Donald Trump is at it again. After Wednesday's second GOP primary debate, in which both audience members and Trump's rival candidates took him to task for his recent behavior, Trump seemed to regain his footing briefly before slipping up again on Friday. After he failed to call out a supporter who asked how he could get rid of Muslim Americans during a rally in New Hampshire, Trump then made things even worse by calling Republican rival Carly Fiorina a "robot" and proving that he had learned nothing from Wednesday's brawl.
"She's got a line of pitter-patter that I’ve heard many times from her," said Trump, during a call into Fox News Radio's Kilmeade and Friends on Friday. Trump then blasted Fiorina's routine name-dropping during Wednesday's debate, specifically citing her comments about calling her "dear friend Bibi Netanyahu of Israel" if elected president, in order to smooth things over between the two nations. "I've heard that so many times, and she said it the other night too, the same exact words—bah, bah, bah, like a robot—in fact, somebody accused her the other day of being robotic. I think she’s very robotic."
Trump then reverted to his more common criticisms of Fiorina. He accused the former CEO of running Hewlett-Packard "into the ground" during her tenure at the company helm, as well as destroying AT&T offshoot Lucent Technologies while working as the brand's consumer products president.
"She destroyed that company," Trump said of HP. "The other day they laid off 30,000 people, they are still suffering the effects of her reign."
In Trump's defense, Fiorina's run at HP was pretty disastrous. Years after Fiorina's forced ousting in 2005, HP finally announced that it was getting out of the mobile OS and tablet computer game due to steep declines in stock prices and bad decision making. Some called it the aftereffects of the Fiorina years; CNET columnist Jim Kerstetter scathingly remarked that the decade had been a "terrible waste," penning an opinion piece that was headlined, "HP's Carly Fiorina era is finally over...good riddance."
At Wednesday's debate, however, Fiorina reiterated her pro-HP talking points, claiming that the company had experienced some of the biggest surges in market pricing and had doubled in size under her watch. After being prodded about her record and Trump's previous similar accusations, Fiorina replied,
I led Hewlett-Packard through a very difficult time, the worst technology recession in 25 years. ... We had very strong competitors who literally went out of business and lost all of their jobs in the process. Despite those difficult times, we doubled the size of the company, we quadrupled its topline growth rate, we quadrupled its cash flow, we tripled its rate of innovation. Yes, we had to make tough choices, and in doing so, we saved 80,000 jobs, went on to grow to 160,000 jobs. And now Hewlett-Packard is almost 300,000 jobs. We went from lagging behind to leading in every product category and every market segment.
Despite the fact that Fiorina's narrative was at least partially overstated (the company did double in size after HP bought out computer company Compaq, but Fiorina slashed some 30,000 jobs due to corporate redundancy in response to that growth, for example), Trump's follow-up comments on Friday were still largely unacceptable for another reason entirely.
During the GOP showdown on Wednesday, Fiorina was also asked about Trump's disparaging comments on her looks (during an interview with Rolling Stone last week, Trump exclaimed, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"), which Trump claimed had been misconstrued.
"Women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said," stated Fiorina, to raucous applause. Trump, looking sheepish, then tried to compliment Fiorina by calling her "a beautiful woman" (audience: *crickets*), but the damage was done: The audience didn't seem to like Trump's mean-spirited attitude one bit.
According to a Voter Gravity poll released on Friday, the result of Wednesday's Trump/Fiorina scuffle was relatively huge — in New Hampshire, the mobile canvassing campaign tech company stated, Fiorina had overtaken Trump by a margin of 4 percentage points.
"We surveyed 2,839 New Hampshire Republican Primary Voters the day after the CNN Debate, and they put Carly Fiorina in the top spot at 22 percent," the company wrote in a blog post on Friday. "In these post debate New Hampshire results, it appears Trump lost most of his ground to Fiorina while [former neurosurgeon Ben] Carson remained fairly close to his pre-debate levels." They added that it was still too early to tell who the GOP nominee might be, although the new numbers hinted that voters were still impressionable.
Trump may still boast a stubborn hold on the overall GOP polls, but the new figures point to potential "Trump-exhaustion" in certain corners of the Republican Party: While Donald Trump makes for good news headlines, he's mostly show and no substance, and at least some voters are starting to figure out as much.
In August, during an interview on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Ohio governor and Trump rival John Kasich correctly predicted that Trump's ad hominem attacks would eventually begin to wear on the public, telling host Bill Hemmer:
I think that Donald Trump taps into the frustration that Americans have, [but] people don’t want to stay in the negative. They want to move to the positive. They want to hear solutions. They want to believe the sun is going to come up.
It remains to be seen whether or not Trump's game plan will shift over the next few weeks, according to the slowly evolving sentiment surrounding his campaign, but for now it seems that he's sticking to his guns. On Saturday, Trump fired back at critics from both sides of the aisle who had accused him of not refuting the aforementioned supporter's claims that President Obama was "a Muslim."
"Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him?" Trump tweeted. "I don't think so."