Did Donald Trump’s shifting to what he thinks is a more presidential demeanor further endear his 35 percent of the GOP vote? Did they not recognize him? Did he win more converts since they saw a calmer side of him that talked issues? Or did folks see that he really is an inch, at most, deep on the issues and reality is settling in that he is not qualified to be President of the United States?
All that was on display last night. Trump wasn’t baiting his opponents. He let slide opportunities he would have seized on last week to be loud and bombastic. He talked, what passes for him, as substance.
And the voters can determine whether he really knows what he’s talking about. I’d say he demonstrated little grasp of the issues. He turned to his stale answers on the deficit (“waste, fraud and abuse!”; negotiate better deals!; cut drug prices! He will not touch Social Security! He will rebuild the military! On Israel, he is solidly behind Israel – after all, he’s contributed money, has two Jewish grandchildren and was grand marshal in a Jewish parade!
In short, he was very weak, I thought, on the issues. Common Core alone he was dead wrong on.
Marco Rubio, on the other hand, finally demonstrated why folks say he is a skilled politician. He demonstrated a knowledge of the issues, kept his cool, and may have contributed to a rise that’s occurring for him in the Florida polls. He has to win Tuesday in Florida or go bye-bye. Trump's lead was down to single digits before the debate.
Cruz was a shrill as ever. Kasich was Kasich- the turtle in the race, slow and steady but not breaking through.
A question for Trump is: can he return to his old style after last night? He condemned violence at his rallies, for example. Now, can he again say “get him out of here!”, “throw her out!” or “I’d like to punch him in the face and win cheers? This after a supporter did sucker punch someone in the face at his rally the other day. Will his “let’s make a deal” platform be enough or will he now have to finally show substance in these debates and interviews?
Was his change in strategy – an effort it seemed to begin to convince the GOP establishment he’s okay, pointing out he’s brought in millions of new voters – the right move at the right time?
I think not. If he had displayed a knowledge of substance, maybe it would have worked. Plus there are gazillions of dollars being spent on negative ads against him now which you may not see if you’re not in a state with an upcoming primary. His opponents tried matching his style, failed and gave up on that approach and now he’s playing in their sandbox, or was last night. It’s the wrong sandbox for him.
Time will tell but I think he hurt himself last night and let the others show their substantive strength.