Trump rants and raves but key weaknesses are exposed
Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30
A shock of blonde hair was just visible, offering the only clue to who stood at the centre of the mass of jostling bodies, elbows, and television cameras.
The arrival of Donald Trump into the packed spin room at the opening Republican primary debate caused a press scrum that sent bodies crashing to the ground.
Reporters stood on their tiptoes, arms outstretched, pushing forward their tape recorders to capture the words of The Donald as he painted himself as the victim of an attack by the Fox news moderators on the stage a few moments earlier.
"The questions to me I think were much tougher than they were to anybody else," Mr Trump said.
Despite his complaints, the real estate mogul and television show host inevitably concluded his comments, with characteristic ego, with a declaration of victory.
The scene came at the end of one of the most high-drama, high-energy debates in recent American political history.
It was politics injected with show business: a vibrant and eclectic mix of serious policy, from national security to the economy, and pure television entertainment with jokes and mudslinging.
For two hours the 4,500-strong audience, hundreds of journalists crammed into the press room next door, and approximately 22 million viewers watched, captivated, as the Republican hopefuls battled it out on the debate stage.
Donald Trump ranted and blustered his way through a raucous first debate of the 2016 presidential election, smirking as he admitted calling women "fat pigs" and refusing to rule out running as a third-party candidate even if it would help Hillary Clinton win the White House.
The billionaire property mogul shot to the top of polls after last month accusing Mexican immigrants of being criminals and rapists, but his habit of throwing out provocative statements unsupported by facts, left him exposed during the two-hour debate on Fox News.
Within minutes of leaving the debate stage he declared himself the "unequivocal winner", but his unsteady performance may prove damaging and Marco Rubio, a young Florida senator, was widely judged to have done better than most people had expected.
Mr Trump was booed by the studio audience within the first minutes of the debate after saying he might run as an independent if he fails to win the Republican nomination, a scenario that would almost certainly hand victory to the Democrats.
He then entered into a tense exchange with Megyn Kelly, one of the debate moderators, who asked why he had referred to women as "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals".
"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Mr Trump replied, referring to the US comic with whom he has feuded in the past. Ms O'Donnell responded on Twitter minutes later.
After being reminded that he told a contestant on the 'Celebrity Apprentice' that he would like "to see her on her knees", Mr Trump responded: "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct."
He then appeared to threaten Ms Kelly, one of America's highest-profile television news anchors. "I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me," he told her.
Mr Trump continued to bluster throughout the night, refusing to give any evidence of his claim that the Mexican government was deliberately sending criminals over the US border and demanding credit for having the "vision" to oppose the Iraq war in July 2004 - more than a year after it started.
"In July of 2004, I came out strongly against the war with Iraq, because it was going to destabilise the Middle East," he said. "And I'm the only one on this stage that knew that and had the vision to say it."
He veered wildly throughout the debate, at one point praising the NHS - saying it "works incredibly well in Scotland" - even though it is loathed by many American conservatives as an example of big government.
Mr Trump also misstated the waiting period for international inspectors to go into Iranian nuclear sites under the terms of the recent Vienna agreement - confusing 24 hours with 24 days.
When opponents attacked him for donating money to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign, he said the donation forced her and Bill Clinton to attend his 2005 wedding to his third wife.
"She didn't have a choice," Mr Trump said.
Jeb Bush, the younger brother of George W Bush, is second in the polls and stood next to Mr Trump throughout the debate.
He denied media reports that he had privately called the businessman a "buffoon" and an "a------", but said Mr Trump's language was "divisive" and threatened to keep Republicans from winning the White House next November.
"We're not going on win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day: dividing the country," Mr Bush said.
While Mr Bush made no mistakes and touted his record as governor of Florida he sometimes looked unsure of himself and did little to win over the vocal studio audience at a basketball arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
His performance was outshone by another Floridian: Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator who was once a political protege of Mr Bush's.
Marco Rubio says the Republican Party can be "the party of the future" if he is the nominee.
The 44-year-old Mr Rubio stood out from the first moments of the debate, offering himself as a fresh face with the energy and ideas to defeat Mrs Clinton.
"This election better be about the future, not the past," he said. "If I'm our nominee, we will be the party of the future."
He described his own humble beginnings as the son of Cuban immigrants as part of the broader American Dream and promised to expand the appeal of the Republican Party beyond its traditional base of white voters.
"I run for president because I believe that we can't just save the American dream; we can expand it to reach more people and change more lives than ever before," he said.
The highly charged debate also featured sparring matches between some of the less well-known candidates.
Chris Christie, the outspoken governor of New Jersey, clashed with Rand Paul, a libertarian senator from Kentucky, on the question of the bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Mr Christie, who said he had friends killed on September 11, warned that ending the bulk data programme would endanger American lives and accused Mr Paul of "blowing hot air" with his civil libertarian opposition.
Mr Paul shot back by reminding the New Jersey governor that he was pictured hugging President Barack Obama before the 2012 election.
"I don't trust President Obama with our records," Mr Paul said. "I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead."
John Kasich, the moderate governor of Ohio, received loud applause from a hometown crowd and risked the wrath of conservatives by saying he recently went to a friend's gay marriage ceremony.