Saturday, December 09, 2023

What To Make Of The GOP Debate And Tucker-Trump Interview Wednesday Night

We noticed there was a good amount of griping, particularly among Trump supporters, at people who tuned in to Fox News to watch what turned out to be something of a kids’-table debate among eight Republican presidential candidates who combined have less than 40 percent of the vote in polls of the GOP primary.

And certainly the competition for that debate did better. Tucker Carlson’s Twitter (or X) podcast interview of Donald Trump racked up nearly 90 million views while the debate was going on, which obviously swamped Fox News’ ratings for that event. The release of the Trump interview was timed to damage Fox News’ audience, and that had likely as much to do with Carlson’s ongoing acrimony with his former employer as it did with Trump upstaging the other candidates for the Republican nomination whom he’s throttling in the polls. Trump is well over 50 percent among Republican primary voters according to virtually all polling, with Ron DeSantis coming next in the low teens and Vivek Ramaswamy sitting around 10 percent or close to it.

Everyone else in the race is in the low single digits.

For that reason Trump opted not to join the eight contenders who took the stage in Milwaukee. It might have been better if he had, though given the relative audience he generated you can’t criticize his decision.

It might have been better if he had because the Milwaukee debate was abysmal.

Its format was inconducive to a real exchange of ideas, and the candidates didn’t stick to the format in any event. For most of the two hours there was crosstalk and petty bickering, and the only true clarity coming from the event was that half of the eight candidates, as Trump noted, have no business running for president.

None of that group has any real support. And in fact, they represent a Republican Party that even Republican voters can’t stand.

Trump, in his Tucker interview, skewered former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, a mid-tier congressman and mediocre bureaucrat who was once a U.S. Attorney and later ran the DEA, as an unpopular RINO. He’s right. Hutchinson is a relic – a Bush Republican who offers no ideas or insight into America in 2023, and it’s perplexing why he thinks he has a constituency in the 2024 presidential race. We can’t remember a single thing Hutchinson said in the two hours he was on that stage, and we wonder why he isn’t dropping out this morning.

Then there was Chris Christie, who like Hutchinson, was an unpopular governor. Christie left office with just an 8 percent approval rating, and he was so obnoxious and so caustic in attacking the other candidates that he was just about booed off the stage. Chris Christie was relevant in 2012, but he chose not to run that year when he was still politically competitive. Instead, he allowed himself to be filmed giving Barack Obama a hug while the latter was visiting New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a photo op that boosted Obama just before the election that year. That memory was brought back to life by Ramaswamy amid Christie’s verbal assaults on him…

Then there was Nikki Haley, who like Christie spent most of the debate attempting to attack Ramaswamy, including one embarrassing crosstalk marathon when she attempted to monopolize his time and bellow insults at him…

This after snarking on another argument between the other candidates by dragging out the old Margaret Thatcher line about how men talk and women do, which was effective when it was used 40 years ago because of its novelty but has no relevance whatsoever now other than to signal what seems to be Haley’s value proposition (such as it is) as a presidential candidate – namely, that because she isn’t a white guy that somehow makes her more qualified to be president, and that somehow the Republican Party owes something to women and racial minorities.

Nikki The Brown Girlboss is a constant feature of her campaigning, and it’s something of a mask for the fact that she represents a Mitt Romney-Mitch McConnell Republicanism that nobody wants. Of course she attacked Ramaswamy on Ukraine, while demanding that more and more of our military resources be thrown into a useless fight which should have been settled at the peace table months ago – that’s the position of the Washington elite which has fed at the Ukraine trough for years now while achieving little else but death, destruction and homelessness for the Ukrainian people.

She’s right that Ramaswamy has no foreign policy experience. His take on Taiwan is unhelpful; Ramaswamy’s strategic note that America needs to achieve semiconductor self-reliance as fast as possible is correct, but when he then says that once that aim is met it doesn’t matter if China invades Taiwan, he shows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But Ramaswamy isn’t the only one who thinks we’re pouring money down a hole in Ukraine. Some 55 percent of the public thinks we’re at the end of the line in supporting that war and it’s time to find an offramp, and most of that 55 percent are Republican voters. So she just told us that Nikki The Brown Girlboss knows better than we do. Ramaswamy’s retort that her tongue-wagging was well-suited for the corporate board of Raytheon or Lockheed hit pretty close to home, because that’s exactly what the uniparty political class has been shilling for while our own border is the scene of an even larger invasion than Ukraine’s and our own military readiness has collapsed.

But if Haley is Bush Republicanism packaged slightly differently, Mike Pence’s is in the same old package. Pence spent the debate attempting to take credit for the successes of the Trump administration while also virtue-signaling about his role in certifying the 2020 election, something most Republican voters think was stolen from Trump. Trump spent a long time in the Tucker interview kibbitzing about whether Pence had the constitutional authority to negate that certification, and frankly the question is overrated – because Mike Pence was not going to refuse to certify it and we all know that.

Whether it was the right thing to do or not doesn’t even matter. Pence isn’t the type of man to take such a stand.

So essentially what he did last night was to take credit for Joe Biden currently occupying the White House and cloaking himself in the Constitution in doing so. Except how much respect does Biden show for the Constitution, Mike? Doesn’t seem like you struck much of a blow for America as founded when the presidential administration you ushered into being is keeping political prisoners in its DC gulags for January 6 protesters, running SWAT raids on pro-life sidewalk counselors and leaning on angry parents at school board meetings and traditional Catholics as “domestic terrorists” when it isn’t suppressing the free speech of American dissidents on social media.

What would have been more honest, and more respectable, would have been if Mike Pence had just said “By the time it got to me that election was well stolen, and I for damned sure wasn’t going to stick my neck out for Donald Trump, and you people all know that.”

But of course you can’t satisfy your selfish delusions of becoming president when there is no market for you among an electorate who remembers that it was YOU who headed Trump’s COVID response team which promoted lockdowns and mandates and allowed Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci to crush the economy and set a precedent for rampant loss of individual liberty, not to mention unmoor American government from any sense of fiscal sanity.

Mike Pence was disqualified as a presidential candidate years ago. Why he is attempting to portray one on TV is confusing indeed.

The four candidates who didn’t eliminate themselves at the debate hardly helped themselves as viable competitors for Trump, though.

Except for Doug Burgum, perhaps. The North Dakota governor is a hopeless cause as a presidential candidate, and he came off as nervous and not-ready-for-prime-time, but given the nonexistent expectations he came into the debate with he actually did fairly well. Burgum at least managed to get across the fact that he’d built a billion-dollar company before he got into politics and that he was a pretty successful governor of an energy state, and he also managed to make the same point Jason Aldean did in his hit song “Try That In A Small Town” – namely, that the America everyone misses still survives in the exurbs and rural areas like his state is made up of. He also harped on the fact that we have got to reckon with China before it’s too late.

It’s certainly not enough to make Burgum relevant in the race, but it was a hell of a lot more worthy of attention than, say, Hutchinson’s babblings or Christie or Haley’s harangues.

Tim Scott, as he always does, came off as the most likable, hopeful candidate on the stage. Scott talked a lot about the American dream, and how you can still come from nothing in this country and make good, and though little that he said was more than cotton candy it’s a whole lot easier to listen to Scott – who is black but refuses to beat people over the head with it – than it is to Haley’s identitarian screeds.

Then there was Ramaswamy, who dominated the debate as essentially a stand-in for Trump. He cast himself as a Trump fan, calling him the most successful president of the 21st century (which is certainly true, but hardly a great honor given the abysmal competition) and taking up for the former president while getting shouted at by Christie, Haley and Pence. Ramaswamy traded insults with them and made it clear he’s smarter, but those scrapes didn’t give him the kind of gravitas Trump managed back in 2016. There’s a reason – when Trump got into those debate-stage brawls in 2016, he had the advantage of pointing out that every single one of his opponents had come to him begging for a campaign contribution at one point or another, so when they all tried to trash him as unacceptable it fell flat.

Ramaswamy is only 38. He’s a rich kid without that kind of stroke. And it’s also starting to become clear that Ramaswamy is in this race to run interference for Trump. He was essentially a Trump surrogate at the debate, and Christie, Pence and Haley took that bait. It’s hard to say whether he helped or hurt himself, but on the other hand none of that really matters if what he’s shooting for is a Trump cabinet appointment or a spot on the ticket.

The most professional-looking candidate at the debate was Ron DeSantis, and DeSantis managed to avoid getting into any major food fights with the three attack dogs who went after Ramaswamy. His answers were fairly crisp and his opening, in which he warned that we’re a country in decline, was the best of the group.

And DeSantis actually had a very good answer on Ukraine, namely that we’re wasting money on that fight when it’s much more properly something the Europeans should take the lead on. Of course, as he was giving that answer Ramaswamy was licking his finger and holding it up, mocking DeSantis as insincere. It was a juvenile, classless move which marked him as a Trump surrogate, and with the camera not on him the TV viewers didn’t really catch what he was doing. But DeSantis, who had originally rightly called the Ukraine war a territorial dispute (the Russians have taken Crimea and the Donbas, which are areas where the majority population is Russian), then backed off that statement under pressure from the Washington crowd. So it’s not altogether unfair that Ramaswamy would mock him on the subject.

Of course, as the Washington Examiner’s James Antle notes, it felt a bit like DeSantis was a football team down two scores and playing prevent defense. Staying out of those frays as he did gave him a bit of dignity but not really any momentum; he didn’t make any mistakes, but other than his line about how sending Joe Biden back to his basement would help reverse American decline, there wasn’t a whole lot he could hang his hat on. DeSantis also came off as too nervous and stiff, something which seems to be a problem for him as he keeps trying to jumpstart his campaign. It’s funny, because in the context of serving as Florida’s governor he isn’t stiff – in fact, he’s relaxed and he’s an excellent messenger. He just seems defensive as a presidential candidate, and it’s clear Trump has done that to him with his constant attacks.

But that free-for-all, with the desperate establishment candidates attempting to monopolize the time with screeching and insults, staying above the fray was likely the best anyone could do, and DeSantis did it. It was probably a win for him, though not enough of one to begin reeling in that giant deficit with Trump.

Here was the Trump interview with Carlson, which goes about 46 minutes…