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GOP field on the sidelines in Trump vs. Kelly and women

GOP field on the sidelines in Trump vs. Kelly and women
GOP front-runner Donald Trump speaks at the candidates' debate in Cleveland, where he blew off Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly's question about his insults of women. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Remember that moment in the GOP presidential debate -- after Donald Trump waved off his insults of women as "fun" and then whined that Fox News host Megyn Kelly wasn't being nice to him -- when a couple of the other candidates jumped on him for slagging women?

Neither do I.

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Because it didn't happen.

This is the same GOP presidential field that rushed heroically to the defense of Arizona Sen. John McCain when Trump declared he wasn't a hero; Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator and McCain's friend, even called Trump a "jackass."

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And some Republican presidential candidates also shoved back when Trump launched his presidential campaign with a fact-check-defying remark about Mexico "sending … rapists" over the border. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said it was "offensive," "divisive" and wrong. So did ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

But did any of the other nine candidates on that debate stage utter a peep and rebuke Trump about his retrograde comments on women that night? I don't expect gallantry. Raw political calculation should have led them to conclude that offending flash-in-the-pan candidate Trump is not nearly as costly as offending women, and the GOP has to win over women if it's to win the White House.

Then, a day later, Trump doubled down on his insult with more foolish remarks about blood coming from Kelly's eyes and "wherever"; really, a man who owned a casino should know better than to bet like a gambler.

And still, the GOP field didn't exactly flood to the defense of Kelly and, by extension, women.

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Ted Cruz: "I think every candidate should treat everyone with civility and respect."

Ben Carson: "In no way do I advocate saying mean things about people. That has nothing to do with political correctness."

Chris Christie: "I like [Trump]. I think he's a good guy. I think he's got a lot of skills, but I just don't think for this [job]."

Bobby Jindal, who's so far down in the polls he might be grateful to get any attention, including Trump's announcing his cellphone number, went comparatively bold: "Coarse language and degrading comments are for cowards."

Marco Rubio: "If I comment on everything he says, I mean, my whole campaign will be consumed by it."

Jeb Bush acknowledged the political blowback: "I mean, do we want to win? Do we insult 53% of all voters? What Donald Trump said is wrong."

Scott Walker used Carly Fiorina as a human shield, tweeting that he agrees with her; and Fiorina, who sees a clear advantage in staking her own turf on this, tweeted, "Mr. Trump: There. Is. No. Excuse."

Trump presently tweeted his call from Fox News chief Roger Ailes assuring him "that 'Trump' (yes, he put it in quotes and third person) will be treated fairly on fox news" – implying that Ailes agreed that Kelly handled Trump unfairly.

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The debate audience laughed as Kelly began her question quoting Trump's remarks about women -- fat pigs, dogs, slobs – and it applauded when Trump sneered that people are too politically correct.

Had Trump used the same language about African Americans or even immigrants, I would bet that at least one candidate would have seen the advantage of calling him out on it.

The fact that they didn't means that no personal insult directed at Hillary Rodham Clinton during this campaign will be called out of bounds. Clinton has already seen and heard just about everything a woman can hear said about herself and her family; Rush Limbaugh once referred to her 12-year-old daughter as "the White House dog."

Although Clinton is younger than Mitt Romney, younger than Reagan when he became president, conservative pundits – who, like the commercial for a bathroom cleanser, "do the work" so candidates don't have to – have already unpacked more recent sexist slams like "shrill," "aging," "ugly," and added flimsy witticisms about pantsuits and "Madame Defarge on a bad hair day."

Maybe in the oxygen-deprived Fox echo chamber, frat-boy personal smackdowns of women can pass. But in the real world, even people who dislike Clinton's policies should be offended at ad hominem Trumpisms that are unworthy of a presidential campaign.

If the GOP wants to wage a war on the idea that it's warring on women, its current top candidates have came up missing in action.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

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