• Politics

How to Make Donald Trump Disappear

5 minute read

We now know how to make Donald Trump disappear: talk policy. He simply has nothing useful to say. He’ll deal with it when the time comes. He’ll hash out Syria with Putin. He’ll hire people. “Killers,” no doubt, as he likes to say. He’ll call Carl Icahn. Carl Icahn? And we now know that Trump will almost certainly lose altitude: his boorishness will grow old, his insults increasingly desperate.

The second Republican presidential debate was weird, bifurcated and schizoid. There were two debates–and I’m not referring to the earlier, runner-up show, which was dominated by Lindsey Graham’s bonhomie. One of the debates was about Trump’s insults–and this prevailed early on. It was CNN’s obvious strategy to generate heat by asking each of the candidates to respond to the naughty things that Trump had said about them. Carly Fiorina handled this best, especially when she said “every woman in America” knew what Trump was talking about when he said, “look at that [her] face.” This was the most direct path to controversy and entertainment value. But as Rand Paul—who had a very good night—pointed out, it was playground stuff. And gradually, an actual debate about actual issues—mostly foreign policy—broke out. To my mind, Marco Rubio won that debate with his obvious fluency on a range of topics.

But what do I know? I still, for the life of me, can’t figure out the appeal of Ben Carson—as a human being, yes; as a presidential candidate, oh please. And I don’t see American politics through a lens of blind anger, as the Republican base seems to do. So I have no clue about who Republicans will think won this.

Meet Donald Trump's Family

Ivana Trump Ivanka Trump
Left: Ivanka Trump with her mother, Ivana, in 1992; Right: Ivanka in New York City in February 2015.Ben Coster—Camera Press/Redux; Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr. Donald Trump
Left: Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump in 1988; Right: Donald Trump Jr. in New York City in April 2011.Ron Galella—Getty Images; Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty Images
Eric Trump Donald Trump
Left: Eric Trump and Donald Trump in 2007; Right: Eric Trump in New York City in October 2013.James Devaney—Getty Images; Astrid Stawiarz—Getty Images
Marla Maples and Tiffany Trump
Left: Marla Maples and Donald Trump's daughter Tiffany on March 19, 1996 in New York City; Right:Tiffany Trump attends Barbie and CFDA Event on Sept. 5, 2014 in New York City.Gregory Pace—Sygma/Corbis; J Carter Rinaldi—Getty Images
Barron Trump and Melania Knauss
Left: Donald Trump's son Barron with his mother Melania at the FAO Schwarz in New York City; Right: Barron Trump with his father, Donald Trump and mother, Melania Knauss on Feb. 16th, 2015.Left: Jamie McCarthy—Getty Images; Right: Mike Pont—NBC/Getty

A few notes on the individual candidates:

John Kasich was his decent self, but he didn’t make much of an impression. He talked about his Ohio record, but didn’t have anything interesting to say about what he would do as President.

Chris Christie was a real presence in the debate, but his “this election is about you” shtick wasn’t backed up by many details.

Scott Walker was more energetic this time, but not very impressive. He doesn’t have a presidential presence or intellectual heft. He was a creature of pre-cooked one-liners. I suspect he’s over his head in this crowd.

Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee were in a mini-contest to become standard-bearer of the Christian right. Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, who appeared in the Junior Varsity debate, are also part of this conversation—as is Ben Carson—but I suspect that Cruz, the sharpest of the bunch, may emerge as the last wingnut standing.

Ben Carson had a quiet debate, but some of his weirder edges are beginning to show, as when he called the progressive income tax “socialism.” It took Donald Trump—in a startling display of substance—to point out that the progressive tax had been around for more than 100 years.

Carly Fiorina was described as one of the winners of the debate, and it’s easy to see why: she’s crisp, polished, really good at this. Her passionate answers on the Planned Parenthood controversy and her child’s death from drug abuse have been largely overlooked because of her contretemps with Trump, but I suspect they made a real impact on the evangelical community. Unfortunately, her rather ridiculous foreign policy answers—she’d call the Ayatollah? Good luck!—were overlooked, too.

Jeb Bush was in the middle of much of the action, and sharper than he was in the first debate. But he still needs to turn it up a notch. He could have leveled Trump with a more succinct, and combative, answer on the Florida casino controversy. He could have said, “You tried to bribe the state of Florida so you could bring your casinos in, but I stopped you.” But he was fuzzier than that…and he seemed to be searching for words—this “raucous” political debate—when he called for Trump to apologize to his wife. (He might check the tape of Bill Clinton defending Hillary against Jerry Brown back in 1992. Clinton nailed it.) As always, Bush was solid on substance and he didn’t hurt himself in the debate–but he is being surpassed in these events by Rubio.

Rand Paul had a much better night than his August performance. He talked more sense about foreign policy than all the other candidates on stage put together. Unfortunately, his views don’t have much purchase in this Republican party. Trump did him a huge favor by slurring him right out of the box, which brought Paul into the center of the insult debate.

Marco Rubio is becoming a force to be reckoned with—on the debate stage. He is fluent, smart and bold. I was especially struck by two of his answers that haven’t received much post-game notice. One was his defiant answer on climate change: he refused to take any actions that would limit the US economic growth. You can take issue with his position, but he made the clearest, most comprehensible to voters, case against a radical climate change effort that I’ve heard. The other was his story about learning about the glories of American democracy—in Spanish, from his grandfather. With that, Rubio actually won the Trump-Bush debate on Spanish speaking in public. There was one other thing about his performance: he looks so much younger than his opponents. I’m sure this might work against him with some voters, but last night he seemed fresh and everyone else seemed tired.

Donald Trump seemed tired.

See the 2016 Candidates' Campaign Launches

Sen. Ted Cruz kicks off his campaign for 2016 Republican presidential nominee at Liberty University's Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va. on March 23, 2015. (
Sen. Ted Cruz kicked off his campaign for 2016 Republican presidential nomination at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. on March 23.Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images
Presidential Campaign Launch Rand Paul
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul launched his bid for the Republican nomination at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville on April 7. Supporters held signs with the slogan "Defeat the Washington Machine / Unleash the American Dream."Amy Harris—Corbis
Presidential Campaign Launch Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her campaign in a YouTube video posted April 12 that has been seen nearly 4.5 million times. One boy featured in the video boasted about playing a fish in a school play.Hillary For America
Presidential Campaign Launch Marco Rubio
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio announced his campaign for the Republican nomination during a rally at the Freedom Tower in Miami on April 13. He took a drink of water during the speech, a callback to his State of the Union response in 2013.Wilfredo Lee—AP
Presidential Campaign Launch Bernie Sanders
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his bid for the Democratic nomination across the street from the U.S. Capitol on April 30, 2015. The backdrop was unusual, since most candidates rail against Washington.Jonathan Ernst—Reuters
Presidential Campaign Launch Ben Carson
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced his bid for the Republican nomination at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts May 4, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. The launch featured a gospel choir covering Eminem's "Lose Yourself."Bill Pugliano—Getty Images
Presidential Campaign Launch Carly Fiorina
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced her campaign for the Republican nomination in a conference call on May 4, then went on "Good Morning America" to talk to George Stephanopoulos.Lou Rocco—Getty Images
Huckabee Presidential Campaign Launch
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced his campaign at a community college in his hometown of Hope, Ark., on May 5. Singer Tony Orlando (right) performed.Left: Danny Johnston; Right: Matt Sullivan—Getty Images
George Pataki Republican 2016
Republican presidential candidate and former New York Governor George Pataki (C) greets supporters after formally announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Exeter, N.H. on May 28, 2015. Dominick Reuter—Reuters
Lincoln Chafee Democrat 2016
Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee announces his candidacy for the democratic presidential nomination at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. on June 3, 2015.Win McNamee—Getty Images
Lindsey Graham Republican 2016
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham announces his 2016 presidential candidacy in Central, S.C. on June 1, 2015. Erik S. Lesser—EPA
Martin O'Malley Democrat 2016
Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is joined by his wife Katie O'Malley (R) as he announces his intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination during a speech at Federal Hill Park in Baltimore on May 30, 2015. Jim Bourg—Reuters
Rick Perry Texas Republican 2016
Former Texas governor Rick Perry announces his candidacy for Republican presidential nominee at an event held at Addison Airport in Addison, Texas on Thursday, June 4, 2015.Louis DeLuca—Dallas Morning News/Corbis
Jeb Bush Campaign Launch
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush waves on stage as he announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during an event at Miami-Dade College - Kendall Campus in Miami on June 15 , 2015.Joe Raedle—Getty Images
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Trump holds up his financial statement as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination at Trump Tower in New York
Donald Trump holds up his financial statement showing his net worth as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York City on June 16, 2015. Brendan McDermid—Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Kenner
Republican presidential candidate and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in Kenner, La. on June 24, 2015. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in New Jersey
Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally at Livingston High School in Livingston, N.J. on June 30, 2015. Brendan McDermid—Reuters
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Announces His Candidacy For President
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets supporters after announcing that he will seek the Republican nomination for president in Waukesha, Wis. on July 13, 2015 . Scott Olson—Getty Images
John Kasich 2016
Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives on stage to formally announce his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally in Columbus, Ohio on July 21, 2015. Aaron P. Bernstein—Reuters

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com