Ignore the poll numbers: Trump's star will fade
As I have been suggesting for some time, the first Republican debate has begun the more serious stage of the 2016 GOP presidential race. Donald Trump has provided a mixture of entertainment and self-indulgence prior to the curtain going up, but now that Carly (Fiorina), John (Kasich), and Chris (Christie) have shown their faces before the audience, we will have a different theater of political operations.
Mr. Trump, incidentally, will continue to obtain high poll numbers and media attention, and the Republican establishment should welcome that. An early departure by Trump from the race while his numbers are high could enable him to run more credibly as a third-party candidate and do some damage to the GOP. When he fades, as he will in the coming months, his interest in an independent candidacy will also fade as it becomes obvious such a run would likely hurt no one except perhaps the Democratic nominee (from whom he would likely draw more votes (especially if that nominee is Hillary Clinton) in November 2016.
Meanwhile, the political vacuum he has filled recently is now being filled by bigger electoral personalities, including Mrs. Fiorina, Governor Kasich, and Governor Christie, as well as Senator Marco Rubio. Two other formidable figures, who so far have not projected strong personalities but have notable bases of support, are former governor Jeb Bush and Governor Scott Walker.
The biggest draw at the next debate (in September) will be not Trump, but Carly Fiorina. Mrs. Fiorina triumphed in Cleveland at the “also-ran” second debate and has created a sensation of her own. Governors Kasich and Christie did well in the “main event” debate, as did Senator Rubio. Mr. Trump’s comedy act was, after all, a set-up to the main show.
This is not to take away from “The Donald’s” performance. Not unlike Ross Perot in 1992 and John Anderson in 1980, Mr. Trump provided a colorful and temporary distraction from the real contest. It should also be noted that Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace did the same in 1948, George Wallace did it in 1968, and Ralph Nader did the same in 2000. It is a longstanding U.S. election tradition that third-party candidates stir up a temporary fuss.
On the Democratic side, their Donald Trump is Senator Bernie Sanders. The liberal party’s vacuum has been created by their frontrunner and once putative nominee, Hillary Clinton. Until and unless at least one major Democratic candidate (Joe Biden? Andrew Cuomo? Elizabeth Warren? Amy Klobuchar?) gets in the race, Mr. Sanders will continue to rise as Mrs. Clinton continues to decline. The Democrats have a serious problem, and it is not Mr. Sanders.
Much of the preliminary commentary about the 2016 presidential election has been wrong because pundits and “experts” did not adequately take the voters into their accounts. There was a preoccupation with past results, pure demographics, and a lot of presumption. The media became obsessed with political clichés about dynasties and political correctness. Sensation, faux controversy, and celebrity have thus dominated the political conversation until the first debate.
Now it is the voters’ turn to assert their rightful place in the discussion. There are surprises ahead.