Donald Trump is not going to be the leader of the free world. That was the reality check delivered to the reality TV star when he was subjected to a pounding in last week’s Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.
A summer of bombast from the bumptious billionaire had led to his anti-immigration rhetoric and populist demagoguery lifting him to the top of all the Republican party polls. The debate in Simi Valley, however, brought him crashing back to earth.
By the time the dust had settled, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and the widely proclaimed victor of the debate, was in the lead in a Voter Gravity poll in New Hampshire, edging out Trump by four points.
The property magnate, who had looked deflated and remained uncharacteristically silent for almost 40 minutes at one point during the three-hour CNN debate, then stood accused of racism.
Trump was flummoxed when a questioner at a rally in Rochester, New Hampshire, called President Barack Obama a Muslim — and failed to correct or challenge him.
“We have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims,” the man said. “We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”
Trump looked uncomfortable, responding that “a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening” and “we’re going to be looking at that and many other things”, before trying to move on in the hope the moment would pass.
But people noticed. Amid a storm of outrage, Trump pulled out of the Heritage Action candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday citing a “significant business transaction”.
While Republican grandees are breathing a sigh of relief after a bewildering few months in which Trump became the frontrunner for their party’s nomination, he is unlikely to disappear just yet. Republican operatives expect him to stay in the race at least until voting begins in Iowa and New Hampshire in February.
Suddenly, though, it has become apparent that the notion of Trump single-handedly changing American politics is far-fetched. Like other rabble-rousing outsiders of yesteryear hailed as paradigm-shifting saviours, he is about to find out he is mortal.
Rick Wilson, a veteran Florida political strategist close to both Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment favourite, and Marco Rubio, whom many party insiders increasingly view as a potential nominee, said Trump had been made to look like an “uninformed boob” in the debate.
“Carly Fiorina knocked him down on the appearance question,” he said, referring to her acid retort to his earlier comments about her face. Fiorina hit back: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr Trump said.”
Wilson said: “It was the first real blow any candidate in this race had landed on Donald Trump. Everyone on that stage realised he wasn’t invincible.
“He started to be bound by the normal rules of political gravity and physics and no longer got to just leverage his celebrity in terms of not having to play by the typical rules.”
It is plain Trump has managed to tap into something real in America: an anger at Washington, a disillusionment with both the Republican and Democratic parties and a disdain for the profession of politician.
Like Trump, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has risen to second in the polls, is a newcomer to politics. They and Fiorina, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate from California in 2010, have never held elected office.
On the Democratic side, the establishment pick Hillary Clinton faces an unexpectedly potent challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 74-year-old avowed socialist who looks like the inventor Doc Brown from the Back to the Future films.
While Fiorina may be lionised as the person who humbled Trump and is a plausible running mate, she, like Carson, remains unlikely to be the Republican nominee. Sanders draws enthusiastic crowds but he is still a long shot for the Democratic nod.
The last political novice to become a major party nominee was Dwight Eisenhower, who won the presidency in 1952. And he had led US forces to victory in the Second World War.
While the current anti-politician atmosphere in America is intense, all the precedents point to a former governor or senator being sworn in as president in January 2017.
Trump’s rise has echoes of Ross Perot’s third-party presidential run in 1992 and Pat Buchanan’s “pitchfork populists”, who helped him win the Republican primary in New Hampshire in 1996.
Herman Cain, a pizza magnate, was briefly the Republican frontrunner in the 2012 campaign before sex scandals forced him to pull out. Howard Dean, a largely unknown governor of Vermont who surged to lead the Democratic polls in 2004, lost in Iowa and succumbed to Senator John Kerry. Jesse Jackson won 11 states in 1988 but never seriously challenged Governor Michael Dukakis for the nomination.
Curt/Toby I must have watched a different debate than you. As to Fiorina et al, as they get popular the press etc. will start tossing dirt like they did at Herman Cain in 2012. The truth means nothing to the babbling press, they have their marching orders and respond accordingly. At least Donald fights back.
Curt, I wonder why you are so happy at the idea that Trump would disappear so early. The Establishment Republican Party has been so feckless and impotent the past few years it is embarrassing. They refuse to fight. Over and over they refuse to vote on issues, wringing their hands and saying “Oh, but Obama will just veto it”. Good! At least get the GOP and the Democrats on record on the issues. We gave the GOP congressional majorities in 2010 and 2012 and 2014, and the GOP seems content with jerking off.
Trump and other outsiders like Carson are forcing us to discuss issues that need to be discussed, because they are not “politically savvy” enough to avoid controversy. The GOP says it wants to secure the border, but has been bought lock stock and barrel by the Chamber of Commerce which wants open borders. Carson was absolutely right in laying out in plain English that any Muslim that believes in Sharia Law cannot be president. These are issues that have to be aired, and the mainstream candidates like Bush are too shy to deal with them.
That is why we conservatives are flocking to the outsiders. And if they get pushed out too early and we get the same old establishment GOP operatives, saying the same old GOP talking points and acting in the same milquetoast manner, we will not be motivated to vote next year, just like what happened in 2008 and 2012.
got to dislike a journalistic whore such as Toby Harnden a left winger.
where did Trump crash- only in the politically correct hype of the brainless media.
ah, but the media is controlled by the government..
welcome to the new world order which every American has graciously surrendered to.
“Trump and other outsiders like Carson are forcing us to discuss issues that need to be discussed…”
True, they ARE forcing a discussion that was less likely to occur in their absence. But they are doing so at the expense of their candidacy. Their childish antics are proving their unworthiness to the electorate, and at this point they’ve lost their shot at the White-house. Blame the media if it makes you feel better, but it is your fellow Republicans who are turning against them, not liberals. The mistakes these clowns are making are mistakes no seasoned professional would make, proving that, as unpopular as politicians may be, they are the best candidates for political jobs.