What the first primary debate may have been most helpful in clarifying is where Fox News is placing its bets. I tuned in to the debate just a few minutes before the scheduled time and heard one of the moderators Megyn Kelly give a brief rave review for Carly Fiorina’s performance at the earlier forum. Later I tried to read what Fiorina had said that was so impressive and failed to find anything special though Fox News continued to declare her a breakout winner. Meanwhile, following the main event, Republican operator, pollster, and message guru said that his focus group analysis indicated that Donald Trump’s performance had destroyed his candidacy.
I think that this effusive praise of Fiorina and the concerted attempt at discrediting Trump in the main debate seems to indicate that Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch at Fox News decided a few days before the debate on a policy of ‘Dump Trump, pump Fiorina’. Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a biography of Roger Ailes, seems to have some inside information that suggests that the way the debate went was the result of careful planning days in advance in the office suites of the Fox News upper echelons, who wanted to find a way to have the moderators attack Trump while keeping the audience on its side and the opening gambit of a pledge of loyalty and using Kelly to launch the misogyny attack, anticipating that Trump would double down, was the chosen strategy.
It is clear that Trump thinks that Fox News was out to get him and he has reacted in his usual intemperate and incendiary fashion. This has caused Erick Erickson, who runs a conservative organization called RedState, to rescind his invitation to Trump to appear at a forum he is hosting.
Erick Erickson, the organizer of the event and a major conservative activist tweeted late on Friday night, “I have rescinded my invitation to Mr. Trump. While I have tried to give him great latitude, his remark about Megyn Kelly was a bridge too far.”
In a follow-up blog post, Erickson amplified why he was disinviting Trump: “there are even lines blunt talkers and unprofessional politicians should not cross,” he wrote. “Decency is one of those lines.”
This is the same Erickson who, on justice David Souter’s retirement from the US Supreme Court, wrote “The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court in David Souter’s retirement”, so we know that he is a man of taste and refinement and decency.
Why did they turn against Trump and towards Fiorina? They may have taken their cues from the Koch brothers inviting her to their private audition along with Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, even though her claims to be viable candidate are slim to none since she has never won elected office and her record as CEO at Hewlett-Packard was such that she was fired. It looks like they are trying to boost her poll numbers sufficiently so that she can be legitimately invited to future debates. Why Fiorina? While she has little chance of winning the presidency or even the Republican nomination, her presence will help counter the image of the party being a male-dominated enclave and she has already indicated that she is willing to be an attack dog against Hillary Clinton and they need a woman to do that without further cementing their anti-woman reputation.
I was also surprised at the praise of Rubio’s performance which I felt was weak and incoherent and inconsistent, a view shared by Charles P. Pierce in his analysis of the sorry mess that was the debate. Maybe Rubio is being boosted so that the party has someone to thwart its anti-Hispanic image. He is cozy with the party establishment, unlike Cruz with his attacks on the party leadership.
There is another reason why the Republican and oligarchic knives will be out even more for Trump following the debate. During the debate he said what the political and media establishment class strenuously avoid mentioning, that rich people can buy politicians. And unlike Trump’s evidence-free assertion that the Mexican government deliberately sends its rapists and other criminals into the US, in this case he has first-hand knowledge since he is a rich person who has done precisely that and he boasted that he gives money to any politician who asks him and then when he needs favors, he asks them and they comply.
So will the enmity of Fox News hurt him, since it is from among their audience from which his campaign draws considerable support? Or will it result in that audience splitting, with Trump further cementing his anti-establishment outsider credentials? Matt Taibbi, in his usual entertaining style, writes that the attacks by party insiders will make him stronger.
What the Goldbergs and the Wills and Krauthammers of the world probably don’t get is that by singling Trump out for abuse, they’re almost certainly boosting his campaign. First of all, while it might have looked like a damning image to see Trump alone onstage with his hand up and refusing to pledge not to run as an Independent, on another level it was a great Trump moment. As it has been all season, there was Trump, and everyone else. That scene just made the other nine guys onstage look like what they are, stooges beholden to their party and their donors, unable to think for themselves.
The main argument of all of Trump’s conservative critics seems to be, “He’s not a real Republican! He’ll destroy the party establishment!” The people making these criticisms seem to assume that conservative voters will see this as a bad thing.
But there are plenty of Tea Party-type voters out there who hate the Republican Party establishment almost as much as they hate the Democrats. There are also plenty of right-wing voters who think George Will and Charles Krauthammer are smug media weasels only slightly less disgusting than the Rachel Maddows and Keith Olbermanns of the world. A know-it-all is a know-it-all.
Trump’s followers are a gang of pissed-off nativists who are tired of being laughed at, belittled, dismissed, and told who to vote for. So it seems incredible that the Republican establishment thinks it’s going to get rid of Trump by laughing at, belittling and dismissing him, and telling his voters who they should be picking.
I myself have little sense of how this will play out and will have to wait for the later polls to see which way things go. If Trump’s numbers rise, be prepared for a serious attack of panic in the Republican party since they would have fired their best shot at him and missed. Trump is like a raging bull or the Incredible Hulk. If you don’t stop him cold, he will attack you mercilessly.