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First take/late

I have seen elections in which the dynamic would have played beautifully to John Kasich, or maybe even Ben Carson.

Normal elections tend to reward non-squabblers, the candidates who glide above all, stay free of the fray. Many are the three-way or four-way elections in which two, or three, of the contenders get drawn into an ugly battle, and the other candidate profits by staying clear and looking like the adult in the room.

Last night that would have been Governor John Kasich, who almost throughout the two hours-plus Republican presidential debates managed not to get drawn into a kindergarten-level battle engaged in by frontrunner Donald Trump, and his two increasingly desperate challengers, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Physician Ben Carson, who was quieter than Kasich (and everyone else, as usual), stayed out of the free for all too.

But this is not a normal election year, is it?

And so we watched to see which of the three combatants fought better. On that level, the result was clear: Trump quickly took the upper hand and never relinquished it. It was not good conventional debating, but it worked as psychological warfare. The many who tuned in to see if Trump would be brought down this time saw that he wasn’t. Rubio and Cruz fired shot after shot, and only rarely this time at each other, but none seemed to do much damage. (Some were simply not well delivered. At one point early in the debate Rubio ran through four or five op-research talking points, any of which might have been damaging, so quickly that the details were lost and the points quickly forgotten.)

Various polling afterward showed Trump as having “won” the debate.

I wouldn’t say he won the debate. He won the fight, the schoolyard brawl (even to the point of holding up his index finger to get teacher to intervene), which seems to be what matters this year.

It’ll probably be good for a strong Super Tuesday showing. Likely, it’s now too little, too late to stop Trump in his run for the nomination. – rs

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