Yikes. Lincoln and Douglas have nothing to worry about.
After too many hours watching too many Republican candidates across two debates, I’m exhausted and depressed. So I’ll just give you some bulletins:
It’s possible that the Great Trump Scare of 2015 is over, or at least that Thursday night’s GOP debate in Cleveland marked the beginning of the end. Donald Trump was awful. Of course, it’s natural that I would think that, but Fox News had Frank Luntz empanel one of his focus groups and most of those who entered the evening as Trump backers were no longer on board that train when the evening ended.
If Trump is indeed going to shrink, the Fox News crowd seemed to have played a heavy role. The very first question in the “Top 10” debate asked that any of the candidates who were not prepared to support the eventual Republican nominee and who would not promise to forego an independent candidacy must raise his hand. Trump was the only one who raised his hand, which was quite predictable since he has previously on several occasions refused to make that promise and has held out the possibility that he might run as an independent.
Moderator Bret Baier then confronted Trump with the possibility that such a decision might increase the chances of a Democrat winning the election. Trump said yes, he understood, but he still refused to take the pledge “at this time,” he said, until he sees who gets nominated instead of him.
In the post-debate coverage, when Luntz questioned his focus group about why they had turned against Trump, this seemed to be the big moment (although, in truth, Trump seemed to shrink to mortal proportions over the course of the night as it became obvious that he was not particularly versed on many issues).
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly “asked” Trump about the fact that he has publicly referred to various women as “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” Trump, in defense, said that “the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
Every Republican who spoke about it opposes the deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Several said they would void the deal with an executive order, some on the first day they took office. Trump’s response to the question about the Iran deal went like this: “We have a president who doesn’t have a clue. I would say he’s incompetent, but I won’t do that because it’s not nice.”
Every Republican who has a tax plan wants to dramatically lower the top marginal income-tax rate. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (who participated in the early debate for those who didn’t poll in the top 10) wants a flat tax of 20 percent on everyone (he’s calling it the “20-20 perfect vision for America”), which would cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson actually favors a 10 percent tax on everyone (“if you make $10 billion, you pay $1 billion; if you make $10, you pay $1”), which would be a tax cut for almost everyone, but he didn’t say anything about making up the lost revenue. He called his plan “tithing” and said it was God’s plan. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee wants to do away with the income tax entirely and finance the government with sales taxes.
Carly Fiorina’s moment
The Fox crowd also seemed very excited about former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. She didn’t make the cut to the main stage but participated in the earlier debate with the seven poll losers. Personally, I thought seven losers were about as impressive as the 10 winners, but I didn’t notice anything special about Fiorina’s answers compared to the others. But the Fox instant-analysis experts raved about her performance in the post-debate coverage.
In a weird segment where the moderators of the headliner debate were schmoozing live on camera with the top 10 candidates whose debate they were about to moderate, Kelly actually told the assembled candidates that they were lucky they didn’t have to face Fiorina because during the early debate Fiorina had “opened up a can of … [pause while searched for the perfect word, then she came up with] something.”
And a final observation: Huckabee introduced an idea I hadn’t heard before for getting around the abortion rights established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. He suggested that, as president, he would invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment rights of the unborn children to “equal protection” of the laws and to their rights not to be deprived of their lives without due process. “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being,” Huckabee explained.
A couple of morning after addenda:
*Trump went after Megyn Kelly on Twitter overnight, calling her a bimbo (that was a retweet) among other things. He also attacked Frank Luntz, who ran the focus group, suggesting that Luntz had chosen a Trump-hating focus group because Trump had rejected him years ago when Luntz wanted some consulting work.
*Trump said “our system is totally broken” because when candidates accept money from candidates, they always do the donors bidding. His practice, he said, is to give to every politician who asks him and then, “when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.” Then one of the moderators asked what favors he had received in exchange for the donations he had given to Hillary Clinton. He replied: ” Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”