My Thoughts on the First Republican Debate

My Thoughts on the First Republican Debate August 27, 2023

A bald eagle with ruffled feathers in front of an American Flag
image via Pixabay

I watched the Republican Candidates’ Debate, not expecting much, and I didn’t get more than I expected.

I was a Republican for most of my life, prior to mid-2016 when it became obvious the party stood for something I couldn’t conscience. I can’t imagine that I will ever be a Republican again. But I watched anyway. I kept track of the candidates, with as open a mind as I could manage.

Based entirely on what I saw from the debate, my impressions are as follows:

Asa Hutchinson seems a man of principle. I don’t agree with many of his principles, but he has some, and that’s something. He was the only one who didn’t raise his hand when asked if he’d vote for a convicted felon. And he is a grandfatherly sort with an honest regional accent who says “conservateev.” If Hutchinson was my elderly uncle I’d go to the nursing home to play checkers with him. If you held me at gunpoint and forced me to vote in the Republican primary, I’d fill in the bubble for Hutchinson. And that would make no difference because, not surprisingly, he’s polling at below one percent.

Mike Pence is a hypocritical blowhard. He quotes the Bible compulsively, not just the short snappy verses but big long tracts at a time, and not when it’s relevant but at random awkward intervals. Unlike Hutchinson, I don’t think he has any principles and I’m certain he’d sell his own mother. His air of wounded dignity at not being a shoe-in for the nomination is nauseating. I’m pleased that most of the candidates agreed that he deserved acclaim for upholding the constitution, because it’s the only good thing the black-hearted sinner has ever done, but that’s the one positive thing I can say. Fortunately, he’s also not going to get the nomination.

Chris Christie is fun to watch. He is savvy with debates. He handled the ridiculous question about UFOs with dignity. I like how he mocks the other candidates. I hope he stays in the race and makes fun of Trump some more. If he had a radio show where he made fun of politicians for a solid hour, I’d listen to it.  He’s also a bad person, but within expected parameters for a Republican politician. It’s probably a good thing that he’s not going to get the nomination.

Ron DeSantis  has a whiny monotonous Squidward voice and he grinds his teeth constantly. While the other candidates were trying to sing along with the Star Spangled Banner, DeSantis put his hand on his heart, grimaced awkwardly, and ground his teeth. He is a sadistic monster who wants to commit acts of war against Mexico, but he is also boring. In the debate, he made the critical error of toning down his sadism to appeal to moderates, leaving us with only boredom. I’d say he’s as dull as a potato, but at least a potato could power a clock if you stuck electrodes in it. I don’t think DeSantis is nearly as electrifying as that potato. A potato has a better chance at the nomination.

Nikki Haley plays the “please notice I am female” card even more often than you’d think. She is milking the Sarah Palin no-nonsense conservative mom angle as hard as she possibly can, but she lacks Palin’s bizarre dystopian charisma so it doesn’t work. She did win the foreign policy round, however. Compared with the rest of the crowd, she seemed competent and on task, but so would nearly anybody. But she won’t be getting the nomination.

Doug Burgum comes from a small town. He may actually have policy ideas and a platform as well, but all he talked about was being from a small town so I can’t say. Apparently he rides horses sometimes. He and his horse will not get the nomination.

Vivek Ramaswamy is the dangerous one. He is a bootleg Trump, right down to the stilted hand gestures. He has no viable policies whatsoever; he just spouts horrifying rhetoric to shock people like a ten-year-old boy blowing Bronx cheers to annoy his teacher. He unabashedly embraces conspiracy theories.  His plan to put disabled people in state-run asylums where they can receive religious instruction ought to have him expelled from politics and any polite company for the rest of his life, but we live in hell so the audience was lapping it up. He got the most applause and the least boos of any candidate. I would say we don’t have to worry about him, but I lived through 2016 so I’m on edge. Still, I don’t think he’ll get the nomination.

Rick Scott talks about his single mother more often than he talks about his own policies. He would be the dangerous one who spouts horrifying rhetoric if not for Ramaswamy, and he’s visibly offended that Ramaswamy stole his shtick. Pence already stole the “devout Christian who quotes the Bible” shtick so he can’t have that either. He is redundant and I think he knew it. He has no chance at the nomination.

None of this really matters, because none of these people are going to be president come 2025, and they’re not going to be the Republican nominee either.

At the moment, Donald Trump is still polling head an shoulders above any of his opponents. Four indictments, four arraignments, a mug shot and a seven-figure sexual abuse judgement have barely put a dent in his steady rise in the Republican polls. The party is Trump and Trump is the party. His deplorable base like him specifically because of his cruelty and lawlessness. I didn’t think this would be the case. I thought the MAGA movement would have crowned a new messiah by now, and I still think that day will come, but it’s not here. At this moment, I believe that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and go head to head with Joe Biden in the 2024 race. I am not looking forward to it.

In that light, the debate took on a kind of ominous flavor, like photos of the Titanic leaving England. All of these campaigns are doomed to sink. Why are they doing this?

Are they vying to be Trump’s running mate? Some probably are. I don’t imagine Pence would want to go through that rigmarole again, though his willingness to debase himself for power’s sake might go deeper than I think. Hutchinson and his pleasant accent probably wouldn’t do it.

Maybe they just want to be the last Republicans standing as the party collapses like a cold souffle.

Whatever party they form when and if that happens, I can’t see myself supporting that either.

It’s going to be a rough fifteen months.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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