Trump shocks and entertains at debate. But are voters growing tired of the circus act?

Candidates clash over conservative principles and personal attacks at the #GOPDebate


I watched Thursday’s GOP debate in a suite at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. There were what I would call several soft Trump supporters in the room. At times, their mouths hung open agape at the latest Trumpisms:

- Donald Trump discussed a part of his anatomy not normally part of serious conversations.

- Trump refused to allow release of an off-the-record interview with the New York Times on his flexibility on immigration enforcement.  He said he would refuse because he respected the off the record nature of the conversation, but didn’t deny he had softened his stance somewhat at the New York Times meeting.

- Trump was confronted by Fox questioner Megan Kelly about the fraud suits against Trump University and defended himself with a two-minute filibuster on the subject which alternated between incoherent and unbelievable.

Trump actually said the voters should wait three years for the end of the court case to find out if he or his angry Trump University students are right. 

Kelly rebutted Trump’s defense with a devastating revelation that the Better Business Bureau had given Trump U a D- rating, and she read from an appeals court decision that compared its students to "Madoff victims."

Rubio and Cruz used the fact that a quarter of the questions were about Trump’s character to tag team their attacks on the frontrunner.  Rubio was effective in pointing out that Trump’s clothing line is made in China, but Cruz was even more effective in pointing out that Trump’s many campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton would make it difficult for him to credibly attack her in a general election.

The debate grew more serious towards the end, with Trump touting his leadership skills in foreign policy while Rubio pressed Trump on his refusal to give specific answers. Rubio retorted, “He was pressed on a policy issue … his reaction was just to attack somebody else with a name.”

John Kasich wisely stayed put of the pitched battles the other candidates engaged in and simply sold his own record, a tactic that will enhance his appeal to moderate voters who disdain confrontation.

For some time now, Donald Trump’s highly entertaining debate performances have allowed him to skate by serious questions about his qualifications and temperament. But Thursday night his bluster didn’t seem to work so well. The primaries over the next week are in non-Trump strongholds and they will show if his momentum continues or some voters are tiring of the Trump Show. 

John Fund is a columnist for National Review. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFund.