The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump Alters the Way the Rest of the Field Is Perceived

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Donald Trump brought the circus to town. Credit where it’s due; when confronted with past name-calling, he killed with that “Only Rosie O’Donnell” line. He makes everyone else look boring; he also makes everyone else look responsible, polite and grown-up. There was a bit of cattiness in his first exchange with Megyn Kelly, and his refusal to declare that he would support the eventual GOP nominee was revealing.

Trump alters the way the rest of the field is viewed.

Remember when the fear was that Ben Carson was too undisciplined and inexperienced to be the GOP standard-bearer? He comes across as a statesman next to Trump — and had a good night, with a particularly good answer on race and some good funny lines at the end. (“I’ve removed a half a brain; I could understand if you walk around Washington and feel like somebody beat me to it.”)

Remember when Ted Cruz was the bomb-thrower on the right? Now he’s the guy talking about his legislative work to punish sanctuary cities. He seemed to get lost in the shuffle at times tonight — but again, compared to the bombastic Trump, he comes across as serious and knowledgeable.

Remember when Chris Christie was going to be the loud, boisterous voice in this field? He showed flashes of that, and really went after Rand Paul on the Patriot Act and domestic surveillance. (“When you’re sitting in a subcommittee, you can blow hot air like that.”) The thing is, if this is a preeminent issue for you, you were probably already inclined to support either Paul’s or Christie’s position on it.

Marco Rubio was really, really good tonight. Shining. I thought it was interesting that he pointed out the majority of illegal immigrants no longer come from Mexico; they come from Central America, and he took some air out of the “build a fence” applause line by pointing out that “El Chapo can just dig a tunnel under the fence.” He finessed what could have been a difficult question on abortions in cases of rape or incest. Heading into tonight, I thought he might offer the single most appealing contrast with Hillary Clinton, and tonight did nothing to change my mind.

Rand Paul clearly felt the need to go after Trump, and that pugnaciousness carried over to a fiery exchange with Christie, complete with barely-hidden eye-rolling. (“I know you want to give him a hug!”) He lived up to his self-description as “a different kind of Republican,” and probably came through unscathed.

#related#Scott Walker won with “I defunded Planned Parenthood long before any of these videos came out.” In his closing statement, he described himself as “aggressively normal.” He really does seem unflappable, no matter the question or the arena. To some people, that might come across as boring. But if our tastes have changed to the point where we dismiss Walker because he’s not flashy enough, we’re throwing out a good talent.

You know who was pretty boring? Jeb Bush. He was better than in Monday’s candidate forum, but he still has a Fred Thompson-esque sense of moseying, as opposed to running, for president. And if you walked into this with a nagging sense that he’s a squish, and that he’d try to sound more conservative than he is, I don’t think anything he said tonight dispelled your fears.

I was going to say Huckabee looked and sounded tired, but he perked up a bit when discussing the Planned Parenthood scandal and fetuses “sold off for parts like Buicks.” He had a good joke at the end, but he does seem like he’s past his prime moment on the national stage.

John Kasich enjoyed a pretty significant home-crowd advantage, and avoided any mistakes. He’s got a different style, and I don’t think he needed to remind us about his dad being a mailman twice. If you’re wary about his citing God in defending his decision to expand Medicaid, I don’t know if his answer on that topic assured you of his fiscal conservative instincts.

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