So I did my civic duty and watched the first debate of the Republican primaries last night. There were really no surprises. Almost all the speakers responded to each question with a brief general statement vaguely related to the question before using it to segue quickly to a recitation of prepared talking points touting their records, such as they are, on issues that may or may not have had anything to do with the question. There were the expected denunciations of president Obama, Hillary Clinton, Planned Parenthood, abortions, Obamacare, and the Iran deal, and calls for strengthening the military, building walls to keep out undocumented immigrants, and waging vigorous war against terrorism and in the Middle East.
Noticeably absent were any questions on climate change, income inequality, contraception, or what they would do about the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country.
What was clear was that the moderators seemed to be targeting Donald Trump for tougher questions and some follow-ups, while allowing the others to elide the issues. This suggests that Fox News‘s Roger Ailes who decides what the network’s policies should be and tells its on-air personalities what tack to take, has decided that they need to get Trump out of the race.
The first question was whether any of them would not promise to support the eventual Republican nominee and only Trump raised his hand to a mixture of cheers and boos. Other questions to Trump included quotes about his obnoxious statements describing women. That clearly annoyed Trump though he was unapologetic about them and issued a vague threat to questioner Megyn Kelly that he had been nice to her in the past though that might change. There were no questions to the candidates about their actual actions and policies that are seriously harmful to women.
Will these attacks harm Trump’s standing in the polls? Going by past performance, the answer is no. In fact, being attacked by the media is often a plus for a Republican candidate, though it is better if the critics are in the ‘liberal’ media which is defined as anyone other than Fox News and the right wing echo chamber.
As to the other candidates, only John Kasich and Rand Paul tried to distinguish themselves from the pack. Kasich was clearly aiming for the ‘compassionate conservative’ label and defended his decision to accept Medicaid expansion and acceptance of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. He said that though he believed that marriage was between a man and a woman, he did not feel that this prevented from loving people as they are and spoke about his recently attending the same-sex wedding of a friend.
Paul tried to repair the damage he had done to the civil liberties and foreign policies that had once distinguished him from the rest and endeared him to the ardent supporters of his father Ron Paul and that was his stances against the vacuuming up of people’s communications data by the NSA and avoiding new wars in the Middle East. He tried to resurrect those but his performance was a little erratic and confused.
As to the others, Chris Christie did his usual obnoxious and pugnacious schtick, Jeb Bush was blah, Ben Carson spoke in vague and somewhat incoherent generalities, Mike Huckabee was his usual unlikable self, Scott Walker came across as smarmy and slick, Marco Rubio looked like a little boy who had accidentally wandered into a room full of adults, and Ted Cruz’s performance and comments were so forgettable that this morning I had trouble remembering him as the tenth person in the debate.
I doubt that this debate will change anyone’s minds. I suspect that Trump will use the attacks on him by the moderators and some of the other panelists to burnish his credentials as the true outsider, running against the political and media establishment. You can get a lot of mileage out of that.