The Fox News debate moderators treated Donald Trump like any other presidential candidate. They pressed him to explain past statements including his comments on Mexican immigrants and his misogynistic rhetoric. They queried him on policy flip-flops (e.g., on single-payer healthcare, on abortion) and on his financial support for Democrats.
Trump and his supporters then spent a good deal of Friday bellyaching that Fox had been too tough on him. He crudely insulted Megyn Kelly. He whined, “I think the questions to me — and that’s why I’m so honored — the questions to me were much tougher than the questions to anybody else.” Actually, they weren’t. Trump’s defenders deep in the heart of the right-wing echo chamber were incensed Trump would be asked to defend his record and egregious language. For a group that dishes it out unmercifully to every insufficiently conservative Republican and to all liberals, they sure seem squeamish when their pet candidate is on the receiving end.
It is wrong to say he was treated more harshly than other candidates. Jeb Bush got grilled on Common Core and immigration; Ohio Gov. John Kasich had to explain his stance on Medicaid expansion; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked about his 180 on comprehensive immigration reform; and, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was pressed to explain how he could be president when he can’t even get along with the GOP Senate colleagues. But unlike these other candidates Trump whined during the debate. (“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.”)
Later on Friday Trump went a tick too far even for the right wing. The Post reported:
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson on Friday night disinvited GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump from speaking at an activist conference he is hosting here this weekend, citing disparaging remarks Trump made hours earlier on CNN about Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly. . . . Trump’s CNN interview Friday evening instantly drew controversy and criticism after he said Kelly, one of the moderators of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Erickson, a Fox News regular and face of the popular RedState blog, has long been a foe congressional GOP leaders and an ally of conservative grass-roots organizers. He has also drawn criticism for saying impolitic things, once calling retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter an “[expletive] child molester” and First Lady Michelle Obama a “Marxist harpy.” He has since apologized for both comments.
Trump’s words about Kelly simply went too far, Erickson said Friday, making him, someone who enjoys and appreciates barbed political rhetoric, uncomfortable and queasy. And with his invited guest dominating the 2016 race, and few if any conservatives reining him in, Erickson thought he’d try.
It is ironic and sad that it is only when Megyn Kelly is attacked that the RedState and like-minded activists take offense. They did not disown him when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers or when he insulted POWs. The lesson here is that their own toleration and encouragement of incendiary rhetoric and disregard of civility enabled Trump, who now is an embarrassment even to them.
Attacking Fox from the right was a sign both of Trump and his supporters’ desperation and delusion. Fox is trying to “take out” Trump? On the contrary, the cable news giant has milked his candidacy for ratings and drew in a stunning 24 million viewers for the first debate. The last thing Roger Ailes and company want is to see Trump disappear. Moreover, Trump is still exempt from serious policy questions. (What is his tax reform plan? How would he balance the budget?)
It’s obvious that Trump had his bubble burst in the debate, but his post-debate temper tantrum now threatens to marginalize him even among staunch conservatives. Characters such as Trump (and defenders of extreme and less adept candidates) don’t like being challenged on national TV. Well, too bad. As Trump would say, voters “don’t have time” for complainers. “And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore,” as Trump put it when asked about his vile comments about women.
The problem is that Trump isn’t a real candidate and is not a real front-runner. He’s the flavor of the month, the Don Rickles of politics, a bully and a buffoon. He brags that he made millions in Atlantic City while firing over a thousand workers and that he gave money to Hillary Clinton to get her to come to his wedding. (Why would he want her there? No other GOP contender would.) He revels in his ignorance. As such, he is getting nowhere near the White House (even by invitation).
Sensing his 15 minutes of fame is almost up, Trump does what he always does when challenged or embarrassed — double down on his crazy talk and insult his critics. In this case it is backfiring spectacularly. Conservatives have called his tune and now seem ready to move on to find a viable candidate.