Dear Trump voters: Is this really what you want?
Watching the first debate of top-tier Republican presidential candidates, I wondered if you saw what I did: A liar, a bully, and a sexist who wouldn't give FOX News moderators a straight answer — a celebrity billionaire who is treating your party like a trophy wife.
Donald Trump will let you decorate his arm just as long as it suits him, then he'll toss you aside. Your candidate raised his hand when Brett Baier asked for a showing of who wouldn't commit to supporting the eventual GOP nominee and who wouldn't forsake an independent presidential run.
You're standing on a GOP stage, Baier reminded Trump.
"I fully understand."
Running as an independent might help elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, Baier added.
"I fully understand," Trump shrugged. "If I am the nominee, I can pledge I will run as a Republican."
I fully understand that if you don't give him your love, he'll bolt your party. He's holding the GOP hostage, this man who whispered sweet nothings to Bill Clinton just before entering the race — who donated to Democrats, promoted single-payer health care, and sought massive tax hikes.
Is this really what you want?
"He buys and sells politicians of all stripes!" bellowed Sen. Rand Paul after the debate's stunning opening moment. "He's already hedging his bets on the Clintons, so if he doesn't run as a Republican, maybe he supports Clinton or maybe he runs as an independent."
Look, I understand why you're angry. We've got stupid leaders who can't get anything done, who don't care about you, who are feckless and helpless, and who've forgotten how to beat the rest of the world.
Trump channels your anger. He talks the way you do. He validates concerns that both major parties and the media ignore — or mock.
As I wrote the week he entered the race, Trump is a reflection of an angry, anxious America — a people buffeted by the sort of economic and social change that historically creates disconnection, disillusionment, and disengagement. Two-thirds of Americans think their country is on the "wrong track." Three-quarters say life for the next generation will be worse than it was for their parents, the opposite of the American dream. Trust in government is at a record low, as is the public's faith in almost every social institution.
For the first time in the history of Gallup polling, approval ratings for the Democratic and Republican parties dipped below 40 percent. Most Americans say party leaders care more about themselves than the country. A study of voter turnout in the 2014 elections showed record lows in 15 of 25 states amid signs that voter discontent is an American epidemic.
I get it. But did you see his exchange with Megyn Kelly? The respected FOX anchor reminded Trump that his Twitter exchange is filled with rants against women. "Fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs," and "disgusting animals" are what he calls women who disagree with him.
"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump replied, referring to the comic. That's wrong — and Trump knows it is wrong, which makes it a lie.
Kelly called him out, and Trump did what politicians and feckless leaders do: He ducked accountability. "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," he said.
No reflection. No remorse. No lesson learned. "What I say is what I say, and, honestly Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry." That's no apology.
Did you hear him on immigration? Trump had the temerity to claim he's the reason Republicans are talking about immigration and border security, which you know isn't true. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration," Trump said.
Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump to produce the evidence he says he has of the Mexican government sending rapists into the United States. Trump has none — unless you count "the people I deal with," who he says told him so.
Did you know that Trump favors deporting 11 million illegal immigrants before returning most of them to the United States? Of this expensive, if not unworkable, idea, Trump told CNN recently, "I would have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal."
That's gold-plated amnesty. Is that really what you want?
Did you hear the rambling, stumbling explanation for his four bankruptcies? How about his cold response to the scores of people he has laid off?
"When did you actually become a Republican?" Kelly asked. Trump said he "very much evolved," but he wouldn't say when.
I hope you heard the other candidates, especially those who are trying to show that they understand your anger and want to address it.
"I believe the American people are looking for someone to speak the truth," said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
"Here's the thing about Donald Trump," said Ohio Gov. John Kasich. "Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in the country. For people who just want to tune them out, they're making a mistake."
Kasich pivoted to his record in Ohio, conservative accomplishments that appeal to independent and Republican voters. "We all have solutions, Mr. Trump," Kasich said. "We all have different ways of getting there."
Four hours earlier, FOX News sponsored a debate for the second tier — seven candidates introduced to a room of empty seats and polite applause. Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all were asked a version of the same question: Why are you such a loser?
One candidate rose above.
Fiorina, a former tech executive and failed 2010 Senate candidate, seized the outsider-populist mantle, tying Trump to Bill and Hillary Clinton via his donations to their coffers and a mysterious conversation he had with the former president shortly before entering the GOP race. She called Trump a flip-flopper, unworthy of the angry voters drawn to his message.
"Whatever the issue, whatever the cause, whatever festering problem you hoped would be resolved, the political class has failed you," Fiorina declared.
In style and substance, she beat the political insiders — a governor, a senator, three former governors, and one former senator. All men: The Establishment.
That's what you want: somebody to disrupt both parties and the stale status quo.
But is Trump really the guy you want to do it?
Correction: An earlier version of this column referred to Rand Paul as Ron Paul.