Bob Franken



It’s that time, kiddies! Now that Donald Trump has stumbled still again, many of us so-called experts will predict that his quest for the presidency and against everyone else will start to wither. Finally, we’ll declare, his improbable campaign of nasty put-downs and boastful superficiality will wear thin, that people who consider him to be funny and refreshing will start to decide that the joke is getting old and stale.

And stumble he did in the most recent debate, squirming as his opponents took the offense against his offensiveness. Carly Fiorina was the night’s big winner, if for no other reason than she showed stone-faced contempt when Trump was confronted with his comments in Rolling Stone magazine about her looks. He tried to worm his way out of that by stuttering that Fiorina has a beautiful face and is a beautiful woman, showing that he just doesn’t get it, that he should be running to be the leader of the Male Chauvinist Pigdom.

We should remember that each time he’s opened his mouth and spouted something that would turn most politicians into dust, Donald Trump has risen, not from the ashes, but in the polls. So let’s not get carried away with our speculation about his demise.

Actually, the other candidates better hope he doesn’t flame out. Without The Donald, people instead might focus on them. It’s not only Fiorina who can look good by comparison. Simply by discovering his inner anger at Trump, Jeb Bush was able to appear to not be such a wimp. In the case of Chris Christie, no longer is he the nastiest guy in the room; it’s Trump who gets the Mr. Non-Congeniality award. On down the line, even the most extreme in this group are overshadowed by the DT rants. Ben Carson gets to come across as Dr. Common Sense, even though many of his views would be considered downright wacko if anyone was really paying attention. Ditto Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee, although in Huckabee’s case, he has still managed to stand out as the voice of religious intolerance and amazing ignorance about how the American system of government works.

Even the Democrats need Trump as a foil, particularly Hillary Clinton, with all her travails. On the night of the GOP debate, she appeared on another comedy telecast, “The Tonight Show.” She pulled off a funny skit in real style, actually looking loose as she was interviewed by “Donald Trump,” played by host Jimmy Fallon. She even allowed Fallon to pull on her hair, another reference to El Trumpo, which probably was welcome to her campaign aides, since they’ve been pulling their hair out about the email scandal that won’t go away and her dwindling poll numbers.

But it was CNN that won the night. Instead of its usual ” All Trump All the Time” programming (did I mention that the news networks also need him?), CNN managed to sustain three hours of debate — four and a half if you count the JV one — although by the end, the candidates were looking like they were running out of steam.

Many of the critics said it was too long. But 22 million people watched that marathon, and finally, it sputtered to its merciful end, when each of the candidates was asked to suggest his or her preferred Secret Service handle if elected president. Jeb Bush came up with “Eveready,” because, he exclaimed, it’s high-energy, as opposed to Trump’s description of him. Fiorina chose “Secretariat.” Sure, why not? Scott Walker went with “Harley,” perhaps because it’s the motorcycle he’ll ride out on if his campaign continues to fade, and Trump, wait for it, selected “Humble.”

Normally, that would be considered a joke, except he was somewhat humbled at the debate. Now we’ll have to see if that makes any difference.

Next up, the Democrats share the stage. Suddenly, there’s a reason to watch as Hillary tangles with the surging Bernie Sanders. But when it comes to showmanship, they can’t match the Republicans. No Donald Trump.

© Bob Franken
King Features

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