Who Won the Trump–Fox News Debate Showdown?

After completely transforming the 2016 GOP primary, Donald Trump, on Thursday night, pulled off the season’s most dramatic showdown so far simply by refusing to show up for an event. Everyone agreed that Trump’s competing rally was boring, but perhaps that wasn’t the performance we were meant to focus on. As The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni noted, Trump’s absence was the “most compelling presence” on the Fox News debate stage. “Trump was remembered. Trump was invoked,” Bruni said. “His ghost was there, because he’d reshaped his Republican rivals’ images, reconfigured the challenges in front of them, rewritten the rules of this extraordinary race.”

Making your ghostly presence felt is obviously an impressive feat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Trump’s stunt was successful politically. According to the pundits, the Trump–Fox News debacle either proved that the front-runner is a political savant, or that he committed one of the “greatest tactical errors” by a politician ever.

Many commentators agreed with Bruni and gave the night to Trump. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias said Trump put on a “bravura debate performance,” though he wasn’t on stage:

The spirit of Trump and Trumpism was the dominant force of the evening even without Trump in the room. Ted Cruz reiterated his promise to “carpet bomb” ISIS regardless of the civilian casualty. Marco Rubio archly referred to his desire to bring back torture as a matter of American policy. Asked if he was worried about a rising tide of Islamophobic incidents in the United States, Ben Carson said simply that “we need to stop allowing political correctness to dictate our policies.”

Every candidate in the race — even the once sunny and multicultural Rubio — has adopted Trump’s essentially dark and pessimistic worldview. There’s no sense in this field that the economy is stronger than it was three or seven years ago, and there’s no sense that the world beyond America’s shores offers anything other than danger.

Another point for Trump: Days before the Iowa caucus, he forced his rivals to attack each other, while he emerged unscathed. The Nation‘s John Nichols said it was obvious that Trump was smart to skip the debate — and not just because his own event generated “wall-to-wall coverage on the other cable news networks.”

Had he taken the stage with the rest of the candidates, Trump would have taken hits directly from them. He also would have had to stand by while they took shots at one another. They did just that: Cruz took shots at Rubio, Rubio took shots at Cruz, Bush took shots at Rubio, and Rand Paul took shots at everyone.

By skipping the debate, and letting the rest of the candidates argue among themselves, Trump avoided any potential damage — and he made it harder for the other contenders, especially Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich, to build on whatever momentum they might be accumulating as the key tests approach.

Speaking of the other candidates, most pundits felt they failed to fill the Trump-sized hole at the center of the debate. Joan Walsh, Nichols’s colleague at The Nation, wrote:

The debate illuminated the vacuum at the heart of the Republican Party that has been filled by Trump. None of the candidates have the combination of smarts, charisma, and backbone that leading the country usually requires. Their massive cave-in on immigration, a sop to their nativist base, was the clearest example of their abdication of responsibility to govern, but foreign policy, where everyone pledged to kill ISIS deader than the other, but nobody said how, was a close second. Trump’s absence is likely to make GOP hearts grow fonder. At any rate, nobody did anything to stop his momentum on Thursday night.

Bruni added that Rubio missed yet another opportunity to become the candidate everyone predicted he would be:

Political observers have been waiting for Rubio’s breakout moment, and many predicted that he’d have it at this debate. He didn’t. Put frequently on the defensive, he reverted to lines he’d used before and nuggets from his stump speech, and he kept returning to ISIS and military might, military might and ISIS. He came across as overly programmed, one-dimensional and itchy to go to war.

Others, like Slate’s Jim Newell, said Ted Cruz was the most disappointing candidate onstage:

Cruz had his worst debate at a time when polls suggest he’s fallen well behind Trump in Iowa. Unless organizing can make up the shortfall, he needs to make something happen in the few days left. But instead of commanding the stage and hammering the absent front-runner, Cruz turned in a sloppy performance consisting of flat jokes, whining to the moderators, whining to the moderators as a set up for flat jokes, and taking substantive poundings from his rivals—and from Fox News itself … Cruz on Thursday night wasn’t the dominating presence he needed to be. He was just another one of the people losing to Donald Trump.

And don’t forget about the two candidates who actually sided with Trump in his war on Fox News. On Newsmax TV, Michael Reagan panned undercard debaters Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who won the last two GOP Iowa caucuses, for playing along. “They’re not going to win another caucus at all,” he said. “They shouldn’t even be in the debates — and then to go and give credibility, or try to give credibility to Trump, Trump had to be laughing all the way back to his plane.”

There was one candidate who was almost universally praised for turning in a good … er, less-bad performance than usual: Jeb Bush. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza summed up his night:

If you had any doubt about how much Donald Trump is in Jeb’s head, this debate should have cleared it up. The former Florida governor was, from the get go, more relaxed and more forceful in this Trump-less debate than he has been in the previous six debates where Trump was included. He owned his family’s political legacy unapologetically. He fought Rubio to a draw in an immigration back and forth. He regularly was the only candidate — aside from Paul — who answered the questions asked of him.  Jeb is still a somewhat (ok, very) awkward candidate — his halting closing statement was painful — who doesn’t really like going on the attack. But, without Trump looming over him, Bush looked positively presidential.

Fellow Post journalist Stephen Stromberg agreed that Bush was the only candidate who put on a “halfway decent” show. Though, he couldn’t say exactly why:

Maybe Donald Trump’s absence gave Bush a confidence boost — or at least permitted him to get a word in edgewise. Perhaps Bush, with little to lose at this point, relaxed. Or maybe he is just more polished after months of campaigning. Whatever the reason, he spoke with more conviction and dominated the stage at several points in the debate. And he used some of those moments to bring policy specifics and high principles into an otherwise dismal conversation.

And he thinks it’s too late for Bush to “rescue his flailing candidacy.”

The Weekly Standard‘s Jonathan V. Last felt the candidates’ generally mediocre performances were actually Fox News’s fault:

… the Fox crew ran a strange debate: They asked very few questions about the frontrunner; they queued up flip-flop highlight reels for some candidates, but not others; they paid homage to liberal shibboleths like climate change and Kim Davis; they devoted time to silly YouTube question about America’s supposed climate of Islamophobia from a Bernie Sanders supporter.

The result was something of a muddle, with none of the candidates prosecuting the case against Trump. Instead, they all acted as if they were in an interregnum which had nothing to do with the campaign both behind it and in front of it. It’s as if they thought that because Trump was gone for a night, he was vanquished from the field. This seems like a terrible miscalculation.

Though most commentators felt Megyn Kelly, the journalist at the center of this week’s debacle, came off well. Writing (perhaps not coincidentally) for Fox News, Erick Erickson called Kelly the debate’s “ultimate winner”:

After days of being beaten up by the Trump forces, she showed she is a sharp, credible journalist who is willing to ask tough questions and hold the candidates accountable for their prior statements. The video montages and prior records of the candidates were fair game and she forced them to answer.

And the Post‘s Chris Cillizza noted that she managed to perform under a tremendous amount of pressure:

There has rarely been a debate moderator who has come under as much scrutiny as Kelly has during the course of this campaign. Despite all of that negative attention, Kelly showed why she is the face of Fox News on Thursday night. She was pointed, tough and well versed on the issues. And, more important to me?  She showed her sense of humor and a willingness to not take herself too seriously.  That she performed so well with so many eyes on her speaks incredibly highly of her abilities.

But if Fox News won, doesn’t that mean Trump lost? A handful of pundits argued that point, noting that Trump’s competing event was tremendously dull, despite all the publicity. The Atlantic‘s Yoni Appelbaum said:

It might have been interesting to watch Trump’s grimaces and facial contortions as his own flip-flop reel played. But he avoided awkward questions on his own, far-longer list of substantive reversals. Standing alone on stage at his veterans’ event across town, though, Trump appeared equally diminished by the absence of his rivals. He brought Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee up to join him, before yielding the podium to veterans for half an hour. The other cable-news networks cut away from their live coverage, and the rally wound down to its anti-climactic end while the debate remained in full swing.

Dick Morris took the most extreme anti-Trump stance, declaring on Newsmax TV that he “missed a huge opportunity” and allowed Cruz to consolidate his position as the front-runner. He wondered why Trump let the debate go on without him, since he’s “not stupid,” and speculated that Trump was worried that he’d be hit hard on his abortion flip-flop.”He has a good chance to win,” he said, “but he committed one of the greatest tactical errors I’ve ever seen a candidate do in a campaign.”

So, is there anything positive to say about the GOP’s chaotic display? The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol tried to find a silver lining:

Could the consequence of the debate be to begin the deflation of the Trump balloon? I’ll grant that I may be indulging in wishful thinking, but I think so. If you were an undecided Iowa voter, or a leaner one way or another, I think you saw something to like in one or more of the candidates on the stage. I don’t think you recoiled from the spectacle and said, “I want Donald.” The national media is enraptured with the narrative of The Triumph of Trump, so they’ll want to say that he was the winner in absentia. But I think for actual Republican voters, especially in Iowa, he was simply in absentia. And I don’t think absence made the heart grow fonder. I suspect absence made the heart start to question why it was interested in Trump in the first place.

This time, we only have to wait until Monday to find out if he’s right.

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Limbaugh scorches Fox News in debate dispute with Trump

In the wake of Donald Trump’s refusal to be part of Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate on the Fox News Channel, radio host Rush Limbaugh says the popular cable network is acting like a bride whose groom had just fled the church on their wedding day.

“Fox News was acting as if they had been jilted at the altar,” Limbaugh said on his national broadcast Wednesday.

“Donald Trump knows that by not showing up, he’s owning the entire event. Some guy not even present will end up owning the entire event. And the proof of that is Fox News last night.”

The network went into spin mode, with analysts discussing what a mistake it was for Trump to not participate in the debate. Limbaugh felt Fox’s reaction was astonishing.

“Don’t devote the rest of the night to how a candidate’s not showing up because of you, I mean the network,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to say here. I’m stunned watching this because everybody that’s involved has to know this is exactly one of the things Trump is hoping to achieve.”

The radio host portrayed Trump as an “outsider” who has never played by the rules of the game established by the news media.

 “He’s outside the game. He’s breaking all the rules. He’s exposing so much as fraud that has gone on inside the American political process for so long,” Limbaugh explained.

And though the so-called rules of the media’s game suggest a candidate has to appear on their airwaves, Trump is not bowing down and paying homage to the powers that be.

“‘Screw the rules,’ he’s saying,” Limbaugh said of Trump. “‘Why should I willingly give them another shot at me? In a circumstance they control, why should I do it? What’s the sense in it for me? I’m leading. I’m running the pack here. Why in the world should I put myself in that circumstance? I’ve already seen what’s gonna happen.’”

In response to allegations that Trump is afraid of Megyn Kelly or the entire Fox News conglomerate, Limbaugh said, “That is not what this is. There isn’t any fear. What there is here, in my opinion, is a desire to control this and a purposeful decision to not put himself in a circumstance where other people want to make him look bad.”

He continued: “This is what it looks like when some guy stands up to rules in the game and says, ‘Screw yours. I’m looking out for me first. … You can say whatever you want but I am not dumb. I’m not gonna give you the gun and the bullet and stand still. You wanna hit me? Come get me. But I’m not gonna put myself in your line of fire.”

Limbaugh made no bones about portraying Fox News and the rest of the news media as the bad guys in this game of power:

“The media run this game. The media are never to blame for anything that goes wrong. They have total immunity where this all is concerned. The media in their minds and the way everybody plays the game, you have to go through the media to get where you want to go if you are in politics. You have to, and you have to bite your lip along the way. And if you don’t, then you have made a perpetual enemy of people as goes the saying, who buy ink by the barrel.”

Limbaugh channeled Trump’s likely thoughts on how the Republican front-runner is dealing with the princes of the airwaves, saying:

“Who says I have to go through you? Who says I have to look good according to what you say? Who says I have to get to the American people through you? Why can’t I just do my own event?
Buy my own microphone, my own camera, my own time, and talk to the American people without you. It seems to me a lot more efficient and more importantly, I control it. And I don’t have to deal with people maybe misrepresenting me or putting me in a bad light.”

Limbaugh added, “The other players in the game who have always abided by these rules are shocked and dismayed that somebody would mock the game this way.”

Trump said Tuesday the final straw was Fox News’ response to his threat to sit out the debate.

A network spokesperson mocked Trump to several media outlets, saying:

“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president. A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings,” the statement read.

Trump fumed over those remarks at the Tuesday news conference, calling it a “wise-guy press release” that appeared to be “written by a child,” and he accused Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of “playing games.”

“I didn’t like the fact that they sent out press releases toying, talking about Putin and playing games,” Trump said. “I don’t know what games Roger Ailes is playing or what’s wrong over there. But when they sent out that press release talking about it – I said what are these people, playing games? So most likely I won’t be doing the debate.”

The Trump campaign said that when Donald saw the statement, his reply was, “Bye bye.”

Trump isn’t the first top-tier presidential candidate to skip a debate. Ronald Reagan did not attend a Republican debate ahead of the 1980 Iowa caucuses, which he lost to George H.W. Bush. Reagan went on to the win the nomination and the presidency in a landslide.

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TRUMP CAMPAIGN STATEMENT ON FOX NEWS DEBATE

(New York, NY) January 26th, 2016 – As someone who wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time, The Art of the Deal, who has built an incredible company, including some of the most valuable and iconic assets in the world, and as someone who has a personal net worth of many billions of dollars, Mr. Trump knows a bad deal when he sees one. FOX News is making tens of millions of dollars on debates, and setting ratings records (the highest in history), where as in previous years they were low-rated afterthoughts.

Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away. Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games. There have already been six debates, and according to all online debate polls including Drudge, Slate, Time Magazine, and many others, Mr. Trump has won all of them, in particular the last one. Whereas he has always been a job creator and not a debater, he nevertheless truly enjoys the debating process – and it has been very good for him, both in polls and popularity.

He will not be participating in the FOX News debate and will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians. Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again.

Oh Dear – Mark Levin Credibility Melts Like Glenn Beck Tears – Levin Family is Staffer for Senator Cruz…

There’s something initially angering that becomes very sad when a fraud is revealed.  Tonight on his radio show Mark Levin was forced to admit the son of his fiance’ is a full time staffer for Senator Ted Cruz.

After spending weeks attacking anyone who critiques candidate Ted Cruz, the motives of Mark Levin now take full sunlight.   He should be ashamed, VERY ashamed.

No, Mr. crony-constitutionalist, lying by omission is not the least bit funny.  Nor is deception toward your audience when you do not disclose your own conflicts.   Especially when we consider the hours Levin spends railing against the internecine family associations like George Will and his wife working for Scott Walker.

Crony politics is apparently alive and well amid the Mark Levin radio show. Perhaps he will tell the audience how much advertising money he takes from political campaigns?  Or more specifically entities with a vested interest in political campaigns?

Think he’ll fess up now that he’s busted?

Nah, me neither.

He’s got another book to sell…

Wow. Just Wow.

The campaign of Donald Trump continues to expose the “Decepticons”.


Robert Davi: Trump only GOP contender with chance to win

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“Ted Cruz cannot win a General Election for president, in my humble opinion. My life has been spent looking for the truth in human behavior and how it is perceived by the populace, and while Cruz can talk a good game to some corners of the Republican Party, the general election voter would reject him outright. In fact, there is only one GOP contender I see that can win a general election: Donald Trump.

I do not know Ted Cruz personally but to me he projects an insincerity that borders on phoniness. This may not be his intention but I have watched his speeches and his practiced and carefully crafted responses. He comes across to me as an elitist, and at times condescending. I’m certainly not the only one who sees this but as an actor I have developed somewhat of a 6th sense when it comes to authenticity.

The tone-deafness of some of the pundits and voters is astounding to me. This is the year of authenticity. Voters need to be able to discern true authenticity as opposed to someone pandering for votes. Cruz, above anything else, is a lawyer. Lawyers are skilled wordsmiths who talk around and twist arguments like pretzels and are able to sway impressionable minds even when the evidence of guilt lies clear.

They do not build anything. They do not create jobs. They equivocate. America needs someone who can rebuild; someone who thinks outside the box and is a true leader and innovator in thinking.

The world can see what Trump has created. There are many stories of his ability to get things done — on time and under budget. He is beholden to no one. America needs Trump more then he needs us for our survival. Now, with the endorsement of Sarah Palin, anyone who was questioning Trumps conservative bona-fides must take pause. Palin, who Cruz credits for his being in the Senate, must be terribly disheartened that one of his greatest ideological allies sees the importance of this election and the necessary importance of rallying behind Donald Trump.

Some of Cruz’s support is based on his grandstanding on Obamacare in the United States Senate. Folks, it did nothing except to give him attention. Did it help our country one bit? Did he get a consensus? Was he able to change anything? No. And yet he is pinned with the empty medal of being able to do what all lawyers are able to do: talk.

I have watched Trump lead. Trump alone has shaped much of the discussion of what is needed for America this election cycle and is able to galvanize. Cruz has taken some of his talking points from Trump and now co-ops them as his own. I find that repugnant.

I’ve met both Trump and Cruz years ago very briefly. They both seemed like nice guys but the difference is there was something more presidential about Trump.

That’s why it is so disturbing to me that conservatives like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, both of whom I respect, recently asked for Trump to stifle his battle against Cruz.

Why do they want to hamstring Trump? Why don’t they complain about the super-PACs that attack Trump? Instead of taking the gloves off they want Trump to put one hand behind his back. I say shame on you gentleman. Let Trump be Trump and get off the machine.

Trump is standing amidst a field that has continually tried to diminish him. From the media pundits to the politicians and even the party itself, everyone has tried to tear down Trump. Even still, he has withstood the storm.

When I first wrote about Trump on June 16, 2015, I wondered if he could take a punch. Well guess what, he has shown he has an iron jaw. Now it is time for us to do what is right for America and not what is right for the political class.”

Robert Davi is an actor, singer, writer and director. He resides in Los Angeles.

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