Long­shot lands body blow on Trump

Fio­r­ina slams bil­lion­aire ri­val, but Don­ald walks away from CNN de­bate with­out a dent


WASHINGTON — For more than 10 min­utes, Don­ald Trump was silent. And then, just for a mo­ment, some­thing even rarer hap­pened: he looked em­bar­rassed.

The sec­ond Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate, Wed­nes­day night on CNN, was hyped by the fal­ter­ing cam­paigns of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker as the night they would fi­nally match the ag­gres­sion of the bully who has stolen their thun­der and their sup­port­ers.

They tried, briefly. So did Rand Paul. But the only can­di­date to bring even fleet­ing shame to the shame­less bil­lion­aire was the can­di­date who had to beg and plead to get on the stage: Carly Fio­r­ina.

Trump had in­sulted the looks of the for­mer Hewlett-Packard chief ex­ec­u­tive in the pres­ence of a Rolling Stone re­porter. Asked for her re­sponse, Fio­r­ina re­ferred to Trump’s crit­i­cism of Bush’s ef­fort to dis­tance him­self from a gaffe on women’s health fund­ing.

“You know, it’s in­ter­est­ing to me,” Fio­r­ina said, poised. “Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this coun­try heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

The Cal­i­for­nia crowd ap­plauded long and hard. Trump, not quite get­ting the point, fee­bly re­sponded that he thinks Fio­r­ina is a “beau­ti­ful woman” with a “beau­ti­ful face.”

It was one of sev­eral strong mo­ments for Fio­r­ina, who would not have been part of the three-hour marathon at all with­out an ag­gres­sive lob­by­ing cam­paign by her cam­paign.

CNN had lim­ited the prime-time de­bate to the top 10 can­di­dates in the polls, rel­e­gat­ing the oth­ers to an ear­lier ses­sion. By CNN’s orig­i­nal for­mula, Fio­r­ina would have missed the cut. The net­work agreed to ex­pand the un­wieldy group to 11 to ac­com­mo­date her re­cent rise to 5 per cent.

She re­paid the favour by de­liv­er­ing the de­bate’s most mem­o­rable mo­ments — though some­times dis­hon­estly.

On the sub­ject of Planned Par­ent­hood, whose of­fi­cials have been se­cretly filmed dis­cussing the trans­fer of fe­tal or­gans for med­i­cal re­search, Fio­r­ina of­fered a vivid, emo­tional de­nun­ci­a­tion.

“Watch a fully formed fe­tus on the ta­ble, its heart beat­ing, its legs kick- ing, while some­one says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” she said. “This is about the char­ac­ter of our na­tion, and if we will not stand up in and force Pres­i­dent Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.”

She earned the most en­thu­si­as­tic ap­plause of the night — though none of the un­der­cover videos in­cludes a scene like the one she de­scribed.

Tightly packed on stage at Ron­ald Rea­gan’s pres­i­den­tial li­brary — a re­tired Air Force One vis­i­ble be­hind them — the 11 can­di­dates each went long pe­ri­ods with­out talk­ing. Even Trump, whose in­ces­sant un­scripted mono­logues have made him the dar­ling of both ca­ble news pro­duc­ers and a con­ser­va­tive base un­happy with ca­reer politi­cians.

The Fio­r­ina ex­change notwith­stand­ing, though, Trump did not ap­pear to suf­fer any griev­ous wounds – in part be­cause he ap­pears im­per­vi­ous to lines of at­tack that would dam- age more con­ven­tional can­di­dates.

When Paul, the Ken­tucky sen­a­tor, chas­tised Trump for crit­i­ciz­ing oth­ers’ looks, Trump es­sen­tially called Paul him­self ugly: “I never at­tacked him on his looks, and be­lieve me, there’s plenty of sub­ject mat­ter right there.” When Bush, the for­mer Florida gover­nor, cor­rectly noted that he had re­jected Trump’s lob­by­ing cam­paign to build casi­nos in the state, Trump sim­ply shook his head and said: “To­tally false.” When sec­ond­place can­di­date Ben Car­son, a neu­ro­sur­geon, said vac­cines do not cause autism, Trump in­sisted they ac­tu­ally do.

And Trump, as he has done all cam­paign, force­fully ad­vo­cated po­si­tions anath­ema to other top Repub­li­cans. Asked how he would chal­lenge Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin’s in­volve­ment in the Syr­ian civil war, Trump said, “I would talk to him. I would get along with him.” When Car­son de- nounced tax­ing the rich as “so­cial­ism,” Trump said he would raise taxes on hedge fund man­agers.

“We’ve had a grad­u­ated tax sys­tem for many years, so it’s not a so­cial­is­tic thing,” Trump said.

Bush, ini­tially per­ceived as the likely nom­i­nee, was more force­ful in this de­bate than last, but he stum­bled on pre­dictable ques­tions about his ex­pres­i­dent brother. He ap­peared ill pre­pared even for a con­fronta­tion he chose: when Trump re­fused to com­ply with his dra­matic de­mand to apol­o­gize to his Mex­i­can-born wife for drag­ging her into their de­bate on immigration, he meekly moved on.

He also man­aged to of­fer the night’s most con­found­ing an­swer. When the mod­er­a­tor, CNN’s Jake Tap­per, went down the line ask­ing the can­di­dates which woman should be put on the U.S. $10 bill, Bush had time to think – and then picked Mar­garet Thatcher, the late U.K. prime min­is­ter.


Repub­li­can U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump sparred with for­mer Florida gover­nor Jeb Bush dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s de­bate.


Carly Fio­r­ina

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