Donald Trump continued to play the “bad boy” in the GOP presidential race, egged on by Fox News moderators who pummeled him with hard-nosed questions intended to make sparks fly, GOP insiders and politics watchers in Iowa said Thursday night.
Rand Paul arrived on the debate stage fired up to tangle, punching hard at Trump, who has shocked the 2016 presidential field by shooting to the top of the national GOP polling shortly after he declared his candidacy.
But for the most part, the GOP rivals declined to confront “the Trumpenator,” said David J. Andersen, an assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University.
“The candidates with the best shot at winning the nomination couldn’t retaliate and didn’t try,” Andersen said. “This suggests that we are in for a very long nomination fight, which is not good for the party, but makes excellent TV and entertainment.”
Because the 17-member GOP field was considered too giant to shoehorn onto one stage, there was a split nature to the first debate. The seven Republicans at the bottom of national polling were relegated to a “junior varsity” debate broadcast on Fox earlier in the day with few spectators. The top 10 polling contenders were featured during a prime-time debate before a live audience of about 4,500.