Yes, America, in the first five minutes of your latest presidential debate, the leading candidate did, unprompted, boast of the size of his hands and how that correlated to another part of his anatomy.
“I guarantee you there’s no problem,” said Donald Trump. “I guarantee.”
He was responding to cracks Marco Rubio made recently, but not in the Thursday debate, that Trump had oddly small hands.
“You know what the say about men with small hands,” Rubio has gleefully prodded the frontrunner. “You can’t trust ’em.”
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That set a certain tone for the Thursday night Republican debate.
And fueled the country’s interest in Trump’s digits.
Trump said he was confused, that nobody had ever questioned his hand size in the past. In truth, it’s been a running joke for decades. Spy Magazine in 1988 taunted him with the tag “short-fingered vulgarian” in a running mockery of his oversized lifestyle.
Trump would send Spy editors traces of hands to demonstrate there was nothing diminutive about the paws. Kurt Anderson, one of the founders of now-defunct Spy, and others noted the history on Twitter during the debate.
There were more grown-up aspects of the debate. Sort of.
Mostly it marked Rubio and Ted Cruz hammering Trump while John Kasich made a point of saying he wouldn’t attack.
You could say it got testy.
Moderator Chris Wallace: “Mr. Trump, a policy question for you, sir.”
Rubio: “Let’s see if he answers it.”
Trump: “I will. Don’t worry about it little Marco, I will.”
Rubio: “OK, well, let’s hear it, big Donald.”
Trump: “Don’t worry about it little Marco, I will.”
Wallace: “Gentleman. You’ve got to do better than this.”
The night also marked the first meeting of Trump and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly since he accused her of unfairness in the campaign’s first debate seven months ago. He even skipped a Fox debate a few days before the Iowa caucuses complaining that Kelly and the network hadn’t treated him fairly.
Fox was not bowed. Kelly and the other moderators seemingly came prepared to challenge Trump on familiar dodges he’s made on the legitimacy of Trump University, on his tax plan and other issues. Questions were asked, Trump responded and then the anchors summoned graphics and video to suggest he try with better answers. (The other candidates got similar treatment in the debate Trump boycotted.)
At one point, moderator Wallace simply said: “Your numbers don’t add up, sir.”
Said Politico: “For many of those watching, it was as though Fox took on the job of taking Trump to task that none of the other candidates had managed to do successfully.”
Trump defenders, notably conservative Breitbart.com, thought Fox went too far with its real-time fact checking.
“Another Fox News debate, another two hours of proof that the ‘fair and balanced’ network is nothing more than a super PAC for Sen. Marco Rubio, who, by the way, had a terrible night. In their naked pursuit of Donald Trump’s scalp, moderators Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, and Megyn Kelly used every cheap trick in the book,” John Nolte wrote on the website.
“None of the other candidates faced dramatic graphics. Trump did. None of the other candidates faced video of past statements. Trump did.
“Trump was never asked to attack his rivals. On at least three occasions, Trump’s rivals were invited to attack him.”
The conservative but decidedly anti-Trump National Review declared “GOP Implosion Accelerates in Motor City Wreck.” Columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote that anyone ganging up on Trump was simply playing his game.
“When losing to the star of a reality TV show,” he wrote, “is it really so crazy to resort to reality-show tactics to defeat him?”
From the political left, the 11th Republican debate felt like the latest episode in surprise hit, an unintentional sit-com.
“It’s frustrating that you can’t sympathize with any of the characters, and I do think last week’s episode did a better job with building to a feeling of utter meaninglessness throughout the evening,” wrote Sonia Saraiya at lefty Salon. “But look, as mindless guilty pleasures go, it’s about on par with ‘NCIS.’ Talky exposition, frequently implausible scenarios, and predictable narrative beats. Not as reliably fun as ‘Scandal,’ but ‘Scandal’ doesn’t have that ‘Survivor’-style twist, where candidates drop out and mid-week promos change the narrative.”
This was, after all, a night when Cruz and Rubio somehow managed to dig at Trump with talk of yoga.