Update: Coverage of the second Republican debate.
Fox News's primetime Republican debate began with an attempt to cow Donald Trump. Would he pledge to forego a third-party candidacy and endorse the eventual Republican nominee?
He would not.
Did he understand the question? Did he realize that would probably guarantee that Hillary Clinton won the White House?
He did. The crowd cheered.
Then it was Megyn Kelly's turn. She read him a litany of horrible terms he's used to describe women. He's called them "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals."
Trump's response? He only said that about Rosie O'Donnell. The crowd cheered. (Trump was lying, by the way.)
Kelly tried again. She referenced the time Trump told a woman, on national television, "It must be a pretty picture. You dropping to your knees."
"I don't frankly have time for total political correctness," Trump told Kelly. "And to be honest with you, this country doesn't either." The crowd roared.
This is Donald Trump's secret, his strategy, his power. Trump is a honey badger. He just doesn't fucking care. He will never, ever give an inch. Better to be a monster than a wuss.
You cannot embarrass Donald Trump. You cannot back him down with questions that make other candidates buckle. And the crowd loves him for it. They love him because he does not back down. The fact that Trump doesn't back down is the core of Trumpism. It is the answer to how he will negotiate with the Democrats, with China, with Mexico. He will get what he wants because he doesn't back down.
Is it lunacy? Sure. But it's an appealing kind of lunacy. It's the ultimate Green Lantern Theory of the American Presidency. Candidates always promise that by virtue of their force of character, they will be able to do what their predecessors couldn't, while making fewer compromises than their predecessors made. It's what the people want to hear.
But Trump goes further. There is no border or boundary to his self-confidence. He doesn't just tell you he won't back down. He stands up and shows he won't back down. He is a mathematical proof for himself.
And that makes him almost impossible to trap in this kind of forum. The media keep thinking they can quote Trump's worst statements back to him and he will have to admit their ugliness, he will have to apologize for his basic lack of decency, he will have to reveal a crack in his ego's facade. But they are wrong.
Later in the debate, Fox News brought out the big guns. "15 years ago, you called yourself a liberal on health care," Bret Baier said. "You were for a single-payer system, a Canadian-style system. Why were you for that then and why aren't you for it now?"
Trump's answer? "In July of 2004, I came out strongly against the war with Iraq, because it was going to destabilize the Middle East. And I'm the only one on this stage that knew that and had the vision to say it."
There is something amazing in the sheer gall of that answer. Trump, asked about his heterodoxy on health care, instead says he had the foresight to oppose the Iraq War years after it was launched! They should inscribe that answer on a rock and put a sword in the rock and whoever can pull the sword out of the rock gets a billion dollars because they aren't a fucking loser who doesn't understand the greatness of Donald Trump.
And then Trump went onto say "As far as single payer, it works in Canada." Which is actually, you know, true! But there is no other Republican candidate who would say those words on Fox News.
Did Donald Trump win the debate? Lose it? I have no idea. it's not even clear those concepts apply to a candidate like him. By the normal rules of Republican debates, Trump was crushed like a bug. But by the normal rules of Republican presidential campaigns, Trump doesn't exist. Fox News said their insta-poll showed voters turning against Trump, but who knows? My colleague Jon Allen, who was in the arena, reports that when Trump was first introduced, the applause for him was light compared to other candidates. By the end, he was drawing "uproarious cheers" and had seemed to win over the crowd, at least sentimentally.
But Donald Trump proved something last night. Fox News threw everything they had at him, they did it on national television, and he didn't flinch. Donald Trump proved that you cannot embarrass Donald Trump. He is a man who lives entirely without shame or self-doubt. It's like a superpower. And every time he refuses to back down, every time he shows what you can do and say if you have no shame, his supporters thrill to him a little more. After all, if the media can't stop him, then what chance do the Democrats have? What chance do America's enemies have?