With Trump at center stage, debate produces no clear winner

First of twelve Republican presidential debates held with ten candidates debating for two hours on live television, frontrunner Donald Trump basks in spotlight yet no clear winner emerges

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R) Christie, Rubio, Carson, Walker, Trump, Bush, Huckabee, Cruz, Paul, Kasich before the debate

Updated Aug 8, 2015

The first Republican debate for the 2016 presidential race was held on Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio. Ten candidates selected by their popularity in the five latest national polls and seeking the party’s nomination took the stage in a heated debate which ended with no clear “winner.”

The top ten candidates in order of popularity are Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich.

Thursday’s debate, the first of twelve, is one of six opportunities for Republican candidates to showcase their stance on issues and to make an impression before primaries begin next February.

A common point for the ten candidates was their disdain for democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton as all promised to beat the former Secretary of State if they were chosen as the Republican nominee.

For Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump whose favorite putdown is “loser,” the debate, the presidential race and being American appears to be all about winning.

Trump caused a commotion on Thursday night when he raised his hand, in answer, to co-moderator Brett Baier’s question if anyone was “unwilling to pledge [his] support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party, and pledge to not run an independent.”

Voicing his desire to win no matter what, Trump said he would prefer to win as a Grand Old Party (GOP) nominee, but could not rule out other options and got booed by the audience.

“If I’m the nominee, I will pledge that I will not run as an independent. But - and I am discussing it with everybody, but I’m, you know, talking about a lot of leverage. We want to win, and we will win. But I want to win as the Republican. I want to win as the Republican nominee.”

His comments drew sharp criticism from Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, who accused Trump of hedging his bets, “because he’s used to buying politicians.”

Rand Paul also argued with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who supports bulk domestic surveillance to fend off possible future terror attacks.

Paul brought up the Fourth Amendment, saying he wants to “collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans” only to be ridiculed by Christie who implied Paul who favoured search warrants, was out of touch with reality.

“Listen, senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” Christie said.

When Fox News co-moderator Megyn Kelly questioned Trump’s attitude towards women, reminding viewers that he once called “women [he doesn't] like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,’” Trump tried to make a joke out of it.

When Kelly persisted, Trump said he didn’t have time for political correctness, and neither did the United States. He complained that she was mistreating him in the debate.

Warning that the United States is in big trouble, Trump once more spoke in terms of winning and losing, saying “we don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico, both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”

Trump proposed building a wall along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration and said the Mexican government is “much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning and they send the bad ones over.”

Saying he believes in a path to legal status, former Florida governor Jeb Bush disagreed with Trump on his immigration policy, and added “Mr. Trump’s language is divisive.”

Bush added “I want to win. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message.”

Second generation Cuban-American and Florida senator Marco Rubio spoke of curriculum reform he wants to enact on the state and local level - rather than national - and put in an authoritative appearance.

Ohio governor John Kasich called himself an old fashioned believer of traditional marriage, but added his love is unconditional and he would still love his daughters if they were gay.

Revealing he recently went to a gay friend’s wedding, Kasich said, “because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean I can’t care about them or can’t love them,” attributing his acceptance to “strong faith.”

Kasich’s response was met with a loud round of applause.

Despite Trump dominating the spotlight for most of the debate, no one emerged as the clear winner at the end of the two hours allotted to the ten candidates.

Speaking after the event of the debate audience, Trump said “I don’t think they like me very much,” with a shrug. His dismissal may be spot on, since the debate audience, if Lynn Vavreck, a political science professor at UCLA, is to be believed, “are not the most important audience watching it.”

In an article published in the New York Times before the debate, Vavreck identified four audiences: voters, donors, party leaders, media members. She asserted that voters were the least important - as it is too early in the race and there are too many candidates -  but not the news media, the party elite and donors.

Donald Trump, the self-financed, independent-if-necessary candidate with plenty of media attention, may be around for a while yet.

TRTWorld and agencies