I have just finished watching the FNC debate in Detroit and here are my observations.
The debate audience was incredibly raucous especially during the first half of the debate. This audience seemed to be with Trump especially when he hit his standard lines on the wall with Mexico and stance on torture. When Megyn Kelly pointed out his contradictory statements on Afghanistan, Syrian refugees and Bush/WMDs in Iraq, he responded in an utterly incoherent manner the audience didn’t bat an eyelash. They were buying what Trump was selling. At least at the beginning.
Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz got in some good jabs at Trump like when Cruz told Trump that he had a tenuous relationship with the truth or when Rubio suggested that Trump could do yoga because his positions were flexible. But for the most part, Trump talked over them. He was not going to let himself be double teamed again. The audience didn’t buy Rubio’s explanation about immigration and Cruz’s answer North Korea putting its nuclear arms in ready mode didn’t inspire confidence.
But the audience began to turn on Trump once Trump University was brought up. Trump claimed the Better Business Bureau gave Trump U an A, Kelly said it was a D-. Kelly also cited a Trump U lawsuit which compared Trump’s conduct to that of Bernie Madoff. At this point, Trump kept repeatedly saying it was “a minor civil case.” Well, he sure didn’t act like it was a minor civil case.
I suspect a lot of people in that audience have taken real estate seminars or other courses aimed at improving their wealth and could see themselves in the position of the victims of Trump U. It was at that point the audience began to see Trump as a con man and were much cooler to him for the rest of the evening.
Bu the story of the evening though was John Kasich. At first, he stuck to his standard “I balanced the budget in the ’90s/I was on the defense committee for 18 years”, but then suddenly he began to connect with the audience. He made a deliberate point of not attacking Trump nor anyone else on the stage and said the Republican Party needed to stop fighting amongst itself. Ben Carson has made similar statements, but when Kasich said it tonight he hit a nerve because the audience began to calm down.
Chris Wallace asked Kasich a question about a statement he made regarding religious liberty at last week’s CNN debate and a commercial he ran regarding Trump-Putin ticket. Kasich won the crowd over when he said that while he understood the frustration of someone being denied a wedding cake they shouldn’t go to court about it. He also got cheers when he said he wasn’t biting on the Trump-Putin commercial and then proceeded to show off his foreign policy knowledge. Kasich easily got the biggest cheers of the night.
Of course, at this stage of the race it might not make a difference. But then again a week in politics is a lifetime. It will be interesting to see what happens to his poll numbers in Michigan in the next day or two. Could he surge like Rubio surged in Virginia? He could but just as the Kasich vote denied Rubio a triumph over Trump in Virginia, a Rubio vote could deny Kasich a triumph in Michigan. But if tonight doesn’t improve his standing in Ohio then nothing will.
The larger question is what is Kasich’s agenda. Does he still think he’s going to be the nominee? Or is he angling to be Trump’s VP? Interestingly, the final question of the evening from Wallace was would Rubio, Cruz and Kasich support Trump and in turn would Trump support the GOP nominee if he didn’t win. Trump basically said he would support the GOP nominee even though they didn’t deserve it. Both Rubio and Cruz said they would support Trump, but they said it in such a way that they seemed resigned to Trump being the nominee. Kasich said he would support Trump, but also said he was going to be the nominee. He seems to be the only one has hope. Who knows? Maybe a little delusion does go a long way.
However, you look at it, Kasich had a very, very good night. Whether that night stretches into tomorrow and next week and the week after that remains to be seen.
The next GOP debate takes place one week from tonight in Miami and will air on CNN.
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