the first question directly to Mr. Trump, for instance, Megyn Kelly cited his negative comments about some women, whom he has called “fat pigs” and “slobs,” before Mr. Trump cut her off.

“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” he said, clearly looking for a laugh.

“For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell,” Ms. Kelly said.

“Yes, I’m sure it was,” Mr. Trump replied, before offering an explanation that reflected his tell-it-like-it-is sensibilities.

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” he said. “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble.” He went on to complain about rough treatment by Ms. Kelly.

The biggest surprise of the night, although I suppose given the person we’re talking about it’s not really a surprise, came at the beginning when Trump said that he would not rule out the idea of running as a third-party candidate or endorsing someone other than the nominee of the part whose nomination he is seeking. In a rational universe, of course, this should have immediately excluded from being considered a serious contender for the GOP nomination,. In fact, as I have noted before, the Federal Election Commission’s rules that govern party debates allow for the exclusion of candidates that refuse to rule out running against the party’s eventual nominee. The truth of the matter, of course, is that the Republican Parry recognizes that Donald Trump has tapped into the hardcore right wing base of the Republican Party, which is largely fueled by populism, xenophobia, and a complete contempt for the so-called “establishment.” Because of that, condemning Trump, even when he says on a public stage that he is not willing to support the Republican nominee unless it happens to him, is apparently too much of a political liability for the Republican Party even when he personally insults one of the prime time news hosts on Fox News Channel.

In any case, beyond Trump’s theatrics, the prime time debate had some other interesting sparks. Perhaps the best came in an exchange between Rand Paul and Chris Christie that centered on civil liberties and the “War On Terror,” in which, at least in my opinion, the Senator from Kentucky got the better of the Governor of New Jersey. Jeb Bush had his own moments, including in response to question regarding his family, his position on immigration reform, and his position on education. To give credit to the former Florida Governor, he did not repudiate his former positions on immigration and education notwithstanding the prevailing political zeitgeist in the Republican Party. Florida Senator Marco Rubio also did fairly well, especially on foreign policy question, but like most of the other candidates on the stage, he came across rather flat. Much the same goes for the rest of the candidate’s on the stage, but perhaps that isn’t surprising because, in the end, this was the Donald Trump debate

In the end, there is nothing that happened in the Republican debate that was not answered withing the first three minutes. As soon as Donald Trump refused to rule the idea that he might run as a third-party candidate. From that moment, the entire tone of the debate changed. The crowd in the Quicken Loans Arena, which presumably included people who supported Trump, reacted overwhelmingly negatively when Trump answered the question, and from that point forward it seemed as though he had lost the crowd’s support. The exchange with Megyn Kelly about his obviously misogynistic comments over the years only seemed to seal the deal. At the point, the only question is whether anything that happened tonight, and the inevitable largely negative coverage that will follow, will hurt his campaign. A month ago, we all thought that insulting John McCain’s military service would be the end of Donald Trump. That didn’t happen. For that reason alone, I have no reason to believe that this is the end of the Trump fiasco.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Roger Ailes sicced his dogs on The Donald tonight. The Establishment is making its move.

    I think Christie outperformed. Kasich worries me. Walker looks like Alfred E. Neuman after about half a joint. As for Jeb, is his family being held hostage somewhere? He looks distracted, barely-involved. My wife’s remark was that Rubio looked like a kid waiting for Batman.

    I don’t think Trump did at all well because I don’t think his schtick worked. I don’t think he’ll drop off a cliff, but I’ll bet he’s closer to 15% in a week’s time. I’ll bet Kasich’s in double digits within that same week.

  2. David M says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’ve read several places that Kasich looked less awful than most up there. Apparently none of them really impressed on foreign policy.

  3. Matt says:

    @michael reynolds: Kasich has definitely been on my worry list. I was really hoping for him to fail.

    The rest don’t look like they could beat Hillary.

  4. dazedandconfused says:

    My gut tells me the 26% of “Republicans” who supported Trump before tonight will view this performance as confirmation and aren’t going anywhere. He may even pick up a point of two but he’s mighty close to the ceiling of what his act can accomplish. Not anywhere close to enough to win nomination.

    We will see.

  5. Lit3Bolt says:

    In any case, beyond Trump’s theatrics

    Don’t think we’re there quite yet.

    It’ll take time, but the call to/from Bill Clinton will eventually penetrate the lizard brains to the fact that they are being played…unless Trump stands by his racism schtick. But I expect that to be harped on all weekend.

    Christie reminded everyone of his once-relevence, but if you’re too unpopular to carry your state, there’s no point in having you on the ballot.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it really comes down to whether the bulk of the Republican party is the xenophobic, belligerent, “don’t bother me with the facts!” base, or whether there are sufficient rational people around.

    Speaking of non-rational, have you seen what Pyongyang has been up to with its time zones? What surprises me is that there are some people down in South Korea who think that moving your time zone off by 30 minutes is something South Korea should do as well. (Dudes, you want to be an integral number of hours off from other time zones if you have any slippage. Otherwise you just piss off everyone else and make it harder to do business with you.)

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s a Donald Trump debate, where the facts are made up and the truth doesn’t matter.

    How is that different from any other GOP debate?

    At the point, the only question is whether anything that happened tonight, and the inevitable largely negative coverage that will follow, will hurt his campaign.

    Drudge’s online post debate poll:

    Trump 50% ◄
    Cruz 13%
    Carson 8%
    Rubio 8%
    Baby Doc 7%
    Kasich 4%
    Huckabee 3%
    Walker 3%
    Jeb! 2% ◄
    Christie 1%

    For whatever that is worth.

  8. Tony W says:

    “I want to win,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re not going to win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day: dividing the country, saying, creating a grievance kind of environment. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message.”

    This is rich coming from a Bush.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    an uncompromising and authentic figure

    C’mon…this is bull-puckey.
    Trump has been on both sides of almost every issue. If that’s not compromising, what is?
    And how does a guy with the worlds worst comb-over get to be authentic?
    Trump is a phony and a blowhard. let’s call him what he is.

  10. Todd says:

    Doug,

    I know you liked the exchange between Rand Paul and Chris Christie, but in all honesty, I thought Rand Paul’s statement “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,” Was every bit as ridiculous as Chris Christie said it was.

    This is the paradox of “privacy concerned” Americans in the age of the war on terror. On the one hand, we want our government to be omniscient when it comes to any and all potential terrorist threats … while simultaneously never, ever, ever collecting any information from “good” people (presumably me and people I like).

    I think you’re smart enough to know that we can’t have it both it ways. In an ideal world, we probably would lean more towards the side of honoring individual liberty and privacy, and just accept that doing so also probably means an increased risk of terrorist attacks. But we all know we don’t live in an ideal world, and as long as the majority of the American people expect the government to continue to be as lucky as we’ve been since 9/11, it’s going to have to mean that my privacy, and yours gets violated (at least a little bit) … in addition to the privacy of the “bad” guys we’re trying to stop.

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I don’t think it’s worth much. He was running that poll during the debate.

    Honestly, Doug, I have to disagree. I don’t think Trump dominated the debate at all. The only bits I can remember is the opening question and Kelly going after him for his misogyny. I had a much clearer impression of the other candidates — Kasich in particular — than the Donald.

    A lot of people noted Frank Lunt’z focus group afterward. I mean granted, it’s fricking Luntz so who knows what it represents. But they were a lot less favorable to Trump afterward. While I’m sure the “Republican are xenophobes” explanation for Trump has some appeal, I think it’s more mundane. A lot of people think the system is broken. And they’ve flooded to Trump — as they once did to Perot — because they think he’ll change the system (even though, as Kelly pointed out, he’s part of the system). I think a lot of people who aren’t political junkies watched last night and said, “Oh … is that what he’s like?”

    I don’t think he’ll fade away immediately. There’s always a political faction that equates “being an a**hole”, to use Jeb’s apt phrase, with being good for politics. But I think the field may start to thin in the next few months and we’ll see more realistic candidates emerge.

  12. Franklin says:

    @grumpy realist: Then I hope you’re in agreement with me that we should eliminate changing our clocks by an hour twice a year. Or if we are going to do it, at least go back to doing it at the same time as most other countries. You don’t know how many video conference calls have been missed due to this BS.
    (Of course, the ultimate solution is for everybody to just use GMT all the time.)

  13. DrDaveT says:

    As much as I loathe Donald Trump, I have to admire the sheer egotistical effrontery of opening up the debate by saying (effectively) “You losers need The Donald a lot more than The Donald needs you. Don’t forget it.”

    What a tool…

  14. DrDaveT says:

    The crowd in the Quicken Loans Arena, which presumably included people who supported Trump, reacted overwhelmingly negatively when Trump answered the question, and from that point forward it seemed as though he had lost the crowd’s support.

    That doesn’t sound like the debate I was watching. I heard a strong (minority) positive reaction to Trump’s answer, and a whole lot of strong positive responses to various things he said later on. Despite the fact that few of them were even coherent, much less sensible.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: Michael Steele, of all people, had a good analysis of Trump’s appeal. It’s not a generalized anti-establishment, anti-politician thing, it’s specifically Republican libertarians, evangelicals and Tea Partiers resentful of having been strung along by Republican politicians for 40 years.

  16. charon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Well, it really comes down to whether the bulk of the Republican party is the xenophobic, belligerent, “don’t bother me with the facts!” base, or whether there are sufficient rational people around.

    It is not “don’t bother me with the facts!” These are people who have their own “facts” that Fox News et al have indoctrinated them with, and they believe these “facts” fervently.

  17. Tony W says:

    @Todd: I look forward to hearing the candidate who speaks honestly about the tension between security and freedom. The political right makes their living scaring the daylights out of folks who are barely scraping by to the benefit of their benefactors, so you won’t hear it from them.

    Anybody who admits this tension exists will be slaughtered but their sacrifice would serve the country very well.

  18. CSK says:

    There’s a certain element of the Republican base that equates being a yokel (Sarah Palin) or a boor (Donald Trump) with being an “authentic” American, and crude behavior with patriotic fervor.

    It’s a class war the “base” is fighting, not an ideological war. And Trump, despite his money, is the ultimate vulgarian.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: Yes–I was in Japan when they got the brain-damaged idea to introduce Daylight Savings Time and I remember running around talking to as many mucky-mucks as would listen to me, saying “are you sure you want to do this?!” But DST == energy savings (hooray), thus the only thing that would have stopped them was Gojira and he wasn’t stomping through Tokyo just then.

    I really did honestly try, guys.

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: Didn’t someone call Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian”? Forget who.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    it’s specifically Republican libertarians, evangelicals and Tea Partiers resentful of having been strung along by Republican politicians for 40 years.

    There’s a bizarre irony in having the Republican party schism be proximately caused by a disguised Democrat.

  22. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    That was Spy magazine, back in its heyday in the 1980s. Trump hasn’t forgotten it; he’s still making occasional references to his “long, thin, elegant fingers.”

    He reminds me of that old saying: “Often wrong, but never uncertain.”

  23. mantis says:

    @CSK:

    Indeed. I just want to ask these people, “so your idea of a ‘real American’ is an insufferable a$$hole?”

  24. JohnMcC says:

    My official go-to source on Mr Trump’s political standing has an archetypal piece up regarding the “debate”: http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2015/08/07/trump-wins-post-debate-spin-blasts-frank-luntz-as-low-class-slob/

    My favorite comment (scanning the first dozen or two of almost 3 thousand):

    “….have you, Patriots, noticed how all the so-called conservative media sides with establishment repubics (sic) — I guess they got some moola infusion from the fascist/commie cabal.”

    I conclude that the Fox moderators made Mr Trump MORE appealing because now he’s the victim.

  25. DrDaveT says:

    @JohnMcC:

    the fascist/commie cabal

    Words fail. (Literally.)