Depending on which pundit you follow, the winner of last Thursday’s GOP Debate might have been either Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, or Ohio Governor John Kasich. However, I would argue that the two winners last Thursday were FOX News’ debate moderator, Megyn Kelly, and anti-establishment candidate Donald Trump.
Kelly has been one of Trump’s targets since the first GOP Debate last August. Trump’s tantrum began over his inability to address Kelly’s debate question about his history of demeaning comments towards women. In response, Trump suggested that Kelly was on her period for asking such a question. Post-debate, Trump’s “period” insult precipitated more sexist insults directed at Kelly, such as using the word “bimbo” in reference to Kelly and tweeting seductive photos of Kelly to suggest her as unprofessional.
Kelly ended that circus — or subsided it greatly – and pulled FOX’s ratings up last Thursday night thanks to a Trump-free debate. Kelly, who was once an attorney and now hosts her own primetime political news show on FOX, ‘The Kelly File’, simply operated the professional ‘Kelly Way’ during last Thursday’s GOP Debate.
From unearthing video clips of candidates’ previous statements to deftly steering questions from one candidate to another, Kelly gave no one an easy pass that night, forcing everyone to debate more substantively. For instance, Kelly tested the two highest-ranking (behind Trump) candidates in the Iowa polls, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, with video clips splicing together their supposedly contradictory statements on immigration. Kelly also prodded the platforms of underdog candidates, such as John Kasich and Rand Paul, to justify their continuing candidacy despite lacking popularity.
Essentially, Thursday night was ‘business as usual’ for Kelly as a moderator, asking the candidates challenging questions and probing their responses. Trump, by debate standards, already lost to Kelly and everyone on stage with his “no-show.”
However, one can also argue that by campaign strategy, Trump won. Deciding to hold his own anti-debate rally during the debate, many critics thought he would hurt his poll numbers dramatically. However, it turns out that Trump’s numbers did not slide. They are still hovering above 30% in New Hampshire, the next major primary, although even that failed to bring him victory in Iowa. However, at the moment, Trump’s gamble has more or less worked. After all, Trump’s fireworks candidacy was built on the axiom of defying all establishment politics and norms. So by shunning this debate, an event counted as a necessary ritual for any conventional candidacy, Trump reinforced, if not strengthened, his anti-establishment appeal to his supporters in the gutsy, outrageous way they would appreciate.
When Donald Trump first launched his campaign last June, the pundits, the media, my Republican and conservative friends and I all predicted that he would flame out after the summer — or, at the latest, autumn — and we would all be saved from his diatribes and things will return ‘back to normal’.
Well, things are not ‘back to normal’. In an election where voters are angry with the state of affairs in Washington on a scale like never before, someone who is unconventional, unestablished and unfiltered — be it right or wrong — has huge political appeal. We confirmed this again Thursday night.
This is not to say that all hope is lost. We must see how all the candidates fare and react in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – the first three major primaries. Many of Trump’s supporters are not registered voters, so this could be his Achilles’ heel.
Furthermore, his inability to face the debate stage against a seasoned moderator — not to mention someone like Kelly — could work against him in the future as evidence of a “chickening out” and “cowardly” attitude.
One thing is for certain, though; the way Trump won the debate night is not comparable to the way in which Kelly did. The difference is that Kelly’s position is legitimate, substantive and commands respect. Trump’s does not. Then again, this is all from a sensible, conventional perspective in a counterintuitive, unconventional election.
Kelly’s business is already done — she has put to rest questions of her detractors by continuing her professional duties. While Kelly won her war, so to speak, and Trump, his battle, the American public has yet to see Trump’s future realized. Will Trump get the nomination? I hope I can remain unconvinced.