As billionaire Donald Trump unleashes his barrage of sharp attacks on Fox News and its anchor Megyn Kelly, other Republican candidates have improved their chances to gain their party's presidential nomination over the past few days. Yet, as each of the seventeen announced candidates jockeys for position, Trump still continues to be the center of attention.
Thursday's prime time debate on Fox News drew a record 24 million viewers, and they saw quite a show. Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace asked tough questions and skillfully managed the time among the ten candidates on stage. While all of their questions were fair, many important subjects were not raised, like climate change, gun violence and voting rights.
Trump attempted to lower expectations for his performance in advance of the debate. Many pundits predicted he would not attack his opponents as he has done regularly in his campaign. Yet, Trump found himself on the defensive from the opening question.
Bret Baier began the debate by asking if all of the candidates would promise not to run as an independent candidate and support the party's nominee. Trump would not, saying, “I will not make that pledge at this time… I have to respect the person.” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul chimed in, “This is what’s wrong. He buys
and sells politicians of all stripes…He’s already hedging his bet on
the Clintons … He’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying
politicians.” Trump smugly responded to Paul, “Well, I’ve given him plenty of money.”
Later, moderator Megyn Kelly grilled Trump on his comments about women.
“You’ve called women you don’t like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,'” she said.
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump interrupted.
“For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell,” Kelly retorted.
“Yes, I’m sure it was,” Trump said dismissively.
Kelly continued, “Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about
women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it
would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to
you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how
will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be
the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump answered, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
Following the debate Trump went to the airwaves and Twitter to attack Kelly's questions as "ridiculous" and "off base." He told CNN, "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes...Blood coming out of her wherever." But the comment drew the ire of conservatives, even though Trump later said he meant blood coming out of her nose or ears and nothing more. Trump added, "Only a deviant would think anything else." But the conservative group RedState.com withdrew its invitation for Trump to appear at its weekend gathering.
Trump's attacks on Megyn Kelly only diminish him and makes him look overly defensive. Meanwhile, he found himself aggressively reassuring his supporters in a round of interviews on the Sunday public affairs shows. On CBS's Face the Nation, he said, "I will be phenomenal to women." On ABC's This Week he said, "I have many executives that are women." And on NBC's Meet the Press he said it would be difficult for women to criticize him, "It's very hard for them to attack me on looks because I'm so good looking."
As Trump struggles to contain the damage from his remarks, several other candidates have made headway in their campaign among conservative Republicans. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was the big winner Thursday even though she appeared in the afternoon debate. She showed she is ready for prime time and might make a strong vice presidential candidate.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich both did well in Thursday night's debate, and their performances could build real momentum for their campaigns. Meanwhile, one-time front-runner Jeb Bush did not hurt himself among likely Republican voters with his debate performance, which may be viewed as a victory by those who are supporting him.
The Republican Party conducted an "autopsy" following Governor Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama in 2012. Its report said, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become
expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded
people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive
with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”
Thursday night's dissonant debate once again shows that the Republican party has not changed.