The last GOP debate offers voters a rancid buffet of bigotry
The Two Hours Hate.
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“Do yourself a favor,” the always insufferable Vivek Ramaswamy told Republican presidential rival Chris Christie at the fourth and last presidential debate. “Just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this place.”
Ramaswamy was making an ugly joke about Christie’s weight. You might say it was one of the low points of the night if the night wasn’t almost entirely composed of them.
As we discussed in this newsletter yesterday, in terms of determining the next president of the United States, Wednesday’s debate was almost entirely irrelevant. Trump is lapping the rest of the GOP field in the polls and has refused to appear with his competitors because he knows he’s established dominance over them.
But the debate did give viewers a dreary view into the mind and soul of the GOP. The four candidates — pharma entrepreneur Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Christie, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — spent two hours moving from denigrating one marginalized group to the next, targeting each for hate and xenophobia. Occasionally they’d make a disparaging remark about President Biden, but their real enthusiasm was saved for demagoguing marginalized people and spewing bigotry.
Trump wasn’t on that sad debate stage in Alabama. But his orange spirit hovered, spreading its miasma of fear and paranoia. The GOP, now more than ever, is a party that defines itself by who it hates. And it hates a lot of people.
If you’re not a white Christian man, the GOP probably hates you
Much of the bigotry on stage can’t even really be described as dogwhistles. As the most prominent example, the candidates and moderator Megyn Kelly vied with each other to see who could be more hateful towards trans people.
DeSantis referred to trans surgeries as “genital mutilation,” said parents who support their trans children (like me) are engaged in child abuse, and falsely claimed puberty blockers are irreversible. He and Haley fought over who was more eager to prevent trans people from having access to restrooms. Haley, in turn, said the biggest women’s issue today is preventing trans women from participating in athletic competitions.
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Christie did insist that parents should be the ones making health care decisions for their children, but the other candidates (along with Kelly) dismissed this relatively humane position as anathema. Ramaswamy, meanwhile, piped up to say he hated trans people too by pushing the (utterly false) idea that trans identity is a mental illness.
Hostility to immigrants was similarly open and nasty. DeSantis said that the US should not take immigrants from Gaza because of “the antisemitism” — a repulsive and (as we’ll underline in a moment) ridiculously hypocritical smear. DeSantis also promised to finish building the border wall Trump started and to pay for it by taxing the remittances of foreign workers, which would essentially force some of the poorest people in the country to finance their own demonization.
Haley endorsed Trump’s travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, arguing that it should target places like Iran, Yemen, and Lebanon where, she claimed, they “say death to America.” Of course, the overwhelming majority of people in Iran are not a threat to the US, and many Iranians engaged in courageous protest this year against the regime’s misogyny and repression. Haley just smears everyone in the country indiscriminately, though, because that’s how bigotry works.
And then there was the China bashing. China’s regime is authoritarian and they are a global menace, but the GOP candidates (with the exception of Christie) treated the country as if it is the prime mover behind everything bad, from fentanyl overdoses (a favorite Haley talking point) to insufficient support for Israel on college campuses. Ramaswamy launched into a barely coherent rant about how China’s pervasive economic influence is equivalent to a “Chinese spy balloon.”
Needless to say, this compulsive xenophobia and fear-mongering make it more difficult to address actual issues with China — like its ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims, which, of course, didn’t come up at the debate.
The antisemitism is coming from inside the house
Other exercises in bigoted rhetoric were slightly more subtle, or at least less extended.
DeSantis — supposed foe of antisemitism — boasted about fighting the malign influence of billionaire Democratic donor and Holocaust survivor George Soros in the first two minutes of the debate. Conspiracy theories about Soros were the motivation behind the Tree of Life shooter, who murdered eleven people in a temple in 2018, the worst antisemitic massacre in US history.
Ramaswamy went even further and openly endorsed by name the ”Great Replacement” conspiracy theory — the false, inflammatory claim that Jewish people are encouraging immigration in order to overwhelm and subjugate white people. No other candidate challenged Ramaswamy when he endorsed this line of thinking. They just shrugged.
Anti-Black racism made an appearance via dogwhistles about election fraud. NewsNation brought in key election denying Trump advisor Tom Fitton to ask rambling questions about “election integrity.” DeSantis of course took the opportunity to eagerly tout his anti-election fraud efforts in Florida, including a program that targeted mostly Black former prisoners who had mistakenly thought they could vote. The high profile, humiliating arrests of such people was a transparent effort to intimidate Black voters so they would be afraid to cast ballots.
The candidates also made little detours into other kinds of bigotry. DeSantis wasn’t willing to say Trump was unfit to serve by virtue of plotting a coup, but instead make vague ableist and ageist comments about the former president being too old for the job. Ramaswamy made misogynist remarks about Haley, sneering that “you can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it's still a fascist Neocon.” He also referred disparagingly to her “XX chromosomes.” Christie actually called Ramaswamy out for this, virtually the only time in the debate that anyone suggested bigotry was a bad thing in itself.
Beyond all the hate, the debate demonstrated how Alex Jones-style conspiracism is now mainstream Republican thinking. Ramaswamy was applauded when he made the insane claim that "January 6 now looks like an inside job,” even though we all watched in horror less than three years ago as Trump publicly summoned his followers to DC and then incited them to ransack the Capitol.
This is Trump’s party
Ramaswamy is exceptionally crude and charmless even by the standards of the Trumpified GOP, but he’s not exactly out of step with the party. The Republican Party has long embraced white identity politics and white backlash. But the debate showed that during this era of full Trumpism, the party has increasingly thrown off any pretense of offering anything other than white grievance.
There was little talk of hope, prosperity, or unity. Instead, Republican candidates leaned into the MAGA vision; the nation is in crisis, and the job of the new president is to harm the marginalized people who are supposedly responsible. Trump almost certainly is going to be the nominee. But even if he isn’t, as far as the GOP goes, his cruelty has won.
That’s it for today
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