Imagine if you will the best Super Bowl ever.
You and your friends have just watched a three-overtime game featuring amazing catches, a punter pull a fake and run 72 yards for a touchdown, thirteen lead changes, two successful onside kicks, some random guy called down from the stands to fill in as a wide receiver, two statue of liberty plays, a schoolhouse left, and a running back literally cartwheeling into the end zone for a touchdown.
The game ends and you and your friends then spend the next two hours talking – exclusively and sometimes heatedly – about which is better: aluminum or vinyl siding.
That was last night’s (and to be honest the first one a couple months ago) Republican presidential debate.
Covid and the pandemic – literally the most important thing to happen to the United States since World War II and it’s just barely mostly ended? Not a peep.
The federal government using its tech partners to censor tens of millions of people in direct violation of the First amendment of the Constitution? Three or four glancing words jammed in as part of another answer.
Biden family corruption and the impeachment inquiry? Not on the table.
The oppression of the Deep State and what can be done to end it? Nope.
The incredibly and fiercely divisive culture war and what can be done to end cancel culture? A sideline.
Billions in pandemic fraud? What fraud? Education and mental health upended by the pandemic? Education in general was discussed but, amazingly, not this aspect.
The weaponization of the federal justice system? Nada.
The indictments of the one candidate who wasn’t there? Not really.
The utter capture of the media by the powers that be?
Not a whisper, of course that may explain why none of the other questions above were asked.
In other words, there was not just one elephant in the room Wednesday night but a whole herd and somehow, for some reason, the seven candidates and three moderators managed to squeeze by them as if they weren’t there.
Though less important than what could have happened, what actually did happen – what was discussed and how it was discussed – does still warrant attention.
First off, the event was too shouty. The moderators did not do a good job reining in the candidates and the candidates – for the most part – did not do a good job of controlling themselves. Oddly enough, it seemed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and current North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgam were the only candidates who did not get repeatedly talked over by the others. This was in part, it appears, because Christie was doing the heavy anti-Trump lifting for all of them and no one – including moderator Dana Perino – thinks Burgum can win and/or have should have even been on the stage.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and current South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott traded jabs on a rather personal level – looks like they don’t like each other at all – with Scott coming off the worse for it when he accused Haley of spending $50,000 on curtains for her United Nations office. That – as was proven at the time – was not her doing and Scott looked silly for saying it.
On education, all seven candidates spoke of returning control to the states and crushing the power of the teachers unions. Haley spoke of getting DEI/CRT out of the schools, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed out he did jut that, and Christie pointedly noted that First Lady Jill (nope – not a doctor) Biden is a union member and their “advocate in the White House every day.”
When asked if parents had a right to know if their child was going by a different gender in school than at home, all said yes and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy went a step further on the topic, saying he would pass a federal ban on all under-age “gender affirming” operations.
“Trans is a mental health disorder,” Ramaswamy said. “It’s not compassionate to confirm a child’s confusion…it’s barbaric.”
As to the rise and threat of China, all said the Biden administration is not only hopeless in this regards but has actually fostered China’s growth. DeSantis added that China’s influence goes beyond the geo-political and economic and that cultural trojan horses like the university-based Confucious Academies across the country should be banned. Former Vice President Mike Pence said that the Biden’s “green new deal” policies are “good for Beijing and bad for Detroit” (technically the green new deal legislation has not passed but it was clear that Pence was referring to the overall regulatory and policy position of the administration.)
Burgum – as he did with other questions – addressed the issue from a root cause standpoint rather than a specific programmatic discussion. By subsidizing electric vehicles, curtailing energy production, and general governmental meddling where it should not be, it skews the system and that “when the government gets involved, things get more expensive.”
It should be noted – as Burgum tried to Wednesday – that he was not asked a question about energy – North Dakota is an energy state – and was not given time to talk about technology issues – he made his zillions by building a software company and selling it to Microsoft.
There was a clear divide on Ukraine policy, with Scott and Pence defending the current efforts – degrading Putin’ military being a policy goal of the United States – while others questioned the on-going involvement, with DeSantis calling for the “defending the American people first” in reference to the border chaos.
Ramaswamy said “just because Putin is bad, that doesn’t make Ukraine good,” while Christie took the other tack, saying Putin’s growing ties to China and Iran must be thwarted and that he is trying to re-create the power bloc of the former Soviet Union. “He’s trying to put the band back together,” Christie said.
All agreed for the need to cut spending, with DeSantis noting Florida has run surpluses and paid down debt during his tenure, Ramaswamy called for zero-based budgeting in government (that’s how everyone and everything else except governments do budgets, by the way,) and Burgum saying he was able to cut North Dakota’s government size by 20% with relative ease.
“10 to 20% of what government workers do is mindless, soul sucking work and we’ve been able to engineer that away,” Burgum said.
As to the candidate who was not there, both Christie and DeSantis said Trump should participate in the debates and that by not doing so he is not showing the respect Republican voters are due – Christie went so far as to call Trump “Donald Duck.”
Overall, there were clear winners and losers Wednesday night. DeSantis was much stronger this time around, particularly at the end when Perino – for some absurd reason – asked the candidates to write down who they would “throw of the island” a la Survivor. DeSantis – to paraphrase – immediately called the idea insulting and stupid and the other candidates followed suit and refused to play along. His “I’ve fought the big fights and won the big fights” line seems to sum up his campaign concept and he looks in better shape going into his debate with Gavin.
Scott can sometimes sound excellent and speaks with conviction, but still comes off as a bit JV and his curtains crack was just plain stupid.
Haley seems to think she can run for more than just to be someone else’s vice president and did hold her own. Interestingly, instant focus group polling reportedly showed women liked her feistiness while men thought she sounded shrill (non-binary people said both, or neither, or just criticized her hair.)
Ramaswamy toned down his schtick from the first debate but still does not come across as someone you can see taking the oath of office, yet (and his former China business ties are definitely a drag.)
Pence was Pence, which is simply not enough.
Christie has wrapped up the anti-Trump vote so he may get some votes and delegates but cannot possibly get the nomination.
Burgum still impresses, but there’s that whole snowball/hell chance thing holding him back (that and Dana Perino.)
In the end, though, it was a debate that did not leave one wondering why, but rather why not?
Hopefully, the next debate will address those issues – if not, that’s strike three.
PS – It may just be me, but Pence’s speaking style – especially when he wants to end a sentence by making…a…point… – reminds me of President Not Sure from Mike Judge’s criminally underappreciated movie “Idiocracy.”
Here’s a Pence clip from Wednesday:
And here’s President Not Sure giving his state of the union speech:
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