I watched part of the debate with my college students, and they don’t think highly of Trump. They grimaced and groaned and laughed—but not in a good way.
Even destructive tornados diminish and eventually disappear.
This piece also includes other analysis.
“He goes too far!” She shakes her head in disgust.
“He’s so dumb that he can’t see that what he says hurts him.”
“He’s going to get the nomination and hand the election over to the Left.”
“He’s hurting the GOP brand.”
“He’s not hurting the GOP because people can see he’s separate; they can make distinctions” (do Trump voters want to risk that?).
“He’s a successful businessman” (just about the only positive).
“But he’s got all kinds of managers around him. He started out rich.”
In response to his making comments about Carly’s face, one girl student said, “He’s not cute.” Another version of the pot and the kettle.
When the camera shot was a side-by-side or split screen, they laughed mockingly at his facial expressions of disgust or bemusement.
The consensus is clear—he comes across as everyone but his fans see him: unserious and even buffoonish.
So let’s get started with an additional, brief assessment of the September 2015 debate itself.
Trump was diminished for three reasons.
First, in a fractured field he could only come down after the first debate. He was like a tornado back then (and still is somewhat), and the polite (I would say sane) candidates didn’t know what to do with him. But see the third reason.
Second, he’s ahead in the polls only because he gets all the media attention. Why is that? Do Trump supporters ever ask? Surely they would answer it’s because he so Totally Awesome. No, the truth is much simpler. He’s entertaining, but not in a good way. Yet the main reason is that ninety percent of the DC and NY media vote democrat, and they realize Hillary’s weak right now. He helps their candidate by being unserious himself. That’s why Bill suggested to Trump that he get involved in Republican politics—not with the Democrats, where Trump feels at home, according to his longstanding involvement with them and his liberal positions.
Since he’s ahead in the polls, he could only come down after his mediocre debate performance. “In my foreign policy, I’ll get along with everybody, the Russians, the Chinese, everybody” (that was a paraphrase). It seemed childish and unserious.
Third, he was diminished because the other candidates wisely went on the attack—a lot of material there to diminish—to paraphrase him about Sen. Paul. Tornados wind down and just disappear. The other candidates helped that process.
They improved their standing in other ways too.
Yes, Carly had her breakout moments. Her comments about a live baby kicking its legs waiting for the brain harvest were moving. Maybe some of the students were touched (I was). Or maybe they felt she was a flamethrower. Some prolife students want to show baby parts in their papers, but prochoicers just roll their eyes; they don’t change their minds. So I tell prolifers to use reason and argument, not pictures. If everyone used pictures, people would get tired of it and not be responsive at all. But I have seen people change their minds with argument. It’s best in the long run (though I can imagine some people changing their emotions with pictures).
So it could be said she “won” the debate, not that “winning” one debate is dispositive for the nomination.
The problem with Carly, in the big picture, is that she has never won an election (neither has Trump). And she has lost a big one in California (Trump has lost nominations in other parties). But she is strong. No doubt about it.
The other candidates only helped themselves; they certainly didn’t hurt themselves. It’s clear we have a deep bench. And I believe that helps the GOP and even impresses the rest of the country (it seemed to impress my students).
The main figures in alphabetical order:
Bush was more passionate, and even Trump acknowledged it. However, Bush’s facial expressions seemed a little hesitant and just a tad flustered. In that moment, wit or a strong comeback is often a good thing. “Mr. Trump, you say my words will haunt me. How about your juvenile words about Carly? You have no right to criticize me.” The best thing Bush did was focus on his record as governor. Strong. Florida is a key state that Obama won in 2012.
Carson: he’s a nice guy, an outsider, and he had his moments, but see my criticism of Carly. He never won an election, but at least Carly is passionate and strong and articulate.
Christie helped himself too. He always has a forceful personality, and he too focused on his record as governor.
Cruz: if there’s another candidate who is filled with his own self-piety and … well … with himself, I can’t think of him or her (Trump’s not pious in his arrogance, just brusque). Cruz’s eyebrows are cocked upwards, as if he’s dreaming about his own political self-righteousness and superiority. His voice sounds like he’s fighting alone in a High Cause that only he can see. He Stands Alone. Very bad imaging. (President Obama, also a short-term senator, has an arrogant image with raised eyebrows.) If Cruz were to get the nomination, even a weakened Hillary would beat him. He’s very unlikeable.
He’ll probably shut down the government in a couple of weeks and then have to back down, lashing out at the grownup leaders in the Senate—it’s their fault that they can’t persuade the president to see things Cruz’s way and not veto a budget that doesn’t have funding for Planned Parenthood. The president won’t change his mind. Why should he? He wants to see Cruz and True and Pure Members of the GOP twist in the wind and lose when they back down and “unshutdown” the government.
Hyper-conservatives like Cruz and numerous radio guys and bloggers behave in a losing way, which they believe is a winning way, probably because they fantasize that America just needs a Pure and True Conservative to lead them to the Promised Land. Then they’ll support a government shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood or another issue. No, mature voters, especially centrists, can see the two issues–funding planned Parenthood and a government shutdown–are distinct. Defund Planned Parenthood only after you win the White House in 2016. It’s called elections and democracy. The governors hit that strong in the debate–they defunded it, but then they were occupying the executive branch.
Kasish didn’t hurt himself, for his performance was about as strong as expected. Shallow imaging matters in our culture nowadays: His eyes looked like he spent hours in a swimming pool with too much chlorine in the water. But, like the first two governors, he talked about his record in Ohio. It’s strong enough. And Ohio is key to any presidential election.
Rubio was strong; he always is. He’s winsome and likeable and knowledgeable and articulate. If the news media didn’t spend so much time on Trump, I believe Rubio would lead in the polls. Young people like him for obvious reasons. A cool, youthful factor.
Walker also talked about his impressive record in Wisconsin. He was almost the first to launch the attack on Trump, and it served him well. He came across as passionate—well, more passionate than he seemed in the first debate. He came across as a fighter, as he was (and is) in his home state. That was his goal or strategy that night, and he nailed it.
Finally, don’t believe the polls right now. Do you remember how far off they were in 2014? Tornados suck up up all the oxygen. That’s what Trump is doing for the moment.
I still hold to (most of) my prediction I made on August 2 about Trump (slightly edited)
I really believe it is not Trump’s destiny to occupy the White House—it’s too sacred and historic for a shallow, politically rootless, arrogant, opportunistic TV star, an aging playboy.
His destiny is to sow discord, chaos, and confusion among the GOP in the 2016 elections.
… [The] chaos … will make Bush v. Gore in 2000 look tame.
However, as I think of it, maybe that’s what my beloved America sadly needs today— a good old fashioned shaking. We have been, after all, in the prophetic words of Judge Robert Bork in 1996, twenty years before the upcoming elections, “slouching towards Gomorrah.”
9/21/05: I added the link in Carly’s section.