GOP Candidates Showcase New Debate Strategy: Be Unhinged
With time running out to catch Donald Trump, the five leading candidates to challenge the former president for the GOP presidential nomination resorted to their last, best hope for relevance on the debate stage Wednesday night.
In his very first opportunity to speak, the “anti-woke” entrepreneur avoided answering a question about why he’d be a better candidate than Trump by going on a rant about the mainstream media, wondering why Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson, and Elon Musk weren’t moderating the debate, offering to yield his time to the national GOP chairwoman so she could resign, and attempting to grill NBC News’ Kristen Welker for allegedly rigging the 2016 election.
“This is how we get our country back,” Ramaswamy lectured.
Then, Ramaswamy decided to introduce his familiar attack—that the other GOP candidates are warmongers—with boundary-pushing zeal.
“Do you want Dick Cheney in three-inch heels?” Ramaswamy asked. “We’ve got two of them on stage tonight.”
The quip was a drive-by aimed not only at Nikki Haley, but Ron DeSantis, whose footwear selection has become something of an issue in the 2024 primary. Puzzlingly, Haley responded to the swipe with more chaos, saying her heels were actually five-inches and meant as “ammunition.”
The man all five candidates are trying to beat, of course, was never the target of their efforts to turn up the volume as much as humanly possible—a reflection of a mostly stagnant primary in which the former president is on track to cruise to the nomination again.
But Ramaswamy, who has desperately sought media attention as the oxygen of his longshot campaign, was predictably the instigator of most unhinged moments on stage in Miami on Wednesday. During a debate over TikTok, Ramaswamy—who is the only candidate on the Chinese-owned app—noted that Haley’s daughter was also on TikTok.
“Keep my daughter’s name out of your voice,” Haley said.
Ramaswamy pressed forward with his answer, while Haley said to Ramaswamy—off-camera but into the mic—“You’re just scum.”
The 38-year old candidate didn’t contain his venom to enemies inside the debate hall. He flatly accused Ukrainian President Voldoymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, of being a “Nazi” and “a comedian in cargo pants.”
But between the absurd moments onstage, there were relatively more muted—but no less glaring—attempts by the other candidates to also outdo each other in rhetorical harshness.
Tim Scott casually called for war with Iran. “You have to strike in Iran,” he said. “If you want to make a difference, you can not just continue to have strikes in Syria on warehouses, you actually have to cut off the head of the snake, and the head of the snake is Iran.”
DeSantis promised to send the U.S. military to the southern border to “shoot” suspected drug traffickers “stone cold dead.” Not to be outdone, Ramaswamy called for the construction of a wall on the border—with Canada.
“Don’t just build the wall, build both walls,” Ramaswamy said.
On Israel, the candidates tried to outhawk each other in standing with Israel. Asked what their advice would be to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, DeSantis said he would tell Netanyahu to “finish the job.” Haley gravely tried to one-up DeSantis, just saying she would advise Netanyahu to “finish them.”
Ramaswamy didn’t bother answering the question with specifics—just that he would “go a step further” than DeSantis or Haley and their hawkish answers—while Scott said Israel should “wipe Hamas off the map.”
Chris Christie, who’s trying to claim the most moderate lane of the Trump alternatives, delivered a more nuanced answer largely devoid of the bloodthirst that typified the answers from his competitors, on Israel, border policy, and other issues, but he still made it clear he didn’t meaningfully differ from their fundamental positions.
When asked what their message was to reassure Jewish students in the United States who are threatened by anti-semitism, most candidates simply tried to state, as harshly as they could, that they would deport any foreign national who engages in pro-Hamas speech—free speech be damned—or defund universities that did not respond strongly enough to it.
Amid all the saber-rattling, score-settling, and attention-seeking, Trump was more of a non-factor in this debate than in past debates.
The harshest direct criticism leveled against Trump came from DeSantis, at the beginning of the debate, when he called the former president “a lot different than the guy he was in 2016” and argued Trump “owes it to you to be on this stage to explain why he should get another chance.”
There were plenty of other opportunities to rebuke Trump and his record. Amid all the talk on Israel, no candidate mentioned Trump’s remarks after Hamas’ initial attack on Israel, in which he called their Iran-backed allies Hezbollah “very smart” and criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the situation.
The Trumpian comments earned stern rebukes from U.S and Israeli officials—and DeSantis, who said at the time, “you’re not going to find me throwing verbal grenades at Israeli leadership.”
As in past debates, there were oblique references by the candidates to alleged failures or shortcomings in Trump’s record as president. Some referenced the national debt that ballooned under Trump’s presidency. Or they suggested Trump was in league with President Joe Biden in wanting to leave Social Security and Medicare untouched.
In perhaps one of the more absurd recurring moments of the night, candidates lamented Tuesday night’s election defeats for Republicans and the party’s “culture of losing,” without mentioning much of the man who has led the GOP through three consecutive disappointing elections.
Ramaswamy, the most pro-Trump candidate on stage, had a harsh judgment.
“We’ve become a party of losers,” he said.
The post GOP Candidates Showcase New Debate Strategy: Be Unhinged appeared first on The Daily Beast.