Alex Carp: The controversy following Donald Trump's comments about Megyn Kelly may have hurt him among some GOP insiders, but, according to post-debate polling, it hasn't cut into his popular appeal with Republican voters. Why not?
Frank Rich: The mystery of Trump’s hold on Republican voters is no mystery. As many, including me, have said, his xenophobia and misogyny have long been orthodoxy among the party’s base. Just look at the Fox News debate itself. Though Kelly called Trump out on his history of misogynistic insults, none of his nine opponents onstage took exception to his crude attack on Rosie O’Donnell or to the laughter and cheers it aroused from the audience. (The incident was an echo of that 2012 GOP debate where no one onstage dared chastise the audience for booing Stephen Hill, a gay serviceman in Iraq who asked the candidates a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell via video.) Nor did anyone onstage dissent when Scott Walker and Marco Rubio declared that women should be outlawed from seeking abortions even if their own lives are at stake. How glibly and eagerly they decreed capital punishment for women who have the ill fortune to end up in tragic, potentially fatal pregnancies.
The difference between Trump and his cohort is that he shouts his party’s ugliest views at the top of his lungs and without apology rather than sugarcoating them in Frank Luntz–tested euphemisms and code words. What the GOP Establishment wants is Trumpism — and Trump supporters — without the embarrassing spectacle of Trump himself. Now he has called their bluff and is holding the entire Republican Party hostage. The Establishment would like to blow him up so that he’ll stop giving up the game by calling attention to the extremist views and constituents in the GOP base, but every attempt to sideline him has backfired. Trump, meanwhile, retains the power to blow up the party’s 2016 hopes by coaxing his followers either to stay home on Election Day or to join him in some quixotic third-party sideshow. As my colleague Gabriel Sherman has reported, even Roger Ailes has had to retreat and seek peace with Trump once Trump threatened to boycott Fox News and deprive it of ratings oxygen in the wake of his battle with Kelly. By bringing Ailes to heel, Trump has made himself the most powerful figure in the conservative firmament right now — more powerful than Ailes’s own boss, Rupert Murdoch.
Every day brings another op-ed or quote from a Republican functionary trying to find the bright side. Somehow Trump, in the end, will be good for the other candidates because he makes them look more presidential. Or he will fade when the calendar hits Labor Day, or will somehow self-destruct. These premature obituaries appeared after Trump mocked John McCain’s war service, after Trump supposedly did poorly in the debate, and after he literally attacked Kelly below the belt. Yet Trump’s numbers kept going up. Now William Kristol’s Weekly Standard is reduced to hawking a poll from Rasmussen Reports showing a falloff in Trump’s Republican support. That’s true desperation. Rasmussen is the notorious polling outfit that last gave Republicans false hopes in 2012, when it presaged a Romney victory by calling six of nine battleground states wrong.
Link to Rich's column (including discussions of Sen. Charles Schumer and Caitlyn Jenner):