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First take

The most surprising thing about the Republican presidential debate was the questions, and how tough many of them were. Most especially the questions aimed at Donald Trump. Those were so fierce – not least the calling-out on an independent candidacy at the beginning, which ostensibly wasn’t aimed at a single candidate (though it really was) – that a clear goal on the part of Fox of seriously damaging Trump was evident. If Trump’s constituency were of a different kind, it might have worked, too. The questions hit home on such matters as party loyalty, violation of core party stands and more, matters that would kill off most candidates. But while the questions highlighted, they did not unearth. Trump’s threat to run a third-party candidacy has been in the news, as had nearly everything else the Fox questioners brought up. Was Trump damaged by the debate? We’ll find out more soon in the after-party polling, but I’d guess not. I think it’s more likely Fox drove a wedge between itself and some of Trump’s constituency, which may be led by the candidate to now view Fox as just another part of the establishment. And did other candidates gain? Maybe Marco Rubio, a little, since he came cross as polished at least and got some easy questions. In the kids’ table debate, Carly Fiorina was described as projecting a strong presence, but she’s way back in the pack to start. Jeb Bush did himself little good – he didn’t crash, but he came across like a dull corporate attorney. Did the debate change the contours of the race? Probably not much. And on to round two.

In our household when we turn to “the news” on television, that has for many years meant Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – no other regular “news” TV programming need apply, so poor has most of the quality gotten. (CSPAN is welcome, and scattered individual programming, but nothing else on a nightly basis.) So this has been a significant year: First Colbert and now Stewart, as of last night, have departed. The news won’t be the same. But the future beckons. Larry Wilmore, while not yet the equal of either of those two, has been gaining some strength. And while we as yet have no idea of what job Stewart’s successor will do, we do know that others can do the job well: A year ago, John Oliver did a terrific job filling in for three months, and he was promptly grabbed away to do his own program elsewhere. So good luck to the new order.

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