Thoughts on the ‘debate’ last night?

Actually, the first thing I’d like to know is how many of you watched it.

I didn’t. Well, I tried — about a half-hour into it — and I couldn’t. I mean, technically couldn’t get it on my TV. You see, this wasn’t an event for the American people; it was an event for Fox News. It was only available if you had cable, which I don’t. It certainly wasn’t on WACH-Fox 57, which I can get. Oh, I watched for a few minutes by a path that looked like a workaround, but it only offered me 10 free minutes, and at least half of that was commercials.

Of course, I’ve read various accounts of it, and listened to the “The Daily” podcast this morning, which was devoted entirely to it. So I have some thoughts. Those of you who watched the whole sorry spectacle (and I feel for you) may have a great deal of, um, enlightenment to add. If you’re not in a coma or something.

Here’s what I have:

What passes for a ‘profile in courage’ in the GOP — It’s been many, many years since we’ve seen anything we could call an actual presidential debate — you know, something that sheds light on the degree to which the candidates possess qualities that it would be useful for a POTUS to have — instead of a circus contest to see how many clowns can crowd onto a stage, while trying to goad each other into gaffes. It’s about as dignified as the Three Stooges. We reached a new low last night (really, in the parts I heard, Quemoy and Matsu weren’t mentioned even once), and possibly the lowest point was when the participants were asked whether they’d support Trump if he were both convicted of a crime, and nominated. The three hands on the right shot up, with Vivek Ramaswamy succeeding in his mission to convey the greatest enthusiasm. DeSantis, in the middle, looked to both his left and right before deciding he’d better put his up his, too. Then Pence did. Christie started to raise his, then shook his head, pointing his finger downward and twitching it back and forth. Asked to clarify his gestures (I think it was a form of New Jersey Sign Language), he hemmed and hawed and said “someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” and overall gave the impression he’d never given the question a moment’s thought, and was trying to think what to say as he said it. And yet this was the closest anyone came to answering negatively, making his performance a Republican Profile in Courage, 2023 edition. How do I know all this, since I didn’t watch? Here’s the video.

Calling the kettle black — Nikki Haley was exactly right when she said to Ramaswamy, “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.” And the rest of us were right when we said that about her when Donald Trump named her to be ambassador to the U.N. And if you think he did that because he thought she had such experience, you’re as wrong as you can be. He did it to make his buddy Henry McMaster governor. You know, the first statewide elected official in the country to ditch Reaganism and support the abasement of the country.

That said, did Nikki have a big night? Lots of observers think so. — Of course, it depends on how you’re scoring it. A number of people made the observation that she was the one person up there who was campaigning for the general election instead of the primaries. That means speaking in terms that are less objectionable to rational human beings. And she was rewarded with a lot of praise for that modest achievement — she was the consensus star of the evening, for instance, among NYT opinion writers. And David Brooks out-and-out said, “Nikki Haley Is the Best Trump Alternative.” That’s pretty clear. He adds, “She seems to be one of the few candidates who understands that to run against Trump you have to run against Trump.” Maybe so. As a big Brooks fan, I’m listening…

Trump showed them all up, and stole the spotlight — He did this by traveling to Atlanta this evening and turning himself in at the jail. America eagerly awaits the mug shot. But wait, you know what? I remember hearing before all this that he was supposed to be doing something with Tucker Carlson. Did that happen?

That’s probably enough to get us started. Thoughts?

“No, I was doin’ dis…”

11 thoughts on “Thoughts on the ‘debate’ last night?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Almost forgot: Hours before I had time to write this, Bud posted this about the debate:

    First impression debate ranking:

    1. Haley
    2. Pence
    3. Christie
    4. Burgum
    5. Hutchinson
    6. Scott
    7. DeSantis
    8. Ramaswamey (last by a wide margin. He was just ghastly awful. Even for a Republican)

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      So you see, Bud’s with the NYT writers on Nikki.

      But remember what I said earlier — do we rank in terms of what WE like, or what might help win GOP primaries in 2024? Ramaswamy was going for the latter goal.

      And yes, he was contemptible — contemptible on purpose, one gathers, because that’s what wins GOP voters in the Trump era. Here’s what David Brooks said about that:

      Ramaswamy has absolutely no reason to be running for president. He said that Trump is the best president of the 21st century. So why is he running against the man he so admires? The answer is: To draw attention to himself. Maybe to be Trump’s vice president or secretary of social media memes.

      If Trump emerged from the make-believe world of pro wrestling, Ramaswamy emerges from the make-believe world of social media and the third-rate sectors of the right-wing media sphere. His statements are brisk, in-your-face provocations intended to produce temporary populist dopamine highs. It’s all performative show. Ramaswamy seems as uninterested in actually governing as his idol.

      Republicans have been unable to take down Trump because they haven’t been able to rebut and replace the core Trump/Ramaswamy ethos — that politics is essentially a form of entertainment. But time and again, Haley seemed to look at the Trump/Ramaswamy wing and implicitly say: You children need to stop preening and deal with reality. She showed total impatience for the kind of bravado that the fragile male ego manufactures by the boatload….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Aside from the opinion writers, at least one young reporter at the NYT sort of swooned over Nikki’s performance.

        Sort of reminded me of the days back in 2010 when national media just couldn’t get over their excitement about NikkiA woman! A minority woman! In the GOP! In South Carolina!

        They didn’t listen to her. They just looked at her picture, essentially.

        At least the current excitement is based in something of relative substance — Nikki Haley coming across as the least objectionable person on the stage…

        1. Ken

          Haley believes her couple years at the UN makes her a foreign policy expert. Far from it. The UN posting is a low-ranking cabinet position. It’s a job that consists mainly of making big gestures. I see no evidence that Haley was good at anything but that:. making rhetorical gestures. Not at putting together productive new initiatives or shaping and guiding policy. Or even just talking intelligently about policy. Because that requires in-depth knowledge. Intelligent policy talk sounds more like this:

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Well, it’s her one strength — making a good impression. She’s rather amazingly good at it. In fact, when I scoffed at the idea of her holding such a post (what a horrible fall, from the likes of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Madeleine Albright to Nikki), I said:

            But national media have long thought a lot of her. As a young, presentable, female, nonwhite Republican, she plays well nationally, certainly in the Identity Politics sense. And she is very personable. She makes a great first, second and third impression. And her time in office has brought her greater poise, while she has moved somewhat away from the Tea Party fringe that elected her. And she truly became the leader of this state when she stepped out on the flag last year…

            What worries me now is that national media — particularly those who never took notice of her much ere now — are going to be charmed by her long enough for her to become pre… no, I can’t even type it.

            That’s where I was when I first met her as a breath of fresh air, who was running against a guy who had been in the House forever and a day, and had accomplished nothing beyond an issue that bore upon his own self-interest regarding his hunting dogs.

            She was a breath of fresh air, and we endorsed her. A couple of years later, she faced a weak Democratic opponent, so we endorsed her again. By then, I had realized that she wasn’t bringing a whole lot to the table, but I might have endorsed her again — depending on her opponent — as long as she was just this fresh, interesting back-bencher. I kept thinking, She’s promising. Give her a little more time in office, and she’ll get smarter about issues.

            But she was never patient enough for that. She kept reaching well beyond her own understanding and competence, successfully seizing offices for which she was woefully unprepared.

            And unfortunately, I fear it will take a lot of media folks too long to recognize that about her…

  2. Phillip

    It’s worth noting that the question was not “would you support Trump even though he’s been indicted,” it was “would you support him even if he were convicted.” Once you get past the astonishment at the near-unanimity of the response, the fealty to His Orangeness, what becomes obvious is that all Republican outrage over illegal immigration, or the gnashing of teeth over crime rates, or the fervent support for police against supposed “defunding” efforts, or talking about “moral values,” is all just so much hot air and hollow, hypocritical rhetoric.

    With only a couple of exceptions, every one of those candidates basically affirmed last night that they no longer believe in the rule of law, or the idea that no individual is above the law. This is a political party that is finalizing the process of disengaging themselves from, perhaps ultimately disavowing, democracy and free elections. Everything else discussed last night is an irrelevant sideshow to that shocking oath of loyalty.

  3. Ken

    These so-called debates have become just another variety of base entertainment. Very bad entertainment. They do next to nothing to inform. They have taken on a distinctly game show vibe, like a bad mashup of, say, “America’s Got Talent” and “Survivor.” With music taken from the rejected soundtrack to “Clash of the Titans.” In short, they are undignified exercises in schlock.

    Garrison Keillor got it right 30 or 40 years ago in a short story set in a DC that had become a tourist draw not for its substance and history, but rather as a place to catch glimpses of famous people. For a portion of Americans, campaign politics has become a mix of sports competition and entertainment.

  4. Ken

    One thing that MAY help raise the quality of these events: eliminate the audience. Then the candidates might have less motivation to utter cheap lines aimed at eliciting applause and cheers. There is no reason for there to be a live audience. They only foster the game-show ambiance.
    Also, do away with podiums. Have them sit in chairs. Plush, comfy chairs — which might contribute to a less aggressive atmosphere.

  5. Ralph Hightower

    Nah. Didn’t watch it. It’s still the Trump Party; plus it was on Faux News. Trump is proof that presidents should have some experience in government, in state or national representatives, or senators, or as state governors.

    “Learning on the job” should not be done while presided. With the exception of Trump, whose hair is still Tang colored, and Joe Biden, whose hair is already white, the presidency ages a person. Just look at the before and after photographs of G. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama.

    The moderators should have used an air horn for the second time limit signal.

    Calling Haley the “best Trump alternative” is a very left-handed compliment.

    Nikki’s stunt of handing out six-week “grade cards” was a publicity stunt similar to our former GPS-challenged former governor, Mark Sanford, when he brought two piglets to the General Assembly.


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