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Winners and Losers in GOP Debate

Winners and Losers in GOP Debate

I previously offered my personal reaction to the GOP debate.  In that commentary, I listed the three candidates I believed improved their positions.  They were Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Former South Carolina Governor and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

As a personal response, I gave the win to Haley and dropped Ramaswamy from further consideration for my vote – even though the post-debate media pundits all gave the win to Ramaswamy.

As promised in the previous commentary, here is my more objective professional assessment of the debate and its potential impact on the outlook for the various candidates.

Consistent with my personal view, it appears that the campaign going forward will be a race between DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Haley and former President Trump.  Those who did not make it to the stage for the first debate are essentially out of the race.  Since the threshold for appearing in the second debate is higher, it is unlikely any of them will make the cut.  The sound you hear will be the dropouts hitting the   ground.

The most controversial of those not making the first debate is radio personality Larry Elder, who was first invited to participate and then booted.  The Republican National Committee said it was because one of his qualifying polls was tied to Trump.  No matter.  Elder would not have qualified for the second debate anyway.

If there was one assessment to cover the remaining five on the stage – former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum – it is that they all fizzled.  Not one of them moved up to double digits in the post-debate polls.  I thought Burgum was the only one of the b-team to improve his standing, but not enough to get into the first rank of contenders.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie left the stage with a breakeven performance.  They could still make it to the second GOP debate but that is far from assured.  Voters and the donors are going to be shifting to DeSantis, Ramaswamy or Haley as safer bets.

Former Vice President Mike Pence (who I like a lot for his longtime conservative record) did not do well in the debate.  That may be partly due to his association with Trump.  His campaign appeared to be a hopeless ambition from the get-go.

Then there was the elephant that was not in the room – Trump.  In a previous commentary, I suggested that it would be a mistake for him not to join the debate.  That seems to have been proven correct.  Trump gave his opponents an opportunity to look good on their own.  The former President was not there to suck the oxygen out of the room – or to draw his opponents into a political version of a barroom fight.  DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy filled the vacuum left by Trump.  As far as his competing interview with Tucker Carlson, he was only viewed by his hardcore base and the curious.

The recent Wapo/538/Ipsos poll seems to give evidence to the view that not appearing was a mistake by  Trump. DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy all gained support, Trump dropped five percentage points.  If that turns out to be the general response, Trump is likely to show up for the next GOP debate despite his current claim that he will not participate in any primary debates.

In the future, we may look back upon this debate as the moment Trump lost his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.  That opinion is not based on hard facts yet but on my years of political experience.  It is one of those gut feelings.

There are many reasons for the potential decline of Trump.  How he handles and comes out of his various court cases will play a role.  His being tied down in multiple courts throughout the primary campaign season could be a problem.  The court restrictions on what he can say about the cases – and those pursuing them – inhibit his ability to bluster in his inimitable style.

Arguably, the greatest threat to Trump’s campaign is the culling of the herd.  Just as it was generally conceded that Trump benefits from a large field of opponents, it is obviously true that he is ill-served by fewer opponents.  Every opponent who drops out surrenders their votes to someone other than Trump.  They are already anti-Trump votes.

Whoever scoops up the most will be in a position to take over Trump’s current lead in the polls. Those votes are likely to go to DeSantis or Haley.  Despite his showing in the debate, I see Ramaswamy as a flash in the pan.  He may be a very good fast-talking salesman, but when voters get serious, Ramaswamy may look like what he is.  Too young.  Too inexperienced. Too much like Trump.

Trump may have another currently undetected problem.  While his 50-plus support in the polls looks commanding, it may not be accurate.  It is very possible that some percentage of those giving Trump a thumbs up in the polls, have no intention of voting for him in the primaries.  They are using the polls to give the Democrats and the left-leaning media a proverbial cream pie in the face.  I know enough folks who say they would fib to the pollsters to believe there are a lot out there.

Trump still has a significant base, and even if only two opponents split the anti-Trump vote, he could squeak through with a 33-plus plurality – depending on how evenly the anti-Trump vote is split.

Now that the field is essentially only four candidates, it will be interesting to watch the future polling and donation reports.  They should give us a good indication of the future trends.

Now for the biggest losers in the debate.   I see that as the Republican National Committee and FOX News for creating and hosting a terrible format – and implementing it badly.

I have always believed that the RNC’s conditions for participation were too restrictive – leaving out a number of credible candidates and even potential dark horses.

In addition, the requirement to pledge fealty to the eventual nominee is not a good idea – and especially not in the era of Trump, who did not even have the decency to show up — and has said he will not make such a pledge. Support needs to be earned, not contracted.  And you could see how it had candidates looking bad as they fumbled all over that question.  The RNC loyalty pledge only gave its field of candidates an opportunity to look bad.

And that show-of-hands gimmick was childish and not very beneficial to the public. The issues are too complex for simple yes-or-no response.

As far as the handling of the debate, I did not agree with FOX incorporating its own editorial opinions in the nature of videos – subtle as they tried to make it.  The idea was to hear the opinions of the candidates – not FOX News.

Having citizens ask questions — if they are not planted like CNN did – is great, but FOX only produced one young guy to play that role.  I had the feeling there were others in the wings, but the moderators had lost control of the show.

The FOX hosts did not seem to have control of the time restrictions, the ding-dong bell, the audience reaction or the candidates bickering back and forth.  To me, Ramaswamy came across as a rude smart ass – interrupting and talking overtime.  And the moderators allowed it.

I was not impressed with the questions generally – and especially one of them.  Christie had the right response to the question about space aliens.  “I get the alien question?”  he lamented incredulously.  It was a stupid question and a waste of valuable time.

The debate was not a winner-take-all event.  It was more a matter of jockeying for position.  Some moved up … some down.  Some may have move on.

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. Robin w Boyd

    I have to disagree that Trump is anywhere near out of the running. The more Progressive Democrats and Swamp dwelling Republicans try to prevent Trump from gaining the White House again, the more it looks like Trump is the only candidate that has less of a political agenda and more of an agenda to get the U.S. back on track by doing what is best for American citizens.

    • larry Horist

      Robin w boyd … I do not believe Trump is anywhere near out of the running. I once thought he was, but it is obvious he is the most like standard bearer and I do believe he has a path to the presidency again. You cannot deny that when he is even with Biden in the polls at this time. If Biden is the Dem standard bearer, I give Trump a better than 50/50 chance of returning to the White House.