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So, did he blow it? Is Trump-mania beginning to die away in the wake of disastrous 2nd debate? That’s certainly what the press seems to think. Take this from The Atlantic: “Trump turned in a remarkably listless performance, buffeted by his rivals’ attacks, frequently sputtering or struggling to respond. His trademark bluster repeatedly failed him; the celebrity who has coasted to first place thanks to his larger-than-life persona seemed decidedly life-size. Pundits across the political spectrum unanimously pronounced him weakened and diminished.”
Or this from the Washington Post: “In the middle of Wednesday night’s main Republican presidential debate – that is to say, well over an hour into it – Donald Trump seemed to vanish. The voluble businessman came out of the gates punching everything in sight and then just… stopped. He didn’t literally leave the stage. But it was like when you only notice that the air conditioning has been humming loudly after it’s been shut off.”
Or this from CNN: “It was a wild night at CNN’s GOP debate.. and it took a toll on Donald Trump as he sparred with Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush and sustained attacks from just about everybody on the stage.”
I don’t disagree with the basic gist of these points. Trump did have a sub-par debate compared to his first appearance, and other candidates have gained ground as a result. I don’t believe, however, that Trump is ‘finished’ as a candidate. Far from it.
The attempts to humiliate Trump during the debate fell rather flat, I found. Even Carly Fiorina much celebrated put-down – relating to an admittedly stupid comment Trump had made about her appearance – did little to reduce his popular advantage. I remember no comment made by the tycoon that did not attract raucous applause (and often vocal endorsement from identifiably female members of the audience). What’s more, since the debate, Trump’s poll performance has not declined but improved across the board. If this was supposed to be the car-crash of Trump’s campaign, it failed to scratch the paintwork.
Trump will continue to gain in the polls for as long as his rivals choose spin over emotion, and political correctness over honesty. Millions of ordinary people find Trump’s no-nonsense approach exhilarating, liberating and entirely appropriate to the times we find ourselves in. This is, as Trump notes, a world in which Christians are fed to dogs, beheaded and often crucified, in which Mullahs seeking the end of days are actively developing the tools needed to bring it about, and in which challenges to liberal democracy are flourishing on the back of amoral Chinese investment policies. This is an age that requires the old American way of doing things, the way of Macarthur, Patton and Eisenhower. And of the republican candidates featured at last week’s debate, only Trump would appear to offer anything resembling that approach.
Obama has given the enemies of America 8 years of weakness to take advantage of, and in Russia, China, Mexico and elsewhere they have taken it. Trump promises to make up for this. He promises to ‘Make America Great Again’. And with the right support and advice, I believe he may be up to the task.