Last time Fox hosted a debate, Donald Trump boycotted it, and even held a competing event, raising $7m for veteran groups. The result was a 1/3 drop in viewership for the Fox event. The following CNN debate, in which Trump participated, had near-record ratings.
When asked last week, whether he would participate, Trump said he thought there were too many debates, and candidates just keep saying the same things over and over, anyway. However, he decided to participate.
One issue was the behavior of Fox’s host, Megyn Kelly. Over the past months, she has had an ongoing anti-Trump campaign on the network, and her questioning of Trump was much different from her questions to other candidates. Trump asked that Fox use an objective debate moderator, but Fox decided that the ratings would be higher if there were more conflict.
In one example, Kelly played three recorded segments, purported to show Trump “flip-flopping” on issues. You can get the transcript from the Washington Post.
All three were about foreign issues. Here’s the first:
CUOMO: What about in Afghanistan? Do you believe that American boots should stay on the ground in Afghanistan to stabilize the situation?
TRUMP: We’ve made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. That thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave. Just as I said that Iraq was going to collapse after we leave.
(UNKNOWN): About Afghanistan, you said we made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place.
TRUMP: We made a mistake going into Iraq. I’ve never said we made a mistake…
(UNKNOWN): Our question was about Afghanistan. That day on October…
TRUMP: Well, OK, I never said that.
(UNKNOWN): … was on Afghanistan
TRUMP: OK. Wouldn’t matter. I never said it.
Here’s the second:
O’REILLY: Do you object to migrants who are getting out of the Middle East and North Africa? Do you object to them coming to the USA?
TRUMP: I hate the concept of it, but on a humanitarian basis, with what’s happening, you have to. It’s living in Hell in Syria; there’s no question about it. They’re living in Hell.
HANNITY: Are you saying absolutely people from Syria, the Middle East, should we allow any of them into this country?
TRUMP: Look, from a humanitarian standpoint, I’d love to help, but we have our own problems. We have so many problems that we have to solve.
And the third:
TRUMP: They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction; there were none. And they knew there were none.
I don’t know if he lied or not. He could have lied. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. I guess you’d have to ask him.
Let’s look at them in reverse order. Regarding whether Bush lied about WMD in Iraq, as pretense for invasion, this is a silly issue. We often use “Bush” or “Obama” to refer to the administration, not the individual person. In this case, Trump says, “THEY lied,” but when asked if Bush, personally, lied, Trump said, “I don’t know if HE lied.” The point was that the administration lied, but Trump could not know if it was all Bush’s idea.
The second is equally silly. Trump was asked about refugees. He said he “hated the concept,” but “you” (that is, somebody) has to do something. Later, when he was asked again, Trump said, “I’d love to help,” but “we have so many problems.” Note that he did NOT say we “would” help in the first instance, and he did NOT say we “wouldn’t” help in the second.
The third instance is more troublesome for him. But to understand it, you have to understand Trump’s view of the Middle East. He’s against “nation building.” He says we should only get involved if there is an American issue at stake.
In the case of Afghanistan, he has said we were right to “punish” Afghanistan for housing and then defending al Qaeda. So it would have been appropriate to attack, destroy the Taliban, and then get out. Just walk away. The goal was retribution, so that no country would want to tempt our wrath again.
OR—we could have gone in, rebuilt it, and made it a “shining city on the hill” that would show other countries how life could be in a successful, democratic, capitalistic society. Instead, we did the minimum there, and rushed off to attack Iraq, for questionable reasons.
If Kelly (and Fox) had been smart, they would have chosen issues that really matter to conservatives—abortion, gay rights, gun rights—things that are easier to understand, and are HERE. But of course, Trump’s answer is that a smart person, an effective person, is flexible enough to face the “current” situation—and smart enough to learn new information on old issues.
In my opinion, Kelly’s weak attack, Rubio’s childish rants (such as questioning Trump’s penis, or if he wants a mirror to see if he wet his pants), and Romney’s simply repeating Rubio’s rants probably did nothing to blunt Trump’s rise. The only question is whether Trump’s seeming to take the weak and childish attacks seriously did.