But the top candidates shouldn’t participate in any more.
by Rob Roper
Wednesday night’s debate between the five qualifying GOP candidates for president not named Trump was by far the best of the three held so far. At least in my opinion. One critic complained it came off more like a TED Talk than a debate. I agree! But I thought that’s what made it good. Unless you’re looking to exploit click-bait soundbites, what does anybody get out of mud-slinging one-liners and too many people talking over each other?
All of the candidates did good job outlining their positions on a number of serious issues ranging from the Israeli/Hamas conflict as well as Ukraine, and China, to energy policy, immigration, the opioid crisis, crime, inflation, entitlement spending, and education. The spinners are trying to stir the pot by highlighting a couple of “heated moments” – Nikki Haley is Dick Cheney in heels! — that weren’t really that heated or are downplaying the event as irrelevant. (The latter have an argument.)
Some, I think, did better than others. Ramaswamy made some solid points starting with taking on the legacy media for their multi-year collusion in the Russia collusion hoax but shot himself in both feet by generally coming across as, well, just kind of a jerk. Tim Scott finally came out of his shell and turned in a solid performance, but, if Tuesday’s election results from Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia teach us anything, it is that Scott’s Christian conservative positions on issues like abortion won’t translate well into a national race. Chris Christie was Chris Christie. He’s a smart guy, but a Blue State, center-left Republican is not what an overwhelming majority of Republican primary voters are looking for today.
That leaves Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the two non-Trump frontrunners. Personally, I think these two should be the Republican ticket for 2024, and the only question to iron out between now and the primaries for me is which one should be at the top. Both are/were highly effective conservative governors. Both delivered conservative policy and electoral victories in their states. Both are extremely articulate in their own and in complimentary ways – DeSantis being more methodical (some say uncharismatic), and Haley being more passionate (some say more charismatic).
Both have demonstrated they can connect with and bring in voters who are outside their base constituencies, such as independents and minorities. Both are young, energetic, and attractive. If either won the presidency in 2024, the other would still be young enough to run in 2032, setting up Republicans for long term national success. (Trump, of course, would be constitutionally done in 2028.)
We need to see and hear more from these two. Just these two.
So, some free advice to their campaigns that probably won’t be taken but anyway…. Scrap any more GOP sponsored debates.
Currently there is a controversy over a proposal by influential Iowan, Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, to hold a public Thanksgiving roundtable discussion with the GOP candidates and the RNC is threatening to bar anyone who participates from future GOP sponsored debates. First, what future GOP sponsored debates? And second, who cares? Do the Vander Plaats event (which I’m happy to say it looks like he’s going to move forward with) and don’t stop there.
None of the five from Wednesday is going to break out or change the current dynamic by popping up once a month, if that, to scramble for fifteen minutes of talk time at free-for-all moderated by a bunch of left-wing legacy media talking heads. So, create your own forums and have a real, in-depth conversation about what your visions are for the country – and how you plan to win a general election in November.
As for Haley and DeSantis, I would suggest the two organize a World Series of two-hour head-to-head discussions. Seven games, each focusing on a specific topic, hosted by someone(s) conservatives care about and who has an audience. Mark Levin? Tucker Carlson? Joe Rogan? Elon Musk? One a week leading up to the Iowa Caucuses on January 15.
Last month Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy explored doing a one-on-one debate on Fox News and the RNC quashed it. Why did they chicken out? Both probably would have gotten more publicity for their campaigns and created more of an opportunity to connect with voters had they done it. I, for one, was looking forward to it and hope they revisit the idea themselves. The more in-depth exposure we get to these folks the better.
The low-information way we go about picking the leader of the free world these days sucks. I cite the current guy who ran from a basement hiding behind a mask – and won — as my evidence.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in Vermont politics including three years service as chair of the Vermont Republican Party and nine years as President of the Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s free market think tank.