Is Donald Trump the only one who can win not only the 2024 Republican primary race, but also next year’s general election?
One was left wondering, as, a day after what could be deemed a disappointing off-year election where the Trump’s-not-on-the-ballot GOP surrendered a winnable gubernatorial pick-up opportunity in Kentucky and also let slip the House of Delegates majority in Virginia – and came up short in the Virginia senate, too, though it looks like they might pick-up a seat – the mood among party faithful was fairly somber as questions of electability and message are now on everyone’s front door step, including the five Republican presidential candidates who took part in Miami on Wednesday night.
In fact, the first question of the evening went to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was asked by co-moderator Lester Holt about his best argument for why he, DeSantis, should win the Republican nomination over Trump. The same question went to the other competitors, Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie. All gave some version of “Trump promised in 2016 that we’d ‘get tired of winning’, but all Republicans do now is lose… Elect me and we’ll go back to winning again” – or some version of that.
Is that true? Don’t forget that last year, in 2022, Republicans wrested control of the U.S. House of Representatives in a midterm election that most would agree should’ve gone better for the GOP, but it was far from a whitewash. This year, there’s nothing but head-scratching as the shortcomings in the above-named states (and others) couldn’t purely be pinned on Donald Trump alone, since these were statewide contests where the presidency, if it were on the ballot, would’ve been solidly within the responsibility purviews of broken-down loser senile president Joe Biden.
But here in Virginia, popular governor Glenn Youngkin pulled out all the stops to try and make the second two years of his term-limited governorship (in Virginia, governors cannot serve more than one consecutive term) more palatable to his agenda by electing Republican majorities in the legislature. With both houses now narrowly but thoroughly in Democrat hands, this doesn’t seem possible any longer. It’s not as though Democrats triumphed everywhere on Tuesday, but a win is a win for the liberal party and a loss is a loss for Youngkin, even though it was closer to a tie.
Thus also endeth the talk of a Youngkin 2024 “White Knight” bid. The tall chief executive is still regarded as an up-and-comer in the Republican Party, but 2024 won’t be his year.
The results in places like Virginia and Kentucky and Ohio, where voters in The Buckeye State summarily enshrined abortion into their constitution, must have been on the minds of the Republican hopefuls who’ve spent most of their time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other contested jurisdictions recently. The word “bellwether” has been bandied about a lot lately by media pundits trying to determine if the vote counts in the states that voted Tuesday would provide clues as to what would happen in 2024, now less than a year distant.
The conclusion? Inconclusive. All politics may not necessarily be local, but it is arduous to attempt to attach meanings to certain political topics based on the difference of a few votes here and there in places with their own internal political dynamics. Virginia is certainly such a place.
And, as stated earlier, Donald Trump wasn’t on the ballot there… or anywhere. Did the Trump MAGA legions turn out in Virginia and Kentucky? Or, if they did, were they just swamped by larger waves of abortion-loving morons and Democrats running on local issues like increasing teacher pay and gun control (as they did in many cases here in the Old Dominion)?
Time will tell, and it’s for the GOP presidential candidates not named Donald Trump to make up their minds on how to move from here on out.
“You’re just scum.” Was this helpful?
They’re still searching… the Never Trump crowd and those looking for anyone-but-Trump, that is.
From the outset on Wednesday night, those who tuned-in must’ve experienced a similar feeling to the one from August (1st debate in Milwaukee) and late September (2nd debate in Simi Valley, California), as the hype surrounding the program, what little there was at this point, seemed to evaporate as soon as the questioning started.
Those in the know, myself included, had a difficult time getting past the fact that the “debate” was moderated by NBC News personalities Holt and Kristen Welker, neither of whom is regarded as particularly impartial or interested in delving into the real issues that conservative and Republican voters actually care about. Vivek Ramaswamy drew gasps from the audience by openly questioning why someone with Welker’s background would even be allowed to “moderate” a Republican debate, and he named names, too, calling out none other than RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel for the slight.
It was a salient moment, and coming just a few minutes into the program, I think everyone woke up quickly and paid attention, at least for a short time. Then the conversation evolved (devolved?) into a half-hour long treatise on the Middle East, with each candidate seemingly trying to outdo each other on how much support should go to Israel. An important subject, for sure, but they didn’t disagree with each other a whole lot. It was redundant.
The greater point being presidential primary debates for both parties aren’t really about finding the best candidate anymore. They’re mostly about extracting what little they can about personality conflicts and minor differences in policy. And to provoke conflict.
The first two GOP debates were marred by petty bickering and cheap sniping, the candidates apparently trying to out-elbow each other for precious speaking time, a scene not unlike one of those old roller derby matches except not nearly as entertaining and thrilling – but every bit as brutal and passionate.
The mood was slightly more subdued on Wednesday with the candidates clearly having gotten used to each other over the months and having said pretty much everything they’re going to say about each other and frontrunner Donald Trump. They knew he wasn’t going to be there, and their ability to land rhetorical blows against Trump’s solid armor would be limited. Is anyone paying attention any longer?
There was some tension in Miami, primarily between Ramaswamy and Haley. In the second half of the two-hour “show”, the candidates were asked about potentially banning Tik Tok, whereupon Ramaswamy referred to Nikki Haley using the Chinese platform, then saying that Nikki’s daughter had an account. Haley shot back, interrupting – “Leave my daughter out of your voice” and “You’re just scum!” -- then followed up with an explanation of her dealings with China at the U.N, with Ramaswamy still elaborating about Nikki’s supposed hypocrisy.
Haley also took several opportunities to attack DeSantis, clearly trying to take advantage of her recent poll number improvements. For his part, DeSantis appeared ready for the jabs. Well done, Ron.
But have these things actually devolved to this point? Trump himself has advanced arguments against holding anymore Republican presidential primary debates, since he’s not planning to attend any of them and they’re just a waste of time and energy that could be devoted to consolidating around him and making a semi-unified pitch towards senile Joe Biden and the Democrats. You know, battle the real opponents, like the Joe Biden Justice Department rather than hold a glorified competition to see if one of them gets chosen as Trump’s running mate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, as he’s done in the past, reiterated his success in his home state on China and many other topics, accomplishments that look even more impressive after Tuesday’s somewhat underwhelming elections. Give him credit – DeSantis has a lot to brag about and no one should fault him for saying so. The Sunshine State should be held out as a great success story for this generation’s Republicans, and DeSantis himself, though not quite as polished as some candidates from the past, is a credible and believable candidate.
But he also doesn’t come across as overly warm or authentic, which could be a problem for those searching for a comparable leadership style to Trump’s, who sometimes appears as though he doesn’t even prep for live performances.
Likewise, some will probably disagree with me, but the narrowing of the not-Trump debate field from nine (August) to eight (September) to five last night didn’t make any of them stand out any more than they had before. Nikki Haley, it seemed to this observer, was feeling pressure from having been the one who’s actually made up a smidgen of ground on the others, and though I wouldn’t label her nervous, I’d say she was “off her game” compared to the first two forums when she had nothing to lose.
Either that or people are now seeing her less as “the woman candidate” and currently as someone who actually has to defend her positions, which doesn’t seem difficult for her but she also doesn’t specify in too much detail exactly what she has in mind or would do on the longshot chance she ever gets elected president.
Vivek Ramaswamy, on the other hand, is still a dynamo of a candidate, still articulating about a million things a minute and still receiving dirty looks from his competitors, particularly Haley. (Note: The two purposely avoided shaking hands after the debate. There’s bad blood there.) Vivek ran through a plethora of principles again in Miami, though the novelty of his candidacy has worn off a bit and people know what to expect from him – a lot of bold goals and aspirations, but what solid plans? Yes, the bureaucracy needs reform, but how to accomplish it without a cooperative Congress?
As I speculated months ago, Ramaswamy is fading into the background, divided between the “burn it all down” crowd and the stodgy establishment-types who wouldn’t consider him under any circumstances. As I’ve maintained for months, Vivek is so bright and well-spoken that he has a future in Republican politics, though he’d be advised to try serving in a lower office first. Trump is the only outsider who’s truly made it all the way -- ever. It’s a lot to ask for a thirty-something from Ohio who no one had ever heard of a year ago.
Chris Christie and Tim Scott… sigh. Christie appears to be having the time of his life being included in these not-Trump political beauty showcases, which allows him to run his mouth and crack jokes while feeling no urgency to convince anyone of anything. Everyone knows he’s up there because Trump haters have chipped in money to sustain him and there are enough Never Trump voters to give him some poll qualifying numbers. The RNC needs bodies for these things – and Christie provides that… and then some!
Christie is more than just an add-on, but his lane – the Never Trump lane – will disappear at some point when the party scrooges recognize that it’s an either/or choice between Trump and the Democrats. Then, I would surmise, most people with hardened hearts would say, “Trump ain’t lookin’ so bad now, is he?” But it depends on how determined to make jerks of themselves that this group becomes. In that sense, Chris Christie is perfect for them – though I bet even he will come around sometime next year, when the economy is in the tank and stuff really matters.
Tim Scott was the last one to qualify for this debate, and here’s guessing it’s probably his last hurrah on stage (it might very well be for Christie and maybe Ramaswamy as well). Few will likely remember Scott’s participation in this campaign. Or, sadly, shallow observers will simply label him the “black” candidate in the GOP, included just for “diversity” purposes.
But Scott’s never been an executive, and it’d be hard for him to step into that role in the Oval Office. Pure legislators don’t usually get far… and Scott’s got a charisma deficit to deal with in addition. It was a nice run, but Scott needs to step aside.
Winners and losers.
To me, it’s not helpful to declare any one of these candidates a “winner” because, even if they did “defeat” their fellow not-Trump competitors in one debate, it still wouldn’t impact the race very much. I thought Ron DeSantis had another solid “performance” and the establishment media will slobber over the Nikki Haley/Vivek Ramaswamy ongoing feud again, hoping against hope to salvage some sort of challenger vis-à-vis Trump.
Donald Trump isn’t winning many converts to his cause by skipping all of these things, and the originality of his counter-programs has worn off. But it’s the not-Trump candidates who need the boost in credibility and recognition, not Trump himself. I’m hard pressed to pin down what anyone will remember from last night’s debate other than the fact that Trump was, again, a no show.
Will there be another debate in December? I guess we’ll know soon enough.
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