WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2015 — Anticipating last Thursday’s first Republican debate, political pundits expected that the snarling lips of Donald Trump would foam with “foot in mouth” disease.
They were not disappointed.
It was the demonstration of Trump’s unique ability to go ludicrous, getting the cameras turned in his direction, that became the focus of national attention. After stating that Sen. John McCain was no war hero because he “got caught,” he pushed the envelope of incredulity by adding, “I like heroes who didn’t get caught.”
The irony of the situation is that after spouting nonsense that no thinking person would use as talking points in a presidential race, Trump went up in the polls. If Jeb or Ted or even Rand had said those same words, their campaign offices would be padlocked and they would be looking for asylum in a neutral country.
His opponents, most of whom expressed outrage at his off-the-diamond-cufflink remarks, headed in the opposite direction, proving that for millions of Americans tired of politicians as usual, Trump is a welcome diversion.
As he approached the debate’s seemingly uncrossable precipice of confronting reality with hyperbole, Trump sought to tone it down a bit. He admitted that he was a berater, not a debater, and he had lower expectations of his upcoming performance in the debates.
He even passed an olive branch to his Republican opponents, saying that it was “ highly unlikely” that he would attack members of his own party, reminiscent of the poem, “The Spider and the Fly.”
Trump went on to address illegal immigration, arriving in Texas in his private jet in advance of a tour of the Mexican border. That trip caused trepidation from those who support amnesty for those millions of people who live in the United States illegally.
For the most part, illegal immigrants in this country do not vote in presidential elections, a fact which obviously has not escaped Trump’s shrewd attention. When he addressed the issue, he informed the world that he employed many Hispanics, and that we needed to build a better wall, with a door for legal immigration, citing his extensive experience in building hotels and casinos.
Nobody took him to task on addressing the issue of legal immigration, but the photo opportunity and sound byte were in the can.
On debate day, Trump took on his opponents in an unexpectedly mild, even subdued way. He tweaked Rubio for having worse hair than his, to laughter from the audience, but it was his responses to moderator Megyn Kelly’s questions about party loyalty and his attitudes about women that entered the consciousness of the audience.
He got called out on the carpet for his stances on issues and his past record, all fair game in a run for the White House, and he didn’t like it. Not one little bit.
In a debate, hyperbole gives way to discussion. It was clear that Donald was not prepared to discuss anything. He was thrown back on his heels by a woman, an attack-dog woman, granted, but one with impeccable credentials as an interviewer.
Megyn Kelly is an attorney with a record of asking hard, direct questions, and it was clear that hyperbole and showmanship would not satisfy her when she was in cross-examination mode. Good trial attorneys know when they have their opponent on the ropes, and she didn’t back off from the pummeling.
While Jeb Bush looked on in the background like a librarian in the headlights, Kelly went on the attack, and Trump was called to task to explain his positions on health care and immigration, reeling at each question.
His response to the question about his comments about women, “I say what I say, and if you don’t like it,” was the debate-equivalent of a boxer falling to his knees after an unexpected punch in the gut.
Trump’s reaction to Kelly’s questions tells more about his true character than his responses. The next day, he described her as a bimbo who lost the debate. He went on to cast aspersions about her hormonal condition during the debate, a comment that prompted his removal from the RedState forum.
The Trump campaign then described the forum’s organizer as a “loser.” This was followed by the departure of a top Trump adviser from the campaign. The advisor says he quit. Trump says he was fired.
No amount of campaign advertising can supply the American voter with so much entertainment so early in the race. This is still in the entertainment stage of the 2016 presidential race, though the press, parties and pollsters are intent upon predicting a victor.
Many voters intend to let the entertainment stage extend to at least the Iowa caucus, and maybe beyond. In the meantime, the Republican Party and Fox owe Trump a debt of gratitude. This debate had the highest ratings for a Fox News program in history.
At this early stage of the election process, the prospect of a Republican debate without Trump’s showmanship would have been as appealing to the public as watching a congressional committee meeting on voter redistricting on C-Span.
Foot-in-mouth disease has begun to spread like any other political epidemic. The irony is that with his every gaffe, Trump rises in the polls while politically correct and safe candidates slip back.
Where it will end is a guess, but soon we will see flow-charts tracking the advance. Other candidates may begin to intentionally gaffe their way through the primaries to keep up, infected by Trump’s election strategy.
Keep in mind that one of the survivors of the election will become the next leader of our country.
After the primary results take us from the first 20 to the final two or three, the campaign goes into direct confrontation mode. If Donald Trump survives the primaries, the entertainment value will certainly bring higher ratings than “The Apprentice” had.