On balance, I think this debate went about as we’d expected. Donald Trump dominated the debate. Even when he wasn’t talking. Fox took it upon itself to go after him hard. But mainly they didn’t land a punch. With one key exception (when and how he became a Republican), Trump managed to parry pretty much all the questions sent his way, despite most answers totally lacking any substance, lacking any logical coherence, or in most cases not even addressing the questions. Perhaps I’ll be wrong. But I don’t think his refusal to pledge not to run as an independent will hurt him. He didn’t equivocate. He just said it. More than anything, he knows his audience.
I expect the GOP primary campaign will continue on its current trajectory. Trump certainly didn’t have a break-out moment. But I don’t think his momentum will be damaged at all.
As interesting to me though was the light in which it cast the other candidates.
Jeb Bush struck me as weak. Rubio, arguably one of the GOP’s most promising candidates, was all but invisible. Kasich was far and away the most reasonable and fact-based. And he was the only person who seemed interested in governing. In context, a poor showing. The one candidate who I think came off well was Scott Walker, though he didn’t get that much time. He didn’t get pulled into Trump’s nonsense or fighting with other candidates. He made his basic case, which in Republican terms is a strong one: I won three times; I implemented an ideological right wing agenda; I brutalized the unions.
All the rest were good or bad but in electoral terms I think basically irrelevant: Christie, Paul, Carson, and whoever else. Oh yeah, Ted Cruz. Trump coming into this race really, really hurt him by supplanting him as the guy who would take everything just a step further than anyone else.
It was bloody. And Trump’s not going anywhere.