Tuesday 12 December 2017

Republican debate focuses on terror threat – and Trump

Rachael Alexander in Las Vegas

FEAR and terrorism were the focus of the fifth debate of Republican presidential candidates in Las Vegas, with national security matters dominating the discussion.

And all eyes were on Donald Trump after his controversial comments on Muslims.

Mr Trump is normally one of the greatest self-promoters in modern American history, but it turns out he just wants to be left alone.

“I thought it was very unfair that virtually the entire early portion of the debate was Trump this, Trump that,” he said, visibly wounded by the Trump-centric dynamic of both the under-card and main debate.

“In order to get ratings,” he ventured, “I just think it’s very unprofessional”.

In perhaps the most consequential moment of the debate, Mr Trump unexpectedly parted with his ambitions of a third-party run should he fail to secure the Republican nomination.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, after the debate in Las Vegas. Photo: Reuters
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, after the debate in Las Vegas. Photo: Reuters

“I’ve gained great respect for the Republican leadership. I’ve gained great respect for many – and I’m going to even say – I mean, in different forms, for the people on the

dais,” said the newly minted peacemaker in chief.

Republicans who feared that an independent run by Mr Trump would pave the way for a Hillary Clinton presidency will be breathing a sigh of relief.

Jeb Bush emerged stronger than in previous performances,  after Mr Trump took a swipe at his poll numbers – “I’m at 42 and you’re at three” – and said he wished all his adversaries were “as easy as you, Jeb”.

Mr Bush told Mr Trump that he could not “insult your way to the presidency”. Mr Trump seemed sceptical.

But Mr Trump is still the polling leader. Ted Cruz is now first in Iowa polls and second nationally in most polls, and appears well on his way to consolidating support from party actors who are social conservatives, and perhaps all of those who are most conservative.

Marco Rubio is third in the polls, but is the only real coalition-style candidate in the race, and as such is picking

up support from elected officials and other party actors.

So the first question is: Did this debate  allow any of the others to break through? Jeb Bush tried by taking on Mr Trump, and Mr Bush will probably get a fair amount of publicity from that. They butted heads over at least two extended periods, and this time Mr Bush wasn’t a clear loser.

As for the rest, maybe Chris Christie was able to sustain a bit of momentum in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, said she would ask the private sector to help fix an “incompetent” government. Mr Trump was mostly subdued this time, and, as always, he disappeared when real policy questions were on the table.

But Mr Trump is still the most popular presidential candidate in the 2016 election race.

His name is Googled more than any other candidate in the race – five times that of the next most searched-for candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton – according to data released by Google Trends.

The business magnate’s controversial claims and extreme policies have pushed his name up the agenda – and the polls.


The top trending questions for the other Republican candidates are personal as well as political.

Americans want to know how tall Rick Santorum is, how many times Mr Rubio has been married and, worryingly for the Texas senator, “why Republicans hate Ted Cruz”.

According to a Reuters/ Ipsos poll, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is in second place in the race – with the support of 12pc of Republicans.

However, Google Trends data shows how people are noticing how the candidate seems to be falling in the polls – with people asking “what happened to Ben Carson?”

During last night’s debate Mr Cruz and Mr Rubio outstripped Mr Carson and Mr Bush as they clashed over immigration and US foreign policy, but neither could impact on Mr Trump’s’ lead.

Mr Trump’s top questions seem to show an America constantly playing catch up with the whirlwind candidate’s series of shocking statements, with people Googling “What did Donald Trump say yesterday?” and “What did Donald Trump say now?”

The top issues that people are searching for in relation to the Republican candidates are immigration, gun control and abortion.

“Muslims” also appears as a most-searched issue for many candidates, showing how Mr Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US is shaping the debate.

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