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GOP 49
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The GOP Debate, Part III: Reader Assessments

We wanted to share some reader takes on the GOP debates before the story is too far in the rear-view mirror. So, without further delay:

Vivek Ramaswamy

M.C. in Reno, NV: Vivek Ramaswamy 2/20? What are you guys smoking?

Vivek absolutely won the debate, according to nearly all metrics. Remember that the purpose of the debate is to endear oneself to Republican primary voters. Not to the rest of the country. 0/5 for likeability? Maybe to you and me, but to Republican primary voters—who, let's not forget, support Trump overwhelmingly, Vivek's lambasting of candidates that Republican voters do not like is a badge of honor for him. Vivek made them look like empty PAC-controlled puppets. Republican primary voters like that. 4/5 for likeability.

And as for message, remember: Ramaswamy's message is the same as Trump's message: "Things are terrible. America keeps losing because everyone in Washington is so stupid. It's simple to fix all of our problems. I alone can save us."

Trump's message is overwhelmingly supported by Republican primary voters. 15/15 for message.

Total score: 19/20. Vivek is the winner here among actual Republican primary voters, even though all he's really likely to win is a VP nomination.

E.J. in Jacksonville, OR: I thought your assessment of Vivek Ramaswamy's performance was a bit harsh, but I understand where you were coming from. You viewed the debate from a very civic-oriented lens, and posed the question: "What is your case for being president?" This is a very important question we all will be asking... in fall of 2024.

In contrast, I tried to view the debate as what might be appealing for Republicans, as this is their time to figure out who best represents them. (Full disclosure: I'm not a registered Republican, and probably never will be.) At this moment, there are really only two lanes out of the debates, and I think most Republicans know that members will need to coalesce around one or two "not Trump" options in short order. If you are a NeverAgain Trumper, you have a number of candidates to choose from, but I would agree that Nikki Haley stole the show. Interestingly, she did it without really going after Trump directly, which should have been right up Chris Christie's alley. She certainly tries to have most issues both ways, but she was assertive and in command of her responses, and will make a lot of hawks and fiscal conservatives comfortable that she can represent their values, and potentially win in November. Just based on this debate performance in isolation, Biden should be concerned if she actually gets the nomination.

The other lane out of the debates is to be the heir apparent to Trump. The Donald still commands popularity and loyalty, and I don't think anything will shake his followers from following him. However, if Dear Leader is not on the ballot or not able to run, for one reason or another, there are only two people jockeying to be in that lane: DeSantis and Ramaswamy. If you like Trump's brand of crazy, then I think Vivek had a much better night than Ron did. While Trump says vicious things on a regular basis, he's usually pretty jovial about it. Ron comes across as mad most of the time, whereas Vivek was generally in good spirits while welcoming the fighting. Even though his attitude may be contrived, he seems much more likeable than Ron. DeSantis, being true to form, bolted off stage immediately after the debate, whereas Vivek stayed around to shake hands and smile with everyone for the cameras. Vivek is definitely the preferable guy to go have a beer with. [Also, Trump is not known for his policy chops, so his supporters probably don't care about Vivek's inexperience either.]

C.S. in Cincinnati, OH: Could not bring myself to watch much of the Republican debate, but every time I tuned in, Vivek Ramaswamy was making an ass of himself, saying the brashest possible things to get a rise out of the adults. I am embarrassed that such a snot was raised and schooled in my city, which is generally not known for such antics. The prestigious high school from which he graduated (here, as in other places, it matters a great deal where you go to high school) yearly turns out bright, well-educated young men who go on to highly successful careers in this city and elsewhere. I doubt he learned there the reactionary views he puts on display.

M.A.N. in Falls Church, VA: Honestly, I agree with you guys 99.999% of the time.

Until now....

You think Doug Burgum was the most handsome guy on stage? As a gay man, I do have to differ here. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we all know that. But in terms of being aesthetically pleasing, there can be only one: Vivek Ramaswamy is ridiculously handsome. And you know who else thinks that? Vivek Ramaswamy, that's who!

Is he repellent? Yes. Is he obnoxious? Yes! Is he generally an awful choice for president? Oh, you know it, sister! But the dude is a fox. So he will have a great career with his own show in Jesse Watters' time slot in '24 or '25.

Other Candidates

Z.Z. in Coarsegold, CA: Nikki Haley is trying to carve out the After Trump Lane. I say this because she won the debate, no matter what the corporate-controlled media says.

A.B. in Wendell, NC: Asa Hutchinson missed his chance to break out. He did not raise his hand to indicate he'd support Trump for President if he was convicted, while the other seven did raise their hands (surprised Chris Christie did, but I digress...).

Asa had a chance to land a body blow on Trump and everyone else on the stage... but didn't take it. Were it me, I would have hammered them: "If you would support for President... a candidate who was found guilty of the things Trump is alleged to have done, then you are not fit for the office either. It tells me that your view is that the ends justify the means, and I question what means you would use!"

Of course he would have alienated the die-hard MAGAs, but he would have set himself apart as a true alternative to Trump. I am not convinced that the MAGAs so dominate the Party that a bold alternative would have no chance. It would be difficult to win in a general without them, as a Republican, but it could be done, especially if the Trump attacks stopped once Asa secured the nomination. Long shot, to be sure, but conceivable, and Asa missed his chance to do that and to stand out and set himself apart.

M.B. in Melrose, MA: I think one of the most telling moments of the debate, one that went against Ron DeSantis, was when the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they would still support Trump should he be convicted. This was an obvious question everyone on the stage should have been prepared for. Yet, Ron had to look to his left and then his right to see how everyone else responded, before raising his hand. This went against the image he is trying to portray as a strong and decisive leader and instead reinforced his lack of sincerity and willingness to cater to whatever is politically opportunistic at the time. To me, it came off as pretty pathetic.

S.S. in Ithaca, NY: As far as DeSantis, I feel you have rated him too high. His head looked like Alfred E. Neuman standing behind the podium, and he seemed so fake and plastic. When he was asked to start his closing statement, he stood there for several awkward moments just staring blankly into the camera. The moderators had to prod him again to start speaking. He should have been lower on the list.

The 800-pound Gorilla

T.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada: I think the most bizarre aspect of the Republican debate was missing from your analysis: The fact that you could have watched the whole thing and never known that Donald Trump is running for president, let alone being the Republican frontrunner by a mile.

It had the appearance of a conventional debate where the people on stage are fighting to be the nominee, but none of the candidates, moderators, or Fox commentators acknowledged what everyone knew, namely that they're fighting to be the understudy in case the nominee has to drop out. The obvious question to all of them—"Why should primary voters prefer you to a former president running for re-election who's way ahead in the polls?"—was never raised. The Republican establishment seems to have decided their best strategy is to just pretend Trump doesn't exist. It's truly surreal.

M.E. in Roanoke, VA: How the heck did it take almost an hour to get to anything about Trump? This clearly should have been no later than question 2.

S.S. in Elliott Lake, ON, Canada: I offer this for anyone who'd like to learn a bit about the Trump/Carlson "chat" without having to actually watch or listen to it, as it has a lovely level of snark: "Trump's Tucker Carlson segment was bizarre and boring at the same time."


D.M. in Burnsville, MN: My wife and I played Bingo. Nobody won.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ: You can't reach my age without being very familiar with having to perform an unpleasant task in order to get a pleasant reward. I admire the fortitude of the contestants who suffered through two hours of obnoxious, meaningless Republican drivel to play a bingo game.

For me, that sort of endeavor is simply too much to attempt because it comes perilously close to the old Bill Cosby standup routine of "Getting all the ice cream you want... but first you have to get your tonsils taken out!"

R.S. in San Mateo, CA: I noticed that the Trump bingo card misspelled "plagiarizes." I guess they didn't copy it correctly!

Other Observations

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA: On the subject of abolishing cash bail, as a supporter of cash bail abolition I was actually somewhat heartened to hear it mentioned (if in passing) during the debate, even if it was only to condemn the liberals for abolishing it. Early in the debate Mike Pence remarked: "And yet Democrats and liberal prosecutors in major metropolitan areas continue to... to work out their fanciful agendas, to... to do bail reform and... and go easy. What we need is... is strong commitment to law enforcement."

If its opponents are mentioning it in such high-profile arenas that must mean that the effort is making progress somewhere.

B.C. in Walpole, ME: Hatred is not the primary driving force in the GOP. Anger and fear are more important. Loathing is third; hatred fourth.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA: So were you guys hungry when composing the post-debate post? The reason I ask is that there was a smorgasbord of foods in the post titles: sugar, cream, steak and a bear claw. Most notable was steak, which was misspelled in place of "stake." If only that Simple Minded Trump hadn't gotten in the way, you would have had a grand slam! Maybe you should have gone with Cherry Bomb, Flaming Pie or I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunches) instead.

Just a few weeks until the next debate; get your bingo cards ready! (Z)

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