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June 19th, 2019

Insight

I was really impressed with something Donald Trump did in Thursday's debate: Discipline

Chris Cillizza

By Chris Cillizza

Published March 14, 2016

Thursday's Republican presidential debate was the 12th and may well be the last one of the GOP race. That is, if Donald Trump has anything to say about it.

"I think we've had enough debates," the Republican front-runner said Friday. "I mean, how many times do you have to give the same answer to the same question?"

It's understandable why Trump would want the debates to end. He's not terribly good at them. And/but Trump had his best debate of the campaign Thursday night (it's a low bar), so he'd almost certainly like to end on a high(ish) note.

The reason Trump was moderately effective in the debate was that he was VERY un-Trump. (It's kind of like being very un-Dude.) He had clearly made up his mind that the mud-throwing part of the race (or at least of the debates) was over and that the time to look, well, "presidential" arrived.

Trump's opening and closing statements focused on how amazing the movement he has built is and why it is necessary now for all Republicans to rally behind him and take advantage of the energy and crowds he is creating. Gone were the dismissive putdowns of his rivals -- "Little Marco" and "Lyin' Ted" -- and in their place was a conciliatory spirit. "I can't believe how civil it's been," Trump remarked at one point, making sure that everyone knew that this was a different Donald Trump they were now dealing with.

That's not really what impressed me. After all, I know Trump is a salesman and marketer at heart. And, as the best people in those fields often are, he is a bit of a shape-shifter -- channeling what he believes his audience wants and giving it to them with them none the wiser. We always knew this kindler, gentler Trump was coming at some point.

What really impressed me was Trump's discipline. It's easy to say you are going to act more presidential. It's even easy to start off a two-hour debate with a message of unity. What's much harder is to stick to your be-calm-and-carry-on game plan in the face of attacks -- especially from someone like Ted Cruz, who Trump disdains.

The degree of difficulty is ramped up even higher when turning the other cheek is so fundamentally at odds with who you are and how you've experienced success not only in this race but in life. Trump's entire persona is centered on the idea that if you take a swing at him, he will take 100 swings in response.

That he won't play by any rules. That he will pick up a brick and hit you in the head with it in the middle of a fight. Because winning is what matters. And, the way Trump has always won is to dominate.

That Trump was able to subjugate all of those natural instincts for the better part of two hours tells me that a) he has tremendous discipline when he wants to and b) he understands that you can't simply insult your way to the presidency.

If you had told me before the debate that Trump could be conciliatory and even, at times, kind, in the face of attacks from his opponents, I would have told you that I didn't believe he was capable of it. And yet, he was.

Now, one debate does not a campaign shift make. And, Trump's glaring lack of even the smallest shred of policy knowledge, which was on full display Thursday night, remains very problematic. But, if I am one of Trump's remaining GOP rivals -- or even the Democrats awaiting the Republican winner -- Trump's ability to make a game plan and then have the discipline to execute against it would scare me.

He is someone who may well be capable of much more than he is given credit for.

Previously:


03/11/16: Winners and losers from the 12th Republican presidential debate
03/07/16: Here's how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz should have answered the 'will you support Trump' question
03/04/16: Winners and losers from the 11th Republican presidential debate
03/03/16: The Republican establishment waited too long to stop Donald Trump. Now they probably can't
03/02/16: Winners and losers from Super Tuesday
02/29/16: Why Donald Trump is remarkably dangerous to the Republican Party
02/29/16: 4 reasons why Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump
02/26/16: Winners and losers from the 10th Republican presidential debate
02/24/16: Donald Trump is on course to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the GOP nominee
02/23/16: This Donald Trump explanation of his Iraq position is just so mind-boggling
02/22/16: Jeb Bush never really had a chance in the 2016 presidential race
02/18/16: Senate Republicans will never hold a Supreme Court vote this year. This poll shows why
02/17/16: South Carolina isn't Bush Country anymore
02/12/16: Winners and losers from the 6th Dem debate
02/10/16: Winners and losers from the New Hampshire primary
02/06/16: Winners and losers from the fifth Democratic presidential debate
01/29/16: Winners and losers from the 7th Republican presidential debate
01/27/16: Ranking the Republican 2016 field
01/25/16: Trump is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. Period
01/22/16: Who had the worst week in Washington? Hillary Clinton
01/18/16: Feeling bad for Jeb Bush
01/15/16: Winners and losers from the sixth Republican presidential debate
01/12/16: Here's exactly how Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton
01/11/16:The fantasy scenario that could become reality for Hillary
12/30/15: The five big lessons from a weirdly watchable year of politics
12/21/15: Winners and losers in the third Democratic presidential debate
12/16/15: Winners and losers from the 5th Republican presidential debate
12/16/15: Cruz, not Trump, looking like GOP favorite for 2016
12/04/15: Ted Cruz is the sleeping giant in the Republican race
11/24/15:Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign
11/23/15: A ranking of GOP presidential candidates who can still make a case --- and the nominee
11/16/15: The remarkably unappealing anger of Donald Trump
11/11/15: Winners and losers from the fourth Republican debate
11/02/15: Jeb Bush says he still doesn't get why his terrible debate performance matters so much
10/29/15: Winners and losers from the third Republican presidential debate
10/22/15: Paul Ryan might be saving his party. But at what cost?
10/20/15: Six things we know Joe Biden is thinking
10/19/15: Who had the worst week in Washington? Lincoln Chafee
10/14/15: Winners and losers from the first Dem presidential debate

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