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News from the Votemaster

Trump Trumps the Other Candidates in First Debate

As expected, Donald Trump got most of the attention at the first Republican primary debate in Cleveland last night. The New York Times story led off with: "Shedding any pretense of civility and party unity, Donald J. Trump overwhelmed the first Republican presidential debate on Thursday night by ripping into his rivals and the moderators alike ..." The Washington Post said: Donald Trump landed on the Republican debate stage like a hand grenade here on Thursday night ..." Bloomberg led with Trump's tone: "Donald Trump lived up to his billing at center stage of a spirited first Republican presidential debate, taking aim at America's "stupid leaders" ... The Wall Street Journal's story began: "Donald Trump turned the first Republican presidential debate into a raucous brawl..." McClatchy began with: "The Republican presidential debate will be remembered as The Donald Trump show ..." How about the LA Times: "The theatrical drama of the first Republican debate Thursday focused on the man at center stage in Cleveland, Donald Trump, and the bombastic rhetoric he has used to propel himself to the front of the GOP field." Get the idea?

It wasn't that the Fox News moderators kept lobbing softballs at him. Anything but. They went after him about his four bankruptcies, chuminess with the Clintons, and offensive statements. But he hit back and hard.

Although Trump was largely evasive on detailed policy questions, the answer to one question is probably making RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wet his pants. When asked if anyone on stage would potentially run as an independent in the general election, Trump (alone) raised his hand. If he really did that it would almost certainly mean a Democratic victory in 2016. For this reason, the Republicans don't want to make him too angry this early, when there is still plenty of time for him to shoot himself in the foot and have no one else to blame but himself.

Although all the candidates agreed on most policy issues, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and opposing the Iran deal, there was still tension on stage, albeit not so explicit. The Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and the demographics are getting worse every time as their supporters are dying off and more and more Latinos are coming of age to vote. The internal battle is about strategy. One approach, favored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is have the party get more conservative to motivate the really really conservative voters (those who see former President George W. Bush as a RINO) to finally come out and vote. The other side, manned in part by Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, wants to move to the center to attract new voters who normally vote Democratic. Thus the real issue is whether the party should move to the left or to the right, not how much noise Donald Trump makes. No serious observer of politics believes that the Republican pooh-bahs would tolerate a Trump candidacy. If it takes a few hundred million dollars in directed negative ads to take him down, well, bring it on.

In addition to the main debate at 9 P.M., Fox News also held a "junior varsity" debate for the seven candidates polling the worst nationally. Splitting the candidates into two groups had two purposes. First, it gave the top 10 candidates more speaking time each. Second, it implicitly suggested that the bottom seven might want to exit the race now and not get in the way of their betters. The questions at the JV debate were basically all: "Since you can't win, why aren't you leaving gracefully now?" None of the candidates appreciated the question and none gave any sign of leaving soon. Nevertheless, the 10-7 split is surely going to make fundraising harder, and when the money runs out, candidates are forced to call it quits.

There are numerous summaries of the debate online, but one of the best is from the BBC.

No doubt proper random-sample polls about who "won" will be appearing soon. For the moment though, some Internet polls will have to do. The Drudge Report poll (with 430,000 votes) gives Trump 47%, Cruz 13%, and everyone else in the single digits. Fox 5 in San Diego also has an online poll on its Website and here, too, Trump wins with 48%. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are tied for second at 11% and the rest are in single digits, with Scott Walker last at 1% and Jeb Bush eighth at 4%. The (Florida) Herald-Tribune poll gives Trump 50%, Kasich 11%, and Rubio 10%. Noteworthy here that Bush--despite being a former governor of the state--came in seventh with 4%. Although none of these polls are in any sense scientific, it would be surprising when real polls begin reporting to find Trump near the bottom.

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---The Votemaster