From Kim Messick writing at Salon:
Now that the first Republican debate is more than a week behind us, we should pause for a moment’s reflection on what we’ve learned about the party, its candidates and its electorate. If taken seriously, this question suggests others about the state of our national political media. None of the answers are very edifying, much less comforting.
Without doubt, the most significant short- to medium-term event of the weeks leading up to the debate was the sudden surge of Donald Trump in the national polls. (The most important long-term development was probably Jeb Bush’saccumulation of more than $100 million in campaign funds, most of which went to the pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise.) Having entered the race in mid-June with aspeech in which he implied that the Mexican government was targeting our Southern border with wave-upon-wave of “rapists” and other miscreants, Trump stayed the course with a luxurious blast of invective, a bloom of rhetorical fisticuffs that suggested a forensic version of Charles Sumner’s 1856 caning on the floor of the Senate. Rick Perry wears glasses “so people will think he’s smart. And it just doesn’t work!” Jeb Bush is “weak,” Lindsey Graham “a lightweight.” Hillary Clinton would be “a terrible president,” obviously, because she had already been “the worst secretary of state ever.” John Calhoun, whose strident defense of slavery in Texas helped torpedo President Tyler’s 1844 annexation treaty, surely heaved a spectral sigh of relief.
Sen. John McCain, erstwhile guest in a North Vietnamese prison camp for five years — no continental breakfast, but torture served daily for free — fell short of Trump’s criteria for war hero-dom because “I like people who don’t get captured.” Everyone agreed a crescendo of some sort was reached on the morning after the debate, when Trump, having tangled the night before with moderator (and Fox News anchor)Megyn Kelly, seemed to suggest that her “silly questions” were prompted by menstrual cramps.
Two facts about all this deserve special notice. The first is that the tenor of Trump’s rhetoric has been directly related to the trend in his poll numbers — the wilder and harsher the former, the higher he has climbed in the latter. The second is the desperate (and largely futile) struggle of our political media to make some sense of the first fact. Many declined to believe, prior to his June speech, that he would actually run. This may well have been a prudent skepticism, given Trump’s history of quadrennial flirtations with presidential politics. But coverage of his campaign since June has fallen into a predictable pattern: It mainly consists of an incredulous commentator asking “Will this finally be the end of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate? — where this refers Trump’s most recent rhetorical excess.
Read the rest of the story at Salon.