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The “fray” wins in GOP debate

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.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. frank stetson

    You are right that most should drop. I just hate that American Presidential politics has gotten to the point where running seems more about marketing yourself for later endeavors than it does being President. So they run and they run hoping it will up their speaker fees and increase book sales after it’s over. Although even Burgham himself does not know why HE is there.

    That said, the Halley scripted line sure hit home with me since I was already there and saying it myself. The Pence and Christie scripted jokes suffered from bad timing; neither can probably properly tell a joke to begin with. Both of them should have followed with “thank you, will be here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitress…..”

    I think when you can’t beat a sexual abusing digital rapist defamer fraudster with 4 indictments and 91 charges pending and you can’t even mention that during your debate intended to beat him, it’s game over before it begins. It’s what Republicans want.

  2. Tom

    I agree with you that DeSantis salvaged his campaign donations for another month. He was one of only two winners in my book. I gave second place to Bergum because he actually knew the root cause of several problems and discussed it without using any canned talking points. Haley told me nothing nor is she willing to take firm stances on just about anything but Ukraine where she is on the board of directors of two companies supplying armaments to Ukraine. Haley is a noodle in a skirt who’s only advantage is her former governorship, she knows how states run and do business. Tim Scott was my big loser which surprised me because before the debate I was in favor of him, but not now post debate. He got his “black” out. He did what I so often see black people do in any argument or debate with each other, he yelled over Haley constantly. His attacks were good, but he does not have enough common sense to shut his mouth and let the person he is attacking respond, and this got very irritating. If he is willing to behave this way on a primary stage, how much more will he behave this way when you cannot watch him. Trump was much like this. We saw what we were getting all the way back in 2015 and 2016 primary debates. It was entertaining. We did not realize he was going to be the same way when he got to be president. And he is still that way today. The only Scotts in my house will be toilet paper! Ramaswamey has never impressed me, he only started voting eight years ago (which shows many years of lack of interest in government), and like Trump, he feels being rich and successful in commerce somehow qualifies him (and his annoying finger wag) to be president. I wonder if he could answer the nuclear triad question that Trump fumbled so horribly! Rama-dama-ding-dong is a non-starter with me. Christie needs to leave politics and either go back to being a DA which he was good at, or, sign on to Jennie Craig commercials and quit trying to be a political comedian. Pence showed he has the personality of cardboard. I have never let any cardboard box lecture me, and Pence will be no different – he is a non-starter with me. Pence is to politics what MdDonalds plain burger is to good tasting beef – way to salty and no real flavor. What was interesting was in a post debate interview he actually showed he has personality and looked much more relaxed and congenial. I liked his interview performance much more than his debate performance – he might have a career on Fox as a political commentator. This way he and Varney can both bore us to death. Pence needs to stick to book writing and Focus on the Family events where he performs well. Pence also will do very well with any audience that likes being talked down to.

    So my dream debate would be on three or four focused topics like Ukraine, Border Control, Foreign Policy including NATO, India, China, and Russia, and Abortion. The only candidates worthy of this debate in my view are DeSantis, Bergum, and I will give Haley one more chance to put her man pants on and take a stand and explain the “why’s” behind her stand.

    As far as Fox, it was a real shit show in my view, a very poorly run debate. I learned almost nothing. And that Univision babe did nothing but attempt to throw off the tempo and substance of the debate with left wing questions. Who’s brain fart was it to have her???

    • larry Horist

      Tom … We disagree on Nikki Haley, but agree that the debate was a non-event. Which is a plus for Trump.

      • Tom

        True Larry. In many ways Trump may have been the biggest winner!

  3. JoeyP

    the OPTICS on this debate was a Terrible sight to the whole country for the GOP . . . We HAVE to do BETTER than THAT – if we want to be ELECTIBLE!

    • Tom

      Very true! Well said!