Just before the official start of the big shindig, the Fox moderators, dominated by
But once underway, this political drama, presented by
The expectation was that
On the big stage, Trump's crooked straight talk lacked the ease of the mild-mannered political doublespeak of some of his rivals. While they would break out into stump speeches whenever cornered, he seemed frustrated that he couldn't resort to his usual Trump card, "You're fired!"
Kelly called Trump to task for calling women he didn't like "fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals, " to which the real estate magnate replied, "Only Rosie O'Donnell."
It was one of his few remarks that elicited raucous laughter from the partisan crowd, but the line only threw his unsuitability as a candidate into ugly relief. His swagger seemed as artificial as his dye job.
When he was challenged on his company's bankruptcies, he equivocated that he himself had never personally gone bankrupt (a point of contention he had long ago with O'Donnell during her first stint on "The View"). He then bragged that he had "taken advantage of the laws of this country" for personal gain, an admission that sealed his fate as a carnival sideshow tumbling out of the spotlight.
The evening wasn't evenly divided among the candidates. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson was grilled early on about lapses in his knowledge of foreign policy; when Kelly came back to him much later with another question, he expressed gratitude that she remembered he was still on stage.
One could be forgiven for assuming that the Fox, eh, fix was in for Jeb Bush, who appeared to be the debate's favored candidate by default. The cameras kept coming back to his genial visage, anointing it with airtime, a special dispensation for being thought the party's best hope against the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
His performance may not have won many converts, but Bush proved himself an adept wiggler, getting around questions about his brother's presidency and the Iraq war without saying anything definitive or too damning.
If the evening’s script had an author, it may very well have been the invisible wizard of Oz,
Marco Rubio, who was probably the most charismatic of the candidates, had the temerity to suggest that if the race came down to a resume contest, then the former secretary of State and New York senator is sure to win. He was trying to make the point that this presidential election had to be about the future, not the past, and that new generational blood was badly needed.
But he appeared to pay a price for his tactical error. Rubio wasn't allowed many subsequent opportunities to shine, though his style was crisp and his delivery clean, and he no doubt put fear into Clinton supporters, who know only too well what an upstart senator with eloquence and conviction can do.
As Trump melted before our eyes, the fear that the circus had lost its main attraction was palpable. After a heated back-and-forth between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul, Kelly thanked the gentlemen for providing some belated color to the otherwise bland proceedings.
Mike Huckabee chomped on his share of social conservative red meat, Sen. Ted Cruz explained why he’s such a divisive figure in Washington and Ohio. Gov.
The debate, which made ample room for the candidates' hardscrabble biographies, had precious little time for the Black Lives Matter movement, economic inequality or the skyrocketing cost of higher education. To progressives, this must have seemed like tragedy masquerading as farce. But the Republican primary is a serial drama with many more episodes to go, even if a Bush conclusion is all but foregone.
With that in mind, Murdoch might want to go easy on Trump for the next few months. He may not be presidential, but he's a boon for ratings.