That big Fox News debate meant nothing: Trump continues to dominate his cowardly rivals

The non-Trump contenders continue to hope for a miracle: the frontrunner departs, and they inherit his support

Published August 18, 2015 6:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/Mark Humphrey/Jim Young/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Reuters/Mark Humphrey/Jim Young/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)

I enjoyed the Aug. 6 Fox debate as much as any Democrat, but the results are in: As is typical with debates, the GOP wrangle watched by 24 million Americans changed pretty much nothing.

The latest CNN/ORC poll confirms what other post-debate surveys have found: Donald Trump is as strong as before. Jeb Bush is just as weak. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to slide. Sen. Marco Rubio, named the big debate winner that night, still hovers around fifth place. Ben Carson, judged the debate winner by nobody, continues his surge, climbing to third place in this poll.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina did manage to tick up a few points with solid debate performances, but they’re still hovering around 10th place (though Fiorina may manage to take Gov. Chris Christie’s place in the next main debate Sept. 16, and send the New Jersey governor to the kiddie table, which would be richly deserved).

All the Fox debate really did was prove that Trump can make Roger Ailes say uncle, after savaging Megyn Kelly and siccing his misogynist supporters on the popular anchor. It also gave Democrats great footage for fall campaign ads, where we can expect to see Walker looking like a sociopath as he explains why he doesn't care about saving mothers' lives, and Rubio shrugging off the troubles of rape and incest victims who become pregnant.

As I wrote earlier, they’re all Todd Akin now – and they probably have about as much chance of becoming president as Akin did.

Yes it's August, and yes it's early, but Trump shows no signs of fading. Yet his rivals seem to be waiting around for him to get bored or self-destruct. Walker has given up criticizing Trump for aping him, saying Trump’s police-state immigration plan is just like what the Wisconsin governor already proposed. He told the National Journal that “he wants to be the candidate for Trump supporters and others when they are done protesting and closer to voting.”

Rubio, meanwhile, seems to be trying to remake himself as the most strident abortion opponent (except for maybe Mike Huckabee, who doesn't matter.) Jeb Bush got more bad news in the CNN poll: stuck at second behind Trump, he saw his unfavorable rating rise so it’s just about as high as Trump’s.

Though Bush and Rubio have criticized Trump’s latest immigration proposals, neither man has made the kind of full-throated denunciation you might expect of candidates who’ve made their potential appeal to Latinos a key part of their pitch. Bush insists the answer to Trump is to deal with 11 million people here illegally “in a way that’s realistic.” That’s feisty. It's like they're just hoping Trump will go away -- and then here comes a CNN poll showing that's not happening anytime soon.

I assume Trump is doomed not because GOP voters will wise up, but because somebody, somewhere, is going to drop major dirt on him sometime soon. There’s a conspiracy theory on anti-Trump conservative Twitter that major media outlets have the dirt but are waiting until he wins the primary and is facing Clinton, which is hilarious, given how much of the mainstream media hates Clinton.

Still, I think the only way Trump fades is some ugly scandal he can't survive -- and hell, maybe there isn't one. But right now his rivals mostly seem to be treading water hoping for a miracle.

By Joan Walsh