Donald Trump will be center stage at tonight’s Republican debate in Cleveland, both literally and figuratively. The lead-up to the Fox News event has been chockfull of what-will-Trump-do speculation, the most interesting of which suggested that the current GOP frontrunner will shake things up by doing the most un-Trump-like thing imaginable: Playing nice.
The idea was originally floated by advisers to several of The Donald’s rivals—perhaps hoping that saying so aloud would make it true—and since echoed by Trump himself in recent days. Underlying his promise of civility, though, has been a constant reminder that the professional showman doesn’t suffer slights in silence. “I’d prefer no conflict, no infighting,” he told the Washington Post this week, “but if they hit me, I’ll hit them harder.”
The message for the GOP field was simple: Don’t poke the bizarrely coiffed bear and you won’t run the risk of being eaten alive by it on primetime television. That advice, though, might not be of much help when someone else does the poking for you. Here’s what the main headline on the Drudge Report looks like about eight hours before the debate curtain goes up:
And here’s the passage in question from the linked-Politico piece, “How Jeb and the GOP Got Trumped”:
“Seriously, what’s this guy’s problem?” [Bush] asked one party donor he ran into recently, according to accounts provided by several sources close to Bush—and he went on to describe the publicity-seeking real estate developer now surging in public polls far ahead of Bush and all the 15 others in the Republican field as “a buffoon,” “clown” and “asshole.”
As you can tell, those quotes came second-hand, though that distinction might not mean a whole lot to Trump, who’s spent the past month absorbing punches and responding with shotgun blasts. A quick trip down memory lane:
- When John McCain said Trump’s campaign was bringing out “the crazies,” Trump responded by questioning the Arizona senator’s status as a war hero.
- When Lindsey Graham said Trump should “stop being a jackass,” Trump responded by giving out the South Carolina senator’s cell phone.
- When Rick Perry said Trump’s campaign sales pitch was “a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense,” Trump responded by ruthlessly mocking the former Texas governor’s new eyewear of choice.
- And when a Scott Walker supporter referred to Trump as a “DumbDumb” in a fundraising invitation, Trump responded by unloading on the Wisconsin Republican’s record as governor. (“Finally, I can attack!” Trump told an Iowa crowd before unleashing a few of his trademark broadsides.)
Trump, of course, has already proved he doesn’t need a reason to go on the offensive. But if he was looking for one ahead of the debate, he was just handed a big one.