Republican Debate Reveals Divisions Deeper Than Donald Trump

Imagining a field without Trump’s zingers reveals soft spots inside GOP field.

Imagining a field that does not include Trump’s zingers reveals soft spots and hard edges inside the Republican field.

“I’m going to have to earn this,” Bush said, speaking truthfully.

To his right was Scott Walker, hastily explaining positions on immigration and abortion in his first real exposure of this magnitude.

Boosted by a hometown crowd, John Kasich offered a more uplifting vision than most of his rivals. It’s worth remembering from his party’s perspective that he defended both his attendance at a gay wedding and his decision to expand Medicaid -- even while explaining the appeal of Donald Trump.

Some of the other candidates seemed to disappear for stretches of the debate, whether by design of the questioning’s pace, or other circumstances.

Late in the debate, Bush used Trump to find a better groove -– offering a path for his party through the cloud of The Donald when he declined to directly engage him after an attack on his brother’s presidency.

“Mr. Trump’s language is divisive,” he said. “We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful and optimistic message.”

But Trump knows his audience, and knows how to fill gaps in a, well, huge field.

“Our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid,” he said.

It’s a harsher message than the field deserves. But the first debate was hardly edifying, and was the opposite of clarifying. The celebrated deep bench may need seasoning – and will get it in the picked-up pace of debates from here.