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Eight Republicans Debated for the Opportunity To Be Runner Up

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | August 24, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | August 24, 2023 |


As a liberal site, the Republican primary is something of a curiosity for the politically minded among us, but also potentially meaningful to our democracy, as well as to the future of Donald Trump. We want Joe Biden to win, and whatever other ways the left disagrees with one another, as long as Biden wins, our democracy will continue to survive and — more likely than not — Donald Trump will face the consequences of his actions.

The Republican primary, therefore, is meaningful because we want Biden to face the candidate with whom he has the best chance. That’s probably Doug Burgum, but that’s not likely. My feeling is that Biden can beat any of the current Republican candidates in the general, but he would have a more difficult time against the moderates (and “moderate” is relative only to the rest of the GOP), like Chris Christie and Nikki Haley. I feel that the more extreme the candidate, the more likely it is that Biden wins, but also: The risks are higher should something happen to Joe Biden or if he gets dragged down by his son or some other (probably concocted) scandal. It feels like we are — in our minds and voting interests — playing the game that the Democratic Party did in a lot of swing states in 2020: Root for the most extreme candidate, thereby giving the Democrats the best odds of winning.

It’s hard to even say who is the most extreme among Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump has already illustrated an indifference to the Constitution; Ramaswamy wants to be the younger nu-Trump; and DeSantis has not only displayed authoritarian tendencies but actual authoritarian actions. In a head-to-head matchup, Biden probably defeats all three once Democrats actually start paying attention (assuming nothing out of the ordinary happens with Biden or the economy). But I also don’t want any of the three anywhere near the White House.

Last night’s debate, however, is probably moot. Trump has a 40-point advantage over everyone, and the only way to challenge him is to rally behind one alternate candidate and hope that Trump’s legal problems drag him down. Republicans are not selfless enough to sacrifice themselves for the party, so I see at least three or four of the candidates (DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Haley, Christie) splitting the opposition vote until it’s too late.

The debate thus played out not like eight candidates taking on Trump, but like eight candidates vying to be the alternative to Trump. Aside from a dig from Chris Christie (that was parried by Ramaswamy), no one really went after Trump. The other seven did, however, target Ramaswamy because he’s a stand-in for Trump’s policies, but not Trump himself.

DeSantis, meanwhile, continued to illustrate what an atrocious presidential candidate he is. Haley probably scored points with moderate Republican women (all three of them), while Pence fared the best as a debater but has absolutely zero chance to break through in a party dominated by his old boss. Tim Scott, Asa Hutchison, and the Doug guy faded into the ether.

I don’t see any of these candidates with any chance against Trump because the party does not care about policy. It only cares about Trump. If Trump were to die (or otherwise be taken out of the process), I don’t know who wins: Either Ramaswamy, because his policies are most aligned with Trump, or Nikki Haley if the Trump fog over the Republican Party lifts and they come to their senses (Christie may be a great debater, but he is strongly disliked).

Nothing in the debate changed that dynamic. It wasn’t that interesting, either. Christie had a few good lines (that were drowned out by boos), Pence was more forceful than anyone thought (and gained some sympathy for his role on January 6th from six of the other candidates), and Ramaswamy sure did talk a lot. He grabbed most of the attention, but it was far from all positive attention.

I had genuinely hoped that the candidates had spent the debate beating up on Trump so much so that Trump ended up with a bad case of FOMO and appeared in the next debates. It’s not that I want Trump to have a shot at the other candidates; it’s genuinely that the more the American public sees of Trump, the worse off he is. That may not be true of his base, but to sane America, he sounds like a nutcase. With the economy humming and inflation down, some of the independents who don’t love Joe Biden need to be reminded of why they didn’t vote for Trump in 2020. I personally think we should be blasting his all-caps Truth Social nonsense all over the airwaves because the man is a crackpot.

As for the counterprogramming that Trump offered to the debate in his interview with Tucker Carlson? It’s getting no play this morning because it wasn’t interesting. He didn’t say anything new or of substance, and the increasingly irrelevant Tucker Carlson did not even appear to have prepared for the interview. Carlson doesn’t care about Trump beyond what he can do for Carlson. Hell, he actually asked Trump whether he thought that Epstein actually killed himself because Carlson is only interested in playing toward the conspiracy theorists.

No one cared about that Tucker interview. Indeed, the Republican party is increasingly less interested in Donald Trump himself and more interested in their idea of Donald Trump. People with very short memory spans who may be thinking, “Trump wasn’t that bad!” need to be reminded that he was worse than that bad.