AT THE END of the day, Trump gonna Trump.
You were expecting anything else, America? Don't be "stupid" . . . like our nation's leaders.
The much-anticipated first televised Republican presidential debate last night in Cleveland - the prime-time main course with surprise front-runner Donald Trump and his top nine rivals - was even more about the New York billionaire than an episode of his former reality show "The Apprentice."
Whether you're part of the majority of Americans who disapprove of Trump, his insult-flavored style of infotainment politics and his hot-button remarks about immigrants, or the 20-plus percent of GOP voters who revel in his lack of "political correctness," the short-fingered vulgarian of Manhattan real estate did not disappoint at the Quicken Loans Arena.
To the sound of boos, Trump wouldn't rule out ditching the GOP and running as a third-party candidate. He dismissed a question from Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly about past sexist comments by saying they were all about comedian Rosie O'Donnell. He also brushed off his history of four business bankruptcies - and maybe the New Jersey vote - by declaring: "I had the good sense to leave Atlantic City."
He said that the nation's leaders are "stupid" and getting played on immigration by their "cunning" counterparts in Mexico.
"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," Trump said to applause, in what could be the mantra for his renegade campaign. "I don't frankly have time for total political correctness."
As has been the case throughout the summer, Trump sucked the oxygen out of the room, stealing the spotlight from his closest rivals ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Under questioning from three Fox News anchors, the top 10 candidates mostly used the two-hour debate to tack back to Republican Party orthodoxy on opposing abortion, Obamacare and the president's Iran deal.
And here's some of what else happened last night:
* Most Chris Christie moment: After a couple of tepid answers - including a defense of New Jersey's lagging economy that blamed any problems on the Democrats of six years ago - the feisty Garden State governor mixed it up with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over the issue of civil liberties and warrantless investigations of terrorism. Citing his experience as a U.S. attorney, Christie said hotly that Paul was "blowing hot air" on the topic, causing the Kentucky senator to remind voters of the supposed "hug" of President Obama after Superstorm Sandy. Paul then rolled his eyes as Christie said the only hugs he remembers were 9/11 family members.
* Most cringeworthy moment: The Fox News moderators asked retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the only African-American candidate, the first question - a dig on his qualifications for the president - and then ignored him for more than half an hour. "Thank you Megyn, I wasn't sure I was going to get to talk again," he said when he was finally rediscovered.
* Internet meme of the night: "Ronald Raven." The latest verbal slip from the lips of ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched 1,000 one-liners that "Ronald Raven" was a character from Harry Potter, bad Edgar Allan Poe puns or Photoshops of the 40th president sprouting wings or wearing a Baltimore football jersey. Runner-up: A startup food-delivery service called Eat24 promised Twitter users coupons for free tacos every time Trump said "Mexico."
* Winner of the 5 p.m. "kids table"/"happy hour"/second-tier debate: Carly Fiorina, without question - at least, based on all the post-debate pundit chatter that sought to elevate the former Hewlett-Packard CEO into the upper tier. She spoke more clearly and forcefully than her six rivals, for sure, even if her answers seemed simplistic (Iran problem solved in two phone calls? . . . OK) or unsubstantiated, especially her Hillary Clinton "lies" monologue.
* Loser of the 5 p.m. debate: Bobby Jindal, governor of the fast-sinking (both metaphorically and literally) state of Louisiana. The command from the son of Indian immigrants that today's migrants must "assimilate" was a solid debate point for 1947, while his threat to sic the IRS on Planned Parenthood because he doesn't like its abortion policies smacked of Richard Nixon at his lowest.
* Bonus Loser No. 1: The Democratic Party, which won't hold its first primary debate until October and is only planning a total of six such forums, while the GOP has a slate of 11, including last night. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that the paucity of Democratic debates is a bald-faced attempt by the party establishment to bail out front-runner Clinton. That conspiracy theorist would probably be right.
* Bonus Loser No. 2: The American people, thanks to the blow-dried blowhards of the Fox News Channel. Any chance for a real conversation about the bread-and-butter issues that Americans care about - making ends meet in an era of flat salaries, the high cost of college, inadequate public schools - vanished into the Cleveland twilight. Instead, both the questioners and the questioned stayed within a narrow, absurdist fantasy world of under-spied-upon mosques, leaky "cyberwalls" and resolving the Middle East with one or two well-placed phone calls . . . or bombs.