The Trump Takes the Debate. Again
Trump triumphed again. At one point Jeb Bush was arguing like a graduate student with Professor Trump, over a relatively minor point on trade with China, a mistake since he was clearly stepping into Trump's back yard and, seemingly psyching himself out after he stepped in, he pulled back before he could make his argument coherent. At another point Kasich seemed to acknowledge his failure as a candidate by arguing for a policy line, "whether I become President or not." Ben Carson seemed so afraid of making a mistake that he ended up uttering safe cliches and keeping quiet most of the time. Rubio and Christie refused to engage Trump on his own terms, preferring to stay on law and order and foreign policy in the Middle East--safe topics for the Republican masses. That left Cruz, who is a strong debater and has a flair for a dramatic punch line, who more or less held his own until he made the mistake of doing something politically incorrect: he accused Trump of having "New York values," a softball challenge that Trump hit out of the park by reminding Cruz of the heroic New York response to 911, demonstrating that he can call out someone for being politically incorrect when he needs to. The defeated look of Cruz's face said it all. Trump was the one the rest were talking to. He framed most of the debate.
Surprisingly, few candidates except Trump appeared to understand that tonight's debate was not about making appeals to the base, or out-machoing each other, nor demonstrating that you knew the current tactical imperatives of our wars in the Middle East, nor proving who hated Barack Obama the most. With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire right around the corner, the wealthy classes that now finance political campaigns are going to have to make some tough decisions soon on who to fund. This was labeled a "business" debate. And funding decisions, for the fund providers, are not so much policy or personality decisions as they are business decisions, taking into account the pluses and minuses of each candidate, winnability, and keeping things chugging along in sweet favor of the "business" class. This debate, for the most relevant audience tonight, the funders, was about taking one last look at the field of horses and jockeys before pulling out the checkbooks and heading to the betting windows.
My guess? Trump's performance tonight may just have proved to the funding class that he can be likable, that he has gravitas, and that he can make a deal. Trump will continue to be the man to beat, whether the clerks with their access to campaign gurus and guns in the Republican Party like it or not. When he needs money and support it will be there, and he will drastically change the distinctly (and despised) Washingtonian accent and vocabulary of the Republican Party. Is there any doubt it needed not just a paint job, but a thorough remodeling job? This puts huge pressure on the two Democratic candidates. They may not be running against the old establishment R candidates they thought could beat handily. Can either of them stand up as well as Trump to the party hacks of their own party? And can they stand up to Trump?