Assessing winners and losers is difficult when the traditional calculations don’t apply. If they did—assume a rational person seeking to vote for rational people—then Nikki Haley clearly prevailed. Her answers on a national abortion plan, runaway deficits, and foreign policy (where she undressed Vivek Ramaswamy), and her gravitas were impressive. In a pre-Trump Republican Party, she would be a star. If in fact two-thirds of Republicans are not MAGA (a suspect number I question), then she might have a distant shot.
But we no longer live in a rational world delineated by a respect for facts, truth or character. Instead, and this is the big problem in evaluating these candidates’ debate performance, we can only do so by putting ourselves in the MAGAverse and weighing the wannabes’ performances from the perspective of what appeals to the alternate universe in which Trump’s devotees percolate.
With that in mind, the clear winner was the obnoxious, irritating and off-the-wall Vivek Ramaswamy. He came out of nowhere, a biotech billionaire who views himself as a mini-Trump and models the latter’s abominable behavior. The live audience loved him. Like Trump, he was the only non-politician on the podium. In contrast to Trump, who inherited more than $400 million and gave new meaning to business failure, his wealth is self-made. Expect to see him jump in the polls, primarily at the expense of the rapidly fading Ron DeSantis, whose inexplicable debate strategy mirrored his baffling campaign tactics.
The other candidates seemed to realize that Vivek is the biggest threat to what dim hopes they may have. Thus, he was the object of most attacks while DeSantis, the current second choice, was largely ignored.
Governor Ron tried to be the tough guy, vowing to invade Mexico and leave drug smugglers “stone cold dead.” I doubt that even that loony position worked with the MAGA crowd.
When the moderators asked for a show of hands regarding whether the minnows would back a convicted felon, Ron nervously looked around to see whose hands went up before raising his. That tells you all you need to know about him, and the other five who had no problem with putting a confirmed criminal in the Oval Office. That in itself should disqualify all six from the presidency and any other public office. Leaders have a moral backbone. These people don’t.
I was surprised that Tim Scott did not attempt to distinguish himself. He basically had nothing of note to say. It’s not enough to be a nice guy, certainly not with this mob. For most of the evening, he looked like a deer in the headlights. Late-to-the-Never-Trump-party Chris Christie seemed to forget to focus most of his attention on blasting Trump, instead opting to go after Ramaswamy. Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum, zeroes on both the debate stage and elsewhere, have the combined charisma of a sidewalk. Speaking of charisma, I almost forgot Mike Pence, who is either a 13th disciple or a robot.
There were no egregious faux pas moments, e.g., Gerald Ford twice freeing Poland from Communist rule or Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK. That, however, is only because the Republican Party has become so whacko and out of touch with reality that its candidates can say the zaniest things without shocking us anymore.
August 26, 2023