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Please get Ramaswamy off my TV, and other debate thoughts
Is there anyone who isn't annoyed to death by this guy?
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The third of four Republican presidential debates didn’t change the trajectory of a race that Donald Trump will win, barring shocking developments. It did, however, contain moments speaking to how Republicans are struggling with unpopular policy positions that keep costing them elections.
But mostly, it just made me glad that I will be able to stop paying attention to Vivek Ramaswamy very soon.
RELATED FROM PN: Our recap of Democrats’ big night on Tuesday
Listening to Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Tim Scott talk about what they will do as president is a bit like me opining about how I plan to celebrate becoming an SI swimsuit model — in other words, it ain’t happening, so why waste time on it. But covering politics is my job, DC journalists are conditioned to regard presidential debates as major events that deserve a lot of attention, and so, dear reader, I watched the whole thing. You can check out my comprehensive thread of, um, highlights here. (No twitter account required!) What follows in this newsletter are some observations and moments that especially stood out to me.
Vivek Ramaswamy, please go away
The early buzz about Ramaswamy’s spoiled-frat-boy-on-coke campaign quickly dissipated as the realization sunk in that he’s one of the most insufferable people around. But if Wednesday’s debate is any indication, he’s resolved to plumb new depths of annoyance before calling it quits.
Ramaswamy actually came out of the gates strong. He used his opening statement to lament that “we’ve become a party of losers” and called for RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel’s job. But things got weird quickly as he suggested that Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, and Joe Rogan should have been invited to moderate the debate. He then pivoted to attacking the actual debate moderators, and in particular NBC’s Kristen Welker for her reporting on “the Trump-Russia hoax” (which of course was not a hoax).
There were audible groans from the audience when Ramaswamy turned his fire on the other candidates by describing both Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis as "Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels,” and he got even more unhinged from there. Ramaswamy used a question about Ukraine to launch into a vicious diatribe that sounded as though it was written by Putin himself, lowlighted by his smear of President Zelenskyy — who’s Jewish — as “a Nazi.”
The task of trying to cut Ramaswamy down to size mostly fell to Haley, who responded to his harangue against Zelenskyy by saying, "Putin and President Xi are salivating at the thought that someone like that could become president.” Haley also snapped at Ramaswamy after he brought up that Haley’s daughter uses TikTok, telling him “leave my family out of your voice” and calling him “just scum.”
But Ramaswamy saved the most bonkers stuff for last. He used his closing statement to push a QAnon-inspired conspiracy theory about President Biden not really being in charge, and insisted that Michelle Obama may step in for him and run for president next year.
He then closed out his night by pushing more unhinged conspiracy theories on CNN.
Suffice it to say I’ll be glad when I no longer have to think about Ramaswamy at all, and so will everyone else.
Republicans keep doubling down on a losing hand
It took the moderators until the end of the debate to get around to Republicans’ bad showing in Tuesday’s elections and the abortion restrictions they champion that are driving their losing streak. But as if to demonstrate that they’re incapable of moderating, candidates endorsed the same unpopular policies they have for months.
Tim Scott, for instance, pushed a national 15-week abortion ban — the same proposal that was just rejected by Virginia voters who swept Republicans out of power in the state legislature.
Nikki Haley said that women who get abortions shouldn’t be executed, which apparently is supposed to be a moderate position. DeSantis, meanwhile, tried to shift blame by insisting the problem is ballot referendums, not abortion restrictions themselves. (Whatever you have to tell yourself!)
But one of the debate’s most surprising moments came when Christie used an abortion question to emerge as a voice of sanity and make some great points about the GOP’s selective definition of “pro-life.”
"The bigger issue is we're not pro-life for the whole life,” Christie said. “To be pro-life for the whole life means that the life of a 16-year-old drug addict on the floor of a county lockup is precious and we should get treatment for her."
Notably, the debate audience in Miami didn’t seem super enthused about Christie’s comments, which were met largely with silence.
DeSantis still hasn’t learned how to smile
Second-tier candidates DeSantis and Haley are so far behind Trump that you could combine their support, multiply it by two, and it still wouldn’t be enough. And if either of them hoped to break through on Wednesday, it didn’t happen.
As mentioned earlier, Haley’s debate performance will be best remembered for the fact that she couldn’t contain her disdain for Ramaswamy, which was very relatable. DeSantis, for his part, was just there. He played the hits, getting applause when he made his familiar, brutal promise to shoot dead people who bring drugs across the border. But unfortunately for him his showing will probably be best remembered for the fact that it ended with yet another painfully awkward forced smile.
In fairness, I don’t think anybody was feeling genuine joy after watching that debate — with the possible exception of Trump, who can rest easy knowing the candidates ostensibly challenging him on stage Wednesday will go down as footnotes.
That’s it for today
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