Donald Trump occupied center stage both literally and figuratively during the Aug. 6 Fox News Republican candidate debate, standing behind the podium designated for the leader of the 2016 polls and fielding the majority of questions from the night’s moderators.
A major storyline of the debate was the confrontation between Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and Trump, with Trump using Twitter to insult the host even after the event was over.
Trump was repeatedly forced to answer questions from Kelly and the rest of the panel about his previous liberal-leaning beliefs. He was asked about his relationship with Hillary Clinton, as well as his history of being pro-choice and supporting a single-payer health care system. “I don’t think they like me very much,” Trump said in response to Kelly’s question “When did you actually become a Republican?”
I really enjoyed the debate tonight even though the @FoxNews trio, especially @megynkelly, was not very good or professional!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2015
If you consider the real estate mogul’s past political beliefs, Trump’s status atop the GOP field is somewhat mind-boggling.
When asked about his previous support of a single-payer health care system during the debate, he didn’t even totally dismiss the idea. “It works in Canada, it works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about, here,” Trump said.
He now claims President Barack Obama's health care reform commonly called Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced, and he advocates a private system that doesn’t change based on state borders.
Another element of Trump’s liberal-leaning past is the fact that he used to be pro-choice. During last night’s debate, he smartly compared himself to Ronald Reagan by claiming he’s “evolved” on that issue.
“Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances. And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life,” Trump said.
As was the case with his views on health care, Trump both acknowledged the truth about his past beliefs yet established his new, conservative outlook. Trump attributed his liberal past to his upbringing. He referred to his home city of New York as “almost exclusively Democrat.”
He claimed to have supported Democrats after the failed presidency of Jeb Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush. He also claimed that he’s more closely aligned with the Republicans after the Obama presidency. Yet, of course, he refused to rule out running as a third-party candidate.
By grilling Trump on his past, the debate moderators revealed the type of candidate Trump could’ve been if he decided to run for president more than a decade ago. Then, he would have been pro-choice, form a more liberal health care policy than Obamacare, and possibly a candidate on the Democratic side.
At one point in 1999, Trump even called for a 14.25 percent tax on Americans with a net worth of $10 million or more to restore the national debt. That’s a proposal more in line with progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont than any of the candidates that shared the stage with him last night.
But Trump has “evolved,” and now he’s leading the Republican field. Winning that nomination requires a commitment to pro-life values, and a staunch opposition to Obamacare. You can’t win the nomination if you’re friends with Hillary Clinton, and Trump simultaneously dismissed her and claimed he got her to show up to his wedding.
In the late 1990s, Trump could’ve been the progressive candidate Democratic fans of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts desperately want in office. Now, he’s almost the complete opposite. Perhaps due to sheer charisma alone, Trump’s new political outlook seems to be working for him.