Viewed from afar, the Trump debate affair is intriguing, if not actually interesting. It could be consequential. If the Fox debate ratings are actually higher (within the realm of possibility), Trump is wounded, perhaps mortally. The debacle may also signal the beginning of the end for Fox's hegemony, as the spectacle of the lunatic right in blood combat with themselves continues.
If Trump triumphs on the ratings and then in Iowa, it does seem to put the in in inevitable. But Cruz went on the attack in the day or so between Trump's fascist move of demanding to choose his interviewers--admittedly a common practice for more than 30 years in entertainment "journalism" but new to electing a President. If Cruz continues tonight, Trump can't answer him.
It comes down to how many Iowa caucus voters are put off by Trump refusing to debate his opponents, a violation of an almost sacred practice in this particular ritual of presidential campaigning.
A NY Times story suggests that voter registration figures don't support the idea of a Trump voter surge in Iowa anyway. (Nor for that matter for Bernie Sanders.) We'll see. Only then will there be informed speculation on whether this debate or its ratings made any difference.
Trump is not going to be President, ever. Nor is Bernie Sanders. So the possible interest is in what effects their candidacies will have on the campaign and the parties. Trump sinking Fox may be good enough. Sanders showing the latent leftward idealism in the electorate and pushing the inequality issue can only help the Democratic party.
Update: The early consensus of those who were paid to watch the GOP debate is that Ted Cruz blew a golden opportunity. Without Trump, he was the most prominent target for the others, and they went after him effectively, or so many thought. Contrary to my expectations, Cruz did not go after Trump with any consistency, although he did mention that his absence showed his lack of respect for Iowa voters. But he wasn't alone in this--Perry Bacon at NBC.com noted that no one attacked Trump, the frontrunner in Iowa, which is inexplicable, unless...Trump designed this whole thing to get Cruz and the others to self-destruct.
Update 1/29: The overnights are in and the GOPer debate trumped Trump's competing event, by 12.5 million to 2.8 million in viewers. Trump can trumpet that the ratings are down, which they are from their high points for GOPer debates, but clearly Trump's absence gave the others an opportunity--which, according to the pundits, none of them successfully grasped. If the debate made any difference, they say, it will likely show up in Iowa by who comes in second.
On the Democratic side, I'm betting that Iowa and New Hampshire split. In 2008, Barack Obama blew everybody away by convincingly winning in Iowa, and he had a clear lead in New Hampshire. But contrarian NH voted for Hillary, and that meant a long contest into May. If Bernie wins the Iowa caucus, the same seems likely to happen in New Hampshire--having voted for Hillary once, they'll do it again. If Hillary wins Iowa, she will be anointed as the near-certain nominee, and New Hampshire will feel comfortable in voting for their Vermont neighbor, Bernie Sanders.
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