WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) — Bombastic billionaire Donald Trump remains in the lead of a large pack of Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination, even after Thursday night’s nationally televised debate.
Trump has led the group for several months now, with no sign of falling behind even months after analysts, political insiders and pundits predicted he would be a flash in the pan.
Trump has been blasted for his often obnoxious and over-the-top statements in public, and for touting policies such as building a massive wall on the United States’ southern border — to keep out illegal immigrants — and demanding that Mexico pay for it. He has also raised hackles for saying that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the United States, after the attacks on Paris that killed more than 100 victims.
While Thursday’s nationally televised debate saw Texas Sen. Ted Cruz move ahead and right into a verbal slugfest with Trump, the business tycoon still leads the group of Republican Party (GOP) candidates, and his lead seems unlikely to fade.
“For Trump, this debate didn’t do anything to lessen his momentum, and that’s a slight victory, if not a major victory,” Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua. “He’ll continue to appeal to people that feel they’ve been left behind by the current politics in this country.”
Experts note Trump is verbally agile on camera and is always ready with a quick response and pithy soundbite, often making bold — and frequently controversial — statements that grab media headlines.
Brookings Institution’s senior fellow Darrell West told Xinhua that Thursday night’s debate elevated Trump and Cruz over the rest of the field.
“The other candidates had difficulty getting much speaking time and were not able to score many points. The event made the field look like a two-person race between the two conservatives,” West said.
“Trump and Cruz dominated the debate. They had the most memorable exchanges and they got the most speaking time. Cruz scored points by rebutting Trump’s attacks that he is not eligible for the presidency due to his birth in Canada,” he said.
Mahaffee said a lot of the candidates stuck to their message rather than pushing the envelope, given that the main primaries are a few weeks away. A lot of this debate was focused on foreign policy, but while there were some differences between candidates, the discussion about Muslim entry in America was the biggest variance.
For many in the Republican grassroots, Trump and Cruz were the most appealing. When it came to the discussion of the economy, Florida Senator Marco Rubio effectively combined the policies of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, shortcomings with current regulations, and changes in technology to explain why new approaches are required for economic policy, Mahaffee said.
“A lot of conservatives will consider this one of the more substantive debates because the moderators focused on many policy issues,” he said.
There were also many points were candidates could have addressed more. Governor John Kasich was very forthcoming about new approaches to policing, while Governor Chris Christie was beyond orthodox on drug policies, he said.
Meanwhile, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, initially expected to be a shoo-in for the nomination and to face no significant opposition, is flagging in a struggle to gain media attention and stay relevant, and seems almost relegated to the back burner at this point.
Despite being the son and brother of two former presidents, critics say he is boring and lacks an air of excitement around him.
While Bush often discusses policies, American voters tend to gravitate more toward a candidate who appears to understand the struggles of ordinary Americans.