Wednesday night's debate may not have delivered any knockout blows to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or changed many voters' minds. But Trump's positives and negatives from the "Duel in the Desert" do provide the Republican Party with some very important guidelines on how to survive post-election 2016. In short, the GOP must copy Trump's defiant fighting spirit but add more clarity to the message.
Defiance and audacity have been the cornerstones of Trump's campaign from day one. And it's not so much the issues he chose, like illegal immigration, but the fighting spirit and tone of his words that attracted so many Republican primary voters.
Remember, primary voters tend to be much more partisan than general election voters overall. Those Republicans are the ones who came into 2016 angry that the GOP Congress they voted into power on Capitol Hill had failed to end Obamacare, failed to stop the Iran nuclear deal, and failed to have the guts to use its Constitutional power of the purse to cut funding for the Democratic agenda.
They saw a Republican Party that was too meek to even shut down the government for a few days. Trump's angry tone last night and all year was catnip for them, and the decision by his primary opponents like Jeb Bush and John Kasich to push their wise and reserved personas in contrast backfired badly. The people are angry, and the Republican voters are really angry. The elected GOP establishment either refuses to get that, or is too comfortable with the status quo to address it.
That defiant anger has been present in Trump in each one of the three debates, last night included. Of course, it's been a constant at his rallies, interviews, and his Twitter feed. When his GOP opponents tried to sound the alarm bells about the way he was carrying himself, it came off like they didn't care as much about the direction the country was taking as the voters did themselves. And this is about all the voters, not just angry Tea Party Republicans or laid-off workers. The passion for immediate and sweeping change from Bernie Sanders' supporters and his impressive run in the primaries prove that.
So, the biggest danger for the Republicans if Trump wins or loses is they'll convince themselves that a more reserved, Jeb Bush/Mitt Romney-like style, is the way to go. Perhaps it's a byproduct of having control of Congress for most of the last 22 years, but that kind of restraint implies a comfort with the status quo. And let's face it, if you had to choose between keeping a term-unlimited job in Congress with very little scrutiny connected to it compared to the brutally competitive and scrutinized race for and job in the White House every four years, a lot of people would choose the cozy "door no. 1" on Capitol Hill.