August 24, 2023

GOP Debate

Eight Republican presidential candidates traded barbs on Wednesday at their first debate of the 2024 election as they jockeyed for position behind the absent front-runner, Donald Trump, who derided the event in a pre-taped interview.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left criticizes DeSantis, and notes that the candidates largely neglected to attack Trump.

The candidates “spent much of the debate pretending [Trump] wasn’t even in the race… When candidates did draw seeming contrasts, they often avoided using Trump’s name. About the closest anyone got to a true broadside against Trump was former New Jersey governor Chris Christie calling Trump’s conduct — regardless of his guilt — ‘beneath the office of the president of the United States.’…

“Only he and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson said they wouldn’t support a convicted Trump in the general election, with Hutchinson floating the idea that Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection might have disqualified him to serve as president under the 14th Amendment. The risk for Trump in not showing up was that he wouldn’t be able to defend himself. He didn’t have to.”

Aaron Blake, Washington Post

“The big loser in all of this was DeSantis, who desperately needed to show he was still the clear second-place candidate, and failed to do so. Though he avoided adding to the gaffes that have sometimes haunted him on the campaign trail, he also added few highlights. He reached for personal anecdotes, including about his own children, and ended up sounding clinical. DeSantis also dodged question after question: He didn’t explain how he’d cut federal spending, whether he wanted a federal ban on abortion, how he’d fight crime… or what to make of the Trump indictments.”

David A. Graham, The Atlantic

There were surprises: Nikki Haley laid the blame on Republicans, not Democrats, over spending; [Doug] Burgum, the first of the field to pull out his pocket Constitution, offered an almost measured answer on abortion, while his stage-mates like DeSantis ranted about so-called ‘post-birth’ abortion (isn’t this just…murder?); and even the Fox News audience seemed to boo Ramaswamy for calling climate change a ‘hoax.’…

“[But] this is, at the end of the day, a contest between Trump and Anybody Else. If this debate was about anything, it was who would step up to fill that role. For all their punch throwing—Pence, answering a question about Biden’s age, taking an apparent swipe at Ramaswamy for being ‘too young’—the candidates mostly just seemed too uniform, too preoccupied with ‘wokeness’ and other far-right inanities to differentiate themselves from the other Trump Lites.”

Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair

Nearly everyone agreed that climate change was real but we shouldn't do anything about it. Everyone was in favor of securing our borders. Everyone agreed that our nation is in decline. Everyone (apparently) believed that American education is in crisis. In fact, almost every person on the stage agreed with everyone else. There was precious little actual debate.”

Kevin Drum, Jabberwocking

From the Right

The right generally criticizes Ramaswamy, and argues that DeSantis performed adequately.

The right generally criticizes Ramaswamy, and argues that DeSantis performed adequately.

“Ron DeSantis had to counter the perception that his campaign is in free-fall, and he did a good job of explaining his greatest hits as Florida Governor on Covid and fighting progressive prosecutors. He said he would have sacked Anthony Fauci, a nice contrast with Mr. Trump’s Covid delegation to the doctor. But the Governor also ducked more than one question, such as whether he’d support a national ban of 15 weeks on abortion…

“Vivek Ramaswamy is close to Mr. DeSantis in the polls, and he has the gift of energy and verbal facility. He can sling appealing phrases, and his line that Americans are hungry for purpose will resonate with many voters. But he can also sound like a young man in too much of a hurry, and his rapid-fire one-liners and insults (‘I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for’) give him the air of a supercilious grad student.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“It was Vivek Ramaswamy’s night in Milwaukee, but not necessarily in a way that advances his presidential ambitions. Not in the long term, anyway. The upstart Millennial candidate picked every fight he could with his fellow Republican aspirants. He struck out a number of untenable policy positions, all of which he justified by claiming that he alone had the ‘courage’ to court such risks. He swung for the fences in pursuit of as many viral moments as possible…

“But by inviting the criticism he took, Ramaswamy provided Ron DeSantis with cover. There is a notion abroad — one that seems to have been internalized by the GOP field — that DeSantis is no longer Donald Trump’s most viable challenger in the race…

“But DeSantis polls strongest among Republicans, particularly in the early states. He is the best-funded candidate in the race, and his operation’s organizational strength is formidable… [And] no one so much as laid a glove on him.”

Noah Rothman, National Review

Mike Pence had serious, substantive exchanges on foreign policy, his role as vice president after the 2020 elections, abortion policy, and immigration and border security. Pence had a strong debate — arguably the strongest of any of the candidates. He presented himself with dignity…

“Regardless, the problem for all of these candidates remains the fundamental one: How do you convince the average center-right primary voter that you’re a better choice to lead the Republican party into the future? How do you distinguish yourself from the also-rans? How do you displace Trump without taking him on directly? Only 45 men have ever been president of the United States. It’s an office that doesn’t fall into your lap. If you want to be president, you can’t be a wallflower. You’ve got to go take it.”

Mark Antonio Wright, National Review

A libertarian's take

“Trump promised to pay off the national debt within eight years when he was running for office in 2016. When he got to the White House, the national debt was a little less than $20 trillion. He, uh, didn't pay it off. Instead, federal spending climbed each of the first three years that Trump was in office—from $3.98 trillion in fiscal year 2017 to $4.45 trillion in 2019—then exploded in 2020 due to emergency COVID-19 spending…

“Haley shining a spotlight on the bipartisan role of borrowing and spending in recent years was a welcome moment—and a powerful one for Haley, who stood out during Wednesday's sometimes chaotic debate. And it's critical for whoever wins next year's presidential election to be clear-eyed about the seriousness of the debt problem facing the federal government.”
Eric Boehm, Reason

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