MIAMI – Through 12 Republican debates, there has been one consistent dynamic: Donald Trump has held center stage literally and figuratively. He is the alpha politician who has fended off multiple opponents with cutting insults, timely interruptions and only an occasional exploration of the substance of policy.Keep reading.
Trump shared a debate stage Thursday night with his three remaining rivals: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and he found a different way to control the evening: by deflection and adaptability.
Ahead in the race for the nomination, he adopted a more restrained and subdued demeanor, even passing up opportunities to strike back when his opponents tried to engage him. It was a strategy common to any front-runner – play not to lose, avoid mistakes or eruptions, and force the opposition to change the dynamic.
For much of the evening, the four candidates carried on a generally civil discussion on the issues. They avoided the kinds of clashes that had created a downward spiral in their dialogue over the three previous debates.
Thursday’s encounter in particular seemed a direct reaction to the universal criticism of their debate a week ago, a forum that took the GOP campaign into the gutter. But in the more subdued environment, Trump was challenged anew to move beyond generalities, and he still struggled to explain where he really stands on a range of issues, from education and trade policy to Social Security and the federal budget deficit to dealing with ISIS and Iran.
That Trump has certain skills as a candidate is without question. He can dominate a debate or a news cycle with relative ease. His ability to keep opponents at bay and off balance has been stellar. But there is much more to being president than that, which is why there are so many doubts about him among the electorate at large. What the debates have shown is that Trump’s lack of depth on issues continues to be a key part of the story of his quest for the presidency.
Trump arrived at Thursday’s debate at the University of Miami nearing what could be a key turning point in the Republican campaign. By Tuesday night, after a round of primaries in big states, he either will be seen in full command of the nomination process – virtually unstoppable – or facing competition that could carry on all the way to the floor of the GOP convention in July in Cleveland with no certain outcome...
Friday, March 11, 2016
From Dan Balz, at the Washington Post (via the O.C. Register), "Trump drops big shtick, speaks softly: Few ﬁreworks as Trump plays it safe":