HUMAN EVENTS: The farcical GOP 'debates' must end

Before the election of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), many conservative commentators, particularly within the establishment wing of the Republican party, decried the whole process as an embarrassment: an unnecessary eyesore imposed by the party’s grassroots, which Democrats would happily exploit to drive voters away from the GOP in next year’s election.

We are not here to comment on the persuasiveness of these arguments, which are moot at this point, anyway. What we find more interesting is that many of these same commentators, despite objecting to having the GOP embarrassed by its grassroots, seem more than willing to have it embarrassed by its donor class. That is, we are hard pressed to find anyone who condemned the choice to vacate Speaker McCarthy who will also condemn the supposed GOP primary debates, the latest of which is set to happen this Saturday.

But they should. Because even if you believe that the last three weeks of chaos were embarrassing, let’s be clear: that chaos only lasted three weeks. Whereas the debates have been going for three months, to the detriment of not just the GOP’s electoral prospects, but of pretty much everyone involved. On that note, anyone who thought that President Trump was making a mistake by skipping these amateurish episodes of trash TV was obviously wrong; if anything, the former president avoided lending credibility or eyeballs to an inadvertently scathing portrayal of just how lame and cringey the GOP would be without his influence.

In fact, calling these debates embarrassing barely does it justice. They are farces, and potentially dangerous ones, at that. When they’re not actively creating new political headaches for Republicans, such as when Governor DeSantis gift-wrapped an anti-Trump narrative on inflation to the Biden campaign, they’re causing donors with delusions of a reversion to the pre-Trump status quo ante to waste money on nonstarter political candidates, rather than on the crucial infrastructure the party needs to win up and down the ballot next year. If they can be said to have a saving grace at all, it is that they also seem to be extinguishing the plausibility of insufferable has-beens like Mike Pence and Chris Christie as future GOP leaders, but let’s be real: neither of those two were going to mount a comeback, anyway. Pence’s message amounted to telling anyone who didn’t want to cut taxes for woke capitalists, or send money to Ukraine, to get off his lawn like the dirty populists they were, and Chris Christie’s entire reason for being there is to act like the protagonist of a Taylor Swift breakup song toward Donald Trump. The stuff of a presidential nominee? We think not.

On the other hand, the debates are also doing a miserably effective job of destroying potentially promising talent in its infancy. Ron DeSantis could’ve been a plausible vice-presidential candidate, or even a future presidential one, before he introduced himself to America as a desperately uncharismatic try-hard who literally took his cues on major foreign policy questions from who else was raising their hands, and was more than willing to sabotage the party’s economic messaging for his own gain. It’s not surprising that people are now speculating that DeSantis tries to use heeled boots to inflate his height, because after his disastrous campaign and debate performances, all you can think is that for a supposed conqueror of wokeness in his home state, he looks desperately small.

As DeSantis has fallen, Nikki Haley has been climbing…to about 12 percent. Which is also not surprising, when you consider that she’s been acting like a cross between General Ripper and Regina George on the debate stage. Her entire campaign, as aptly called out by businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, seems more like a campaign for a Raytheon board seat than for the presidency, and the fact that her decision to portray herself as basically the bitchy pretty girl telling America Firsters that they can’t sit with her is more a testament to the immature mindset of neoconservatives than anything else. It would be darkly funny, if Haley weren’t also the one currently sucking up donor cash that could be going somewhere more useful. Whereas without a platform like the debates, this obvious waste of money would soon be seen for what it was.

Perhaps the only candidate of the bunch to have actually done themselves some good, meanwhile, is the aforementioned biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has at least shown himself to be capable of the kind of pugnacious and iconoclastic thinking that marks President Trump’s campaigning at its best. But frankly, given the extreme other downsides of the debates, we think Mr. Ramaswamy must surely be clever enough to find better ways to mount his campaign for a vice presidential slot.

Not that the debates are a particularly effective way of doing that, to begin with, because it seems that absent President Trump, no one cares to watch them except the most hardcore political junkies. Fox News already had to cut advertising rates to find anyone willing to air ads during the second debate, and now that NBC is about to send in moderators who are actively hostile to anything Republican voters actually care about, they won’t even be meaningfully informative. Though again, they might not have been, anyway, considering that even under Fox’s aegis, they devolved into shouting matches worthy of Jerry Springer.

Which raises the uncomfortable question: who are these debates for, exactly? Well, we think we know the answer: they’re for the few sad GOP donors and intellectuals who still want to pretend that 2016 never happened. The kind of people who are nostalgic for the days when pro-TikTok and pro-Ukraine ads would run on Fox and no one would dare to criticize them because something something free market something something Russia something something 47 percent of America are dirty leeches. In short, they’re less serious political spectacles than counter-historical 2016 reenactments, where #NeverTrump gets to fantasize that they won for a few hours. But they didn’t, and honestly, we question whether, seeing these debates, even they feel particularly optimistic about what the party looks like without President Trump. Small wonder that Iowa voters simply don’t care that President Trump has skipped them, or that President Trump is still the overwhelming favorite to win next year. Everyone would rather be watching him than these exploitative slap fights between has-beens and never-weres. America has changed the channel; it’s time the Republican party did, too.
 

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