Throughout the summer of Trump, then the autumn of Trump, and now into Trump-mas-tide, pundits and politicians alike have assumed that something would happen that would cause Trump’s standing to deflate and his candidacy to go away. I’m not being superior about this: I assumed so, too. But whatever that “something” will be, if it is to be, it did not happen in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
The debate ended as it began: Trump, dominant; the field of anti-Trumps, fragmented. If anything, the anti-Trump field seems even further from coalescing on Wednesday morning than it did before Tuesday night.
What the debate did highlight, though, was that no single anti-Trump candidate has to date emerged as a party favorite. All of them have tied their careers to at least one policy radically unacceptable to much of the party.
Love Marco Rubio’s eloquence, his inspiring life story, and his youthful personability? Last night, Rubio also confirmed that his top priority as president will be to lead the country into a much wider war in Syria.
Agree with Ted Cruz’s ideological hard-line, relish his confrontations with congressional party poo-bahs? Last night showed that he’s generally a slippery person, and that his real views on issues like immigration align as closely to the donor elite as do those of anybody else on the debate stage.
Glad to see the charismatic Chris Christie return to the big stage? Last night, he said—again—that he was willing to start a shooting war with Russia.
Warmed by Ben Carson’s inner decency and Christian faith? Last night, he forced you to confront the fact that he knows absolutely zero about any of the national-security issues facing the country—and has zero interest in correcting that defect.
Relieved that Jeb Bush dug deep to reveal the competence and expertise that made him such a successful governor of Florida? But even when he stands tough, he’s not standing tough for you … he’s so preoccupied with his fight against the bully Trump that he can never connect what matters to him to what matters to the people whose votes he wants.
And so on through the roster: Kasich, Fiorina, Paul.
They’re so horrified by Trump that they won’t try to understand the concerns of his supporters, much less address those concerns in any effective way.
Which leaves the Republican race looking like American retailing: many specialized stores to serve the various wants and wishes of the well-heeled—and one vast Trump super-store dominating the down-market all by itself.