It’s been interesting to watch the commotion on social media and elsewhere over the supposed ill treatment given Donald Trump by moderators Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace during Thursday’s blockbuster (24 million viewers!) Republican presidential debate.
There seems to be a consensus, at least among Trump’s supporters, that the Fox News trio were “out to get” him, which is a concession of sorts to the obvious — Trump performed poorly in the debate and disqualified himself several times.
Those questions might have been hard. So what? There are 17 candidates running. We desperately need tough questions to disqualify as many of the pretenders as possible. Actual contenders can take hard questions and knock them out of the park like a high fastball off Mike Trout’s bat.
Which Trump didn’t do.
Consider, for example the question Trump received from Kelly about sexist remarks he has made on a number of occasions beyond just his well-publicized imbroglio with the horrible Rosie O’Donnell. Here, from the transcript, is Trump’s answer…
TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.
I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.
And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
But you know what, we — we need strength, we need energy, we need quickness and we need brain in this country to turn it around. That, I can tell you right now.
The real estate tycoon and reality TV star followed that up by attacking Kelly as a “bimbo” on Twitter and then making the suggestion that she had “blood coming out of her wherever” in a CNN interview about the debate. Most pundits took that to mean a suggestion Kelly’s question in the debate came from her menstrual cycle rather than her debate preparation, and that led to Erick Erickson disinviting Trump from his annual RedState Gathering over the weekend.
None of this was necessary. What if, instead, Trump had answered the question with something like this?
TRUMP: Look, I’m not politically correct and I don’t ever plan to be. I think political correctness is one of the worst things we have happening in this country. And whatever consequences for that there might be, I can handle.
And I really don’t accept the premise of your question, which is that because I might have said something nasty about Rosie O’Donnell, or somebody else who happens to be female, that it means somehow I have a problem with women. We might just have to disagree here, because I know at times you’ve been a little sensitive about this and I respect that. To me, though, if somebody happens to be female that’s not some defense to me calling them out when they need it.
Like for example, I don’t think it would be sexist for me to say something terrible about Lois Lerner, that awful woman from the IRS who persecuted all those people. Or Valerie Jarrett, who’s the one actually running the country and who’s more or less a communist from Iran. Or Loretta Lynch, who wants to prosecute the people who made those Planned Parenthood videos rather than Planned Parenthood. I get to criticize them without getting called sexist. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
That is every bit as tough an answer as Trump gave, but it actually scores some points — on the conservatism Trump’s allegiance with is in question, on the irritating and destructive weaponized political correctness used so often on Republican candidates, and on Kelly — who has perhaps injudiciously bitten the heads off male guests on her show for what she thinks are sexist statements.
Then there was the question Wallace asked about what evidence Trump has that the Mexican government is literally sending rapists and murderers across the border. His answer was that nobody was talking about illegal immigration before he raised the issue, and that the Border Patrol has told him the Mexican government is the villain. That wasn’t his worst answer, but two things are true. First, it is hardly unfair to ask him what proof he has of such a wild claim, and second, not only doesn’t he have any but he needs to either come up with some — and if he could have answered that question by pointing viewers to a website at which he made a reasonably credible case for it, his answer could have been a home run — or else wiggle himself off the hook for having said it.
When one of the other candidates, having digested Trump’s blanket statements about how he controls politicians by buying them, challenged him he gave this answer — which is also disqualifying…
QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?
TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.
You know why?
She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.
No, you can’t brag about paying Hillary Clinton six figures to come to your wedding and get the Republican nomination. That this awful answer was what came to Trump’s mind rather than some dumb zoning regulation someplace Trump managed to escape from for one of his projects because of intervention from one of his bought politicians is revealing: Was Trump concerned about saying a little too much about under-the-table influence-peddling, or did he think that he could demean Hillary Clinton by saying he made her a wedding favor without indicting himself as a fool easily parted with his money?
Either way, it looks like terrible judgment and an answer that should have been avoided. He should have instead shown regret for giving money to the Clinton Foundation and accused Hillary of having scammed him.
And another question Wallace asked, about Trump’s business bankruptcies, was a disaster. His answer…
TRUMP: Because I have used the laws of this country just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera.
I have never gone bankrupt, by the way. I have never.
But out of hundreds of deals…
WALLACE: No, but the concept sir…
TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.
WALLACE: … that’s your line, but your companies have gone bankrupt.
TRUMP: Excuse me, what am I saying? Out of hundreds of deals that I’ve done, hundreds, on four occasions I’ve taken advantage of the laws of this country, like other people. I’m not going to name their names because I’m not going to embarrass, but virtually every person that you read about on the front page of the business sections, they’ve used the law.
The difference is, when somebody else uses those laws, nobody writes about it. When I use it, they say, “Trump, Trump, Trump.” The fact is, I built a net worth of more than $10 billion. I have a great, great company. I employ thousands of people. And I’m very proud of the job I did.
Again Chris, hundreds and hundreds of deals. Four times, I’ve taken advantage of the laws. And frankly, so has everybody else in my position.
WALLACE: Well sir, let’s just talk about the latest example which is Trump Entertainment Resorts, which went bankrupt in 2009. In that case alone, lenders to your company lost over $1 billion and more than 1,100 people were laid off.
TRUMP: Well, I…
WALLACE: Is that the way that you’d run the country?
TRUMP: Let me just tell you about the lenders. First of all, these lenders aren’t babies. These are total killers. These are not the nice, sweet little people that you think, OK?
You know, I mean you’re living in a world of the make-believe, Chris, you want to know the truth.
And I had the good sense to leave Atlantic City, which by the way, Caesars just went bankrupt. Every company, Chris can tell you, every company virtually in Atlantic City went bankrupt.
And let me just tell you. I had the good sense, and I’ve gotten a lot of credit in the financial pages, seven years ago I left Atlantic City before it totally cratered, and I made a lot of money in Atlantic City, and I’m very proud of it. I want to tell you that. Very, very proud of it.
TRUMP: And by the way, this country right now owes $19 trillion. And they need somebody like me to straighten out that mess.
That’s a terrible answer, for a number of reasons. First, you absolutely never brag about going bankrupt. And second, you never use the words “taken advantage of the laws of this country” in a political speech unless you’re attacking someone else for doing it. Third, don’t accuse Chris Wallace of living in a make-believe world. And fourth, instead of getting petulant and combative, a better approach would have been to relate the answer to your core campaign message. Like this, for example…
TRUMP: Commercial real estate is amazingly hard, you understand? People think you just build it and they will come, like in some stupid movie. Doesn’t work that way. Either you know how, where and when to build it, or you’re dead in my business. You hear me? Dead.
But I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of big, Yyyyyuuuuuuuggge, deals. And while a really good commercial real estate developer might make a little more than half of his deals pay off I’ve only had four of them go bad in all this time. Almost nobody does this as well as I do.
I’m ahead in the polls because people know that I make the economy grow. We have this terrible economy because fewer and fewer people are willing to take risks to go into business. Why? All you get is crapped on by losers who sit around and make you out to be a bad guy while you break your back. We used to celebrate success; now it’s like you gotta be punished for being a capitalist. To make America great again we have to totally reverse that.
And this business with the lenders… who do you think we’re talking about? Mom and Pop in Idaho that we’re calling on the phone to invest in a casino? These are giant banks everybody says they hate. They’re big boys and they understand risks. They usually still lend money to my deals even though four of them went bad. They mostly make money with me and they know it.
Like the one in Atlantic City. I can’t stop Atlantic City from crashing; all I can do is get out and put those resources somewhere else where they can make money and put people to work. Please tell me you understand how the world works better than this, Wallace — you’ve been around as long as I have.
Then there was Bret Baier’s question to Trump about his past affinity for a single-payer health care system. His answer, frankly, disqualified him from the support of any self-respecting conservative…
TRUMP: As far as single payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.
What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state. I have a big company with thousands and thousands of employees. And if I’m negotiating in New York or in New Jersey or in California, I have like one bidder. Nobody can bid.
You know why?
Because the insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians, of course, with the exception of the politicians on this stage.
But they have total control of the politicians. They’re making a fortune.
Get rid of the artificial lines and you will have yourself great plans. And then we have to take care of the people that can’t take care of themselves. And I will do that through a different system.
Who would trust the author of the above to design such a system?
What was needed, if Trump actually expects to win the support of conservatives who are actually paying attention to the race, was a statement like “When I said I supported what they’re doing in Canada I’ll admit I really hadn’t studied that issue. The more I’ve learned about it, I’ve changed my mind. It works in Canada because the Canadians who don’t want to wait can just come down here and access our system, and I didn’t realize how prevalent that is at the time.”
He could then have said whatever he wants about buying insurance for his employees.
The fact is, the questions Trump took Thursday night were mild compared to what’s coming when CNN or NBC and Univision get hold of presidential debates. Trump had several opportunities to knock them out of the park and show he belonged. He didn’t, and that’s not Megyn Kelly’s, Bret Baier’s or Chris Wallace’s fault.
Finally, let’s be honest here. We are not faced with a binary choice between Donald Trump and the Republican establishment. In fact, most of the candidates in the race are not, strictly speaking, Establishment RINO candidates.
Pick one and support him or her. Get off your sofa and help one of those non-RINO candidates get the nomination. But if you call yourself a conservative, pick someone other than Trump — because while it’s certainly fun watching him take a meat axe to the political class he’s certainly not one of us.