COMMENT: GOP debate: a night of entertainment


While one group of Republicans were turning themselves in to police in Georgia, another group assembled for a debate in Milwaukee to officially kick off the 2024 presidential race.

Conspicuously missing from the debaters was the man who, at least according to the polls, has the best chance of becoming the GOP’s nominee next summer.

But while the debaters were debating, former president Donald Trump was heading to Georgia to turn himself in on charges that he tried to have that state’s 2020 election results overturned in his favor.

There was no clear winner in Wednesday’s debate, but there was a loser — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Much was expected from the man who figures to seriously challenge Trump for the GOP nomination, but DeSantis didn’t come through.

Most of the time he was lost in the shuffle among the group of eight hopefuls who didn’t know when to shut up. Too often they talked over each other to the point where no one could understand what they were saying. It was like the six o’clock news when the sports segment is about to begin — everyone talking at once.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence was especially vocal. As one viewer put it, “He’s said more tonight than he said the entire time he was in office.”

Pence made some good points, but when he began touting the accomplishments of the Trump administration, he lost his audience. To most Americans, the Trump era is just a bad memory that they would just as soon forget.

Vivek Ramaswamy was by far the most energetic debater, and he made points that resonated with a great many middle-of-the-road voters. But, as Pence stated, Ramaswamy is not a politician by trade and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Washington.

That, according to Ramaswamy, should be a point in his favor, but the fact that he wasn’t a politician was supposed to make Trump a great president and look at what a joke his presidency turned out to be.

It was clear from Wednesday’s debate that none of the candidates has much faith in America’s education system, especially teachers’ unions. Most said they would eliminate the Department of Education.

But then Ramaswamy seems ready to do away with most of the governmental departments in Washington, including the FBI and the IRS.

A couple of the candidates were in favor of invading Mexico to clean out the drug cartels (with or without the approval of the Mexican government), while Ramaswamy didn’t want to fight anyone or send aid to Ukraine.

As always, most of the candidates propose to make changes that they would not be constitutionally empowered to do as president. They made the promises just the same.

There wasn’t much Trump bashing during the debate, except for some choice words from Chris Christie. No one wants to alienate any Trump supporter who might shift gears and switch to a more stable candidate.

Every candidate was confident that he or she could beat Democrat Joe Biden in the 2024 election. Nikki Haley was the most emphatic. “I can beat Biden and he knows it!”

Haley did well. She stayed with the questions asked and made good points, especially on abortion and the economy. Several times she got into a shouting match with Ramaswamy, but mostly she was respectful and knew what she was talking about.

And she had the best quote of the night:

“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

Tim Scott had the best summation.

The eight GOP hopefuls attacked Biden, of course, but they concentrated on two economic factors that the president has no control over — interest rates (Federal Reserve Board) and oil prices (OPEC and commodity pricing).

They did hit on Biden’s age, which will definitely be a factor in 2024 (if he gets the Democratic nomination), but they did not attack his physical condition.

If I had to pick a winner, it would be Haley. As I said, DeSantis was the obvious loser and Wednesday’s showing might well put him out of the race in the next few months.

All in all, it was an entertaining show, much better than the Mets 7–1 loss to the Braves and the runaway “Jeopardy” semifinal that I had taped.

My thinking as I switched channels after the debate? I wouldn’t want to vote for any of these people — or Trump — or Biden.

Surely there’s a better candidate out there somewhere.

Donnie Johnston’s columns appear twice per week on the Opinion page. Reach him at [email protected].

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