Recap and Analysis From the First Republican Primary Debate
by Tom Donelson on August 9, 2015 at 10:18 AM
The first debate has passed and each of us have our own determination of who was the winner, but it will take some time before we know how these debates will change the course of the campaign. The proverbial 800 pound gorilla was Donald Trump, whose star-like presence helped Fox News attract the biggest audience for any debate as the two separate debates attracted a total of 24 million viewers. Even the initial debate featuring the seven candidates who didn’t make the cut ranked as the third largest audience for a primary debate, and the primetime debate set all kind of records. The Trump effect helped Fox, and the Trump attack on Fox will continue to drive folks to Fox news
The full Donald was on parade, with all of the bluster and to paraphrase George Will, the continuation of the fact free campaign. While many have complained about Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Brett Baier's questions, many of those questions made sense, and Trump was not the only one who got his share of tough questions. The opening question was a legitimate question and Trump made it clear that he won’t rule out an independent run if he is not nominated or if Republicans don’t treat him "kindly.” This should send a signal, even to the most loyal Trump follower, about Trump's commitment to defeating Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Brett Baier even made the point that even if this means Hillary Clinton's election, are you willing to follow a candidate who is perfectly willing to allow Hillary to win? Fox News exposed, Trump’s supporters must decide.
There is no doubt that Trump is a star as well as the consummate salesman and dealer. He treats this campaign as just another role to play, and his threat to leave is designed to give him leverage for “better treatment,” whatever that means. But what should bother any serious voter is not as much his view point or knowledge of the issues but his temperament and his inability to put a filter on what he says or tweets.
The real problem with Trump is his thin-skin as he simply spent the post-debate complaining about Fox News' mistreatment of him, including retweeting a comment calling Kelly a bimbo. Trump admitted that he gave money to Democrats and added that he received favors from those he gave money to, and Hillary Clinton came to his wedding after a donation to the foundation. So while making the case that politicians are whores, he admitted that he is a crony capitalist. Then later on when he was questioned on bankruptcy, he stated that he used the bankruptcy to his benefits and many of his investors lost billions while he escaped. He seemed proud of the fact that his investors lost their shirts and made the case, it is not like they weren’t deserving of their fate. What I learned is not to invest in a Trump business since you may lose your shirt and Trump will laugh all the way to the bank at your expense. Is this the man to lead the fight against the establishment since he has been enriched by working with the establishment? As for Fox News, Nate Silver noted that for a Republican to declare war on Fox News is hardly a smart strategy over the long haul of the primary season since the one network that Republicans do trust is Fox News. Trump may get a short bump from the debate, but the seeds of the demise in his run for the Republican Presidency have been laid.
So who did win? Carly Fiornia was a big winner since she dominated the opening debate with a masterful performance. She is the anti-politician who rose from being a secretary to the head of a major corporation. She understands the working man and woman since she began her career as one and yet, she is a master of policy details. No one can out wonk Fiorina and she has no problem with beating up Hillary. You know you have won when another candidate (Rick Perry) stated that she should have negotiated with the Iranians. Just like Ben Carson, Fiorina is the anti-Trump among those citizen-politicians running. She is sharp and tough as she demolished Chris Matthews in a post-debate confrontation in which Matthews cried uncle. One pundit called her the Rhonda Rousey of politics.
Marco Rubio showed in the second debate that he is deft and a good spokesperson for conservatism, ditto for Ted Cruz. This was a debate with most of the candidates doing well but sometimes it is not that you did well, but that the other guy shined. Rubio shined whereas Bush was competent, but with Trump on stage, this was a night that competency was not enough. Bush's major problem may come in the form of John Kasich, who not only did well but gave the establishment an alternative to Bush. If I was a donor who was part of those who gave some 100 million plus to Bush, I would be worried about my investment. Kasich outshined Bush, and if Kasich ever takes the lead over Bush in New Hampshire, then it could be adios for Bush.
Rick Perry is another who did well but again, he was overshadowed by Fiornia and that is too bad. If Perry performed this well in 2012, he could have beaten Romney in the primaries, but on this night, he was competing against the deepest Republican candidates in a generation.
For me the biggest winners were Rubio, Fiornia and Kasich, since they opened eyes to a large segment of Republicans. Trump did poorly on policy but on gamesmanship, he still excelled; but how long will the Trump show last if he continues to act in boorish fashion? When do Republican supporters of Trump decide enough is enough? If Trump had simply stated that he won the debate and moved on, he would be sitting pretty but when Red State, a leading conservative blog, disinvites you because they had enough, then you are in trouble. One of Trump’s campaign staffers quit shortly after. (Even though Trump stated that he fired the former staffer, Roger Stone.)
Walker didn’t make any errors and did little to hurt or help himself but Bush could be a loser if Kasich takes off since it is Bush that Kasich takes votes from. We will have another debate in September to see if Bush can re-establish himself as the establishment candidate.
As for Fox News, it is not their duty to give the candidates a night off. Anyone who has ever watch Megyn Kelly will know that she is tough on all of her guests. Just ask Dick Cheney during a debate on Obama’s Iraq policies when she attacked him fiercely for his role in the Iraq war. She considers herself an independent so anyone surprised at her questions simply never watch her show. Chris Wallace, like his dad, is a liberal and who knows what Brett Baier is since he has never disclosed his own personal views. They asked tough questions and if the Democrats would ever allow Fox News to do one of their debates, they would be just as tough with their question to Hillary and the rest of the Democratic band of candidates. The questions asked were logical, and Republicans need to be toughened up since the rest of the media is even worse than what they got from Fox News Thursday night.