The remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination met for their 12th debate last night, a weirdly subdued affair in which the opponents of the frontrunner tacitly acknowledged the futility of frontal assaults on Fortress Trump.
Instead of the personal attacks on the frontrunner’s dubious business practices, his personal history and his vulgar language, the three runners-up stuck to policy issues, going into significant depth on trade policy, Social Security and relations with Cuba, among other things.
It’s a strategy that, employed at a different time in a different race, might have worn away at Donald Trump, now the almost-prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. But in a multi-candidate race, Trump has long since proved that his supporters’ opinion of him is largely immune to policy-focused criticism.
Last night, the shift to policy looked less like a return to seriousness and more like capitulation.
In an almost surreal introduction to the evening, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took the stage before the debate got under way and said, “I want to get something really clear, because there has been a lot of talk about this. This party is going to support the nominee, whoever that is, 100 percent. There’s no question about that.”