The general media consensus seems to be that skipping the debate worked well for Donald Trump. Trump of course is convinced that he won the night, with all the media attention his counter-even generated, and managed to call Ted Cruz an ‘anchor baby in Canada’ and that he is beholden to the big banks that he pretends to criticize
Meanwhile, Gabriel Sherman writes that in addition to disrupting the GOP, Trump has also managed to shake up right wing media and unsettled the once powerful Roger Ailes at Fox News. The unity of messaging is gone.
For Ailes, the next 24 hours will be critical. He has to first get his moderators through the debate and produce a compelling show without Trump. Then he has to wage a PR campaign to position the ratings, whatever they may be. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that Trump’s town hall surpasses Fox in viewers and buzz — an outcome most consider a long shot. But even if Fox beats Trump, Trump could score points if Fox’s audience is significantly smaller without him on the stage.
The news for Ailes is not good. CNN reports that without Trump, yesterday’s debate had the second lowest ratings of the seven Republican debates held so far. The 8.4 rating beat only the one held on the low-viewership Fox Business Network.
Jeb Lund shares my view that Cruz and Marco Rubio did not fare well in the debate, that Jeb Bush did, and that Donald Trump was the real winner.
Perhaps the Fox producers got sick of watching candidates like Trump and Cruz and Rubio and — well, all of them — listening to moderators reading out direct quotes from them and responding, “I never said that.” This time, they ran clips of the direct quotes and made candidates watch them. And, contrary to expectations, the Fox crew absolutely bodied both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on immigration:
While finding a politician who said one thing and then said the opposite isn’t difficult, Trump has made immigration nearly the central issue of the campaign, and Rubio and Cruz have each taken turns trying to bludgeon the other with their various shades of apostasy. What Fox gave them both was a question that neither can or will satisfactorily answer: You have either officially or tacitly admitted that at some point you lied to the American people, repeatedly, emphatically and as a matter of core policy. Were you doing it then, or are you doing it now?
But as bad as immigration was for Cruz, his blend of Trumpian peevishness and his own know-it-all-ism — some syncretic fusion of varying intolerabilities — bombed. Trump’s narcissism rarely dips below the unbearable, but it has the virtue of mostly being correct: when he acts as if everyone is talking or thinking about him, he has at least the last 226 days to refer to for proof.
If anything, that’s the most damning verdict of the night: that Donald Trump abandoned the debate and dared anyone among the remaining candidates to take it from him, and none could.
On his best day, Marco Rubio is William Hurt in Broadcast News without half the illusion of depth, and this wasn’t his best day. That his tissue-thin debate poise would be torn up and scattered around the room by the hulking alter-ego monster of his actual record was only a matter of time. Marco Rubio looked like a floundering twit not because of circumstance but because he is one.
But this shouldn’t have happened to Cruz. He is a formidably smart man, and, anyway, there wasn’t supposed to be any void — no matter the size of the beast or personality that left it — that could not be filled and then overwhelmed by Ted Cruz’s satisfaction with his own sense of destiny. Instead, impeached by himself and a moderator with enough backing to refuse to concede, he vanished on the emptiest big stage he has yet stood upon. Like Rubio, he receded from the opportunity.
Jesse Berney had an amusing recap of the night’s events, brutally skewering Christie and Carson, who deserved every bit of scorn that came their way.
Sarah K. Burris provides a more detailed analysis of the various candidate’s contributions.