The “fray” wins in GOP debate
In the second Republican primary election debate, each of the seven contenders needed to rise above the fray. Unfortunately, the fray won. One or the other of them may have done marginally better than their opponents. The polls will tell us that.
Whatever improvements in their polling numbers, none are likely to be more than marginal. It may be more of taking market share from each other rather than bringing down President Trump’s commanding lead.
We may be seeing a repeat of 2016 when a divided field of Republican candidates divided the majority of GOP voters who did not want Trump as their candidate – giving him a big enough plurality to win the Republican nomination. Now in 2023, none of the anti-Trump candidates took a lead as the primary challenger. That lead seemed to favor one or another at different times – which I described as a game of political Whack-a-Mole in 2016. It is déjà vu all over again.
The first question is always “who won?” And that is only judged against their competitors on the stage and in terms of who likely increased voter support.
The candidate who gets the award for most improved performance, in my judgment, was the candidate I wrote off after the last debate – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He proved to have a pulse and did a credible job of maintaining his current second place position in the past polls.
The second winner, if you will, was former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. She is the only Republican who beats Biden in a head-to-head contest beyond the margin of error. She has every right to claim to be the GOP’s most electable candidate. The second debate was her opportunity to become the major challenger to Trump. While she had a relatively good night, she did not break out of the pack.
In my view, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie left the room with whatever they had coming in. That may be partially because neither of these two are expected to make it across the finish line.
I expected to award Ramaswamy with the Rudeness Award for interrupting and yelling over others. Actually, that award was shared by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Scott.
I would put businessman Vivek Ramaswamy in that category, but I’m just not sure. I would be surprised if voters give him a boost, but not shocked. He took a more conciliatory approach this time – abandoning his aggressive and rude confrontational demeaner he had in the first debate … mostly. That role was taken over by Scott, who got into bickering matches with Ramaswamy and Haley – taking shots at Christie and Pence.
An intra-Indian feud again erupted between Ramaswamy and Haley. At one point she said that Ramaswamy’s statements made her dumber. That may be the worst throw-away line in presidential races since Michigan Governor George Romney said he was brainwashed back in 1968.
Bracketing the stage at the far end were Burgum on the left and former Vice President Mike Pence notably on the right. That seemed appropriate since I would not be surprised to see them both fall off the stage before the next debate.
Pence has the most pathetic performance. I love the guy, but he has no stage presence … no charisma … and it was on full display again. When a former Vice President is at the bottom of the polling, you know he is beyond resuscitation.
Despite a few attacks on Trump – especially from Christie – it does not appear that anyone has cut into his numbers. He was the pre-emptive leader before the debate and remains the pre-emptive leader after the debate. In that context, Trump was a winner that night.
In general …
The field of candidates failed to provide enough of a vision of what specifically they would do as President. It was more platitudes than policy. And what they did promise was music to anyone who understands federalism and grassroots democracy. However, it was too big of an agenda to seem credible – such things as abolishing the Department of Education.
In terms of key issues, they all were correct on immigration. But that is easy. They did okay on crime. Abortion is tougher since there is no overall anti-abortion sentiment among the populace – although the Republicans do represent popular opinion on the issue of major limits.
The Ukraine is a tough one for a GOP voter like me. I think it is essential to America’s future that Putin be totally defeated – and that we should give Ukraine everything they need to win on their terms. It is the issues that had me switch my “vote” from DeSantis to Haley for the moment. And the issue that had me write off Ramaswamy after the last debate.
Once again FOX News seemed incapable of organizing and conducting a fact-based presidential debate. The rules – which were never invoked effectively – allowed for a verbal cluster (censored). At times, three and four candidates were yelling over each other, making it impossible to know what they were saying.
It seemed at times that the candidates were spending too much time attacking each other rather than going after the frontrunner or their potential Democrat opponent in the General Election.
I have never liked it when questioners give long introductions to their questions. I prefer asking basic questions and allowing the candidates to answer. Duh! Even worse when the questioner asks questions that are designed to put the candidate in a bad light. The panelists are not there to debate but to moderate.
As a close, FOX went for entertainment over substance. They provided paper and marker and asked each to write down who they would “kick off the island.” DeSantis instantly refused. There was no way he would engage in such silliness. The others followed suit. When Christie was asked who he had written down, he said he would kick Trump off the island. Cute, but Trump was not on the FOX island.
Based on the debate, I think the only two worth following are DeSantis and Haley. Can either of them zoom into a credible second place in the coming months? Personally, I wish all the others would drop out at this stage so we can get an idea at how large an anti-Trump vote might be. If it ever comes down to a one-on-one with Trump in the primaries, I think Trump loses. But that has to happen soon or it will not happen at all.
In any case, the GOP contenders are going to have to improve their messaging if they want to go up against Trump. So far they are not doing a good job.
So, there ‘tis.