Donald Trump Was Set UpBut does it matter? And I don't just mean that it's too late because Trump is leading in the delegate count and in just about every poll of states that haven't voted yet. I mean because just about everyone is now playing Trump's game.
The word came in from our best-sourced Fox News Kremlinologists: Fox News had settled for Donald Trump. Roger Ailes had given up on the hapless Marco Rubio. Megyn Kelly was sounding conciliatory, granting that Trump appeared more and more presidential. Rupert Murdoch himself tweeted that the party would be “mad not to unify” around nominee Donald Trump....
Could it be that all of that chatter was designed to assure Trump that Fox’s moderators would go easy on him? ...
If so, it was a brilliant maneuver. Tonight we saw the attempted assassination of front-runner Donald Trump, beginning early and sustained for almost the entire night. Fox prepared elaborate multimedia presentations designed to make Trump explain away his erratic positions and policy proposals. They hammered him on Trump University and got him to flip-flop on immigration. All night, Fox’s moderators forced Trump to directly reckon with his contradictory positions and statements, complete with video packages illustrating those contradictions. No other candidate faced a similar onslaught.
Josh Marshall writes:
I come back to something I wrote after one of the earlier debates. Once Trump pulls you down to his level, even when you fight back, you're still down at his level. And he's better at this than you are.Fox, as Marshall notes, has just taken Trumpism and run with it, and it's infecting the entire process:
There was one point maybe in the 3rd quarter hour of the debate where Rubio and Trump were basically just yelling at each other. It was very messy. Trump was clearly unable to dominate the stage. And yet, as I watched, I thought: this is not doing Marco Rubio any good. It may be bloodying Trump but not to Rubio's benefit. They knocked him off his perch a bit but they looked like ridiculous animals wrestling with him on the ground.
You may have noticed that during the debate audience members in the line of sight behind the moderators were giving thumbs ups, making faces or just aping for the cameras like you'd expect to see as a football game or a wrestling match. We've never seen anything like that. The pro-wrestling mania of the Trump rallies is seeping into debates, like a virus spreading through a host body. And I tend to doubt that those people were all Trump supporters. It doesn't matter. Creeping Trumpism is taking over his opponents from within.A bit of data cited by Pareene seems to confirm Marshall's sense that the roughing up of Trump doesn't help the two candidates who have a slim chance of beating him, Rubio and Ted Cruz:
... there is still no one candidate well-positioned to solely benefit from any anti-Trump coordination.There's no longer an "establishment lane" and an "outsider lane." Now there's a talks-like-an-adult lane and a mud-wrestler lane -- and everybody is now in the mud-wrestler lane except Kasich, who's a distant fourth and could very easily lose even his home state. In the mud-wrestler lane, Trump is still winning by acclaim:
Of course, Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media have tried to turn the entire GOP into the mud-wrestler lane for years. The impossible quest has been for someone who'll fight and fight and never lose to Democrats and liberals, regardless of who holds the White House or what the party split is in Congress. Ted Cruz has tried to be the brawler GOP voters are conditioned to seek, taking on hopeless crusades because surrender is never an option. But he doesn't have the right personality. Trump does.
Trump, as Marshall notes, even fights Fox:
The other thing I wonder about tonight is the effect of Fox News' attacks on Trump.... It makes sense that the moderators would press him more than the others. But it went well beyond that. They were out to get him. No one could watch this debate and not get that. Given how much Trump's base constituency is driven by resentment against 'establishments' and perceived unfairness to themselves and those they support, will this redound to Trump's benefit? Will it at least not hurt him?Marshall thinks the attacks on Trump made him "bleed," and thus "may have started to put an actual ceiling" on his support. That's probably true -- Republicans who've been unconvinced by Trump are likely to be really unconvinced now. And what was said last night really hurts Trump for a general election.
But Republicans who just want a brawler are going to stick with Trump. I don't care what was revealed about Trump University or his flip-flops last night. Trump's fans don't care about the content of what's being said in anger anymore. They just want anger. Trump is still the guy who's giving them what they want.