The Fox News debate did a real public service. It revealed the real Donald Trump:
Shallow, egotistical, unelectable, and entertaining — but less entertaining than he was cracked up to be.
All eyes had been on Trump, this summer’s surprising poll-topper, as the GOP’s first televised debate began Thursday. And his presence alone influenced the debate. Some of the nastier exchanges felt like forced fights between candidates who seemed as if they didn’t want to be out-Trumped.
But at other times, the contrast to Trump’s outlandish persona made the nine others on the Cleveland stage sound reasonable. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker all had good moments.
Trump? His moment is over. He started off on the wrong foot by refusing to pledge support for the eventual Republican nominee. He also wouldn’t promise not to run as an independent. This debate crowd didn’t like that kind of honesty.
The situation worsened for Trump when moderator Megyn Kelly asked him about statements he has made about women, calling them fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. A description like that, he said, applied “only to Rosie O’Donnell.” Kelly disputed that, reminding the business mogul that his Twitter account “had several disparaging remarks about women’s looks . . . does that sound to you like the temperament of a man who should be president?”
Trump gave a classic crowd-pleasing Trump answer, praising himself for not “being politically correct . . . what I say is what I say. If you don’t like it, I’m sorry.” But in the unlikely event that Trump expands his appeal beyond his current base of support, his attitude toward women will get much more scrutiny.
Trump ducked a question about what evidence he has to back up his charges that the Mexican government is sending “criminals” across the border. He was also pressed on his previous support for positions that don’t sit well with conservative Republicans, such as being “very prochoice” or favoring a single-payer health care system. His answers really didn’t make much sense.
This was good for the other candidates. For the record, Bush denied a report in Politico that he had called Trump a “buffoon,” “a clown,” and worse. What he did say, said Bush, is that “Mr. Trump’s language is divisive.”
Too bad. What he reportedly said was much more accurate.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.