GOP Primary Debate – Round Two

The stage was set at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA; an intimate setting when juxtaposed with the spacious Fiserv Auditorium in Milwaukee where the first debate took place. The seven candidates marched in looking polished and ready to rumble. Of note were Nikki Haley’s truly stunning deep red, metallic dress, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s rising pompadour (perhaps he is trying to look taller?). 

The moderators, Dana Perino, Stuart Varney, and Ilia Calderón did a fair job at best. They seemed to lose control at several points during the event (we were waiting for an ‘adult’ to enter the room and make the candidates simmer down).  They also did not appear to be fair—particularly to one of the candidates—which was extremely frustrating to watch. What happened to ‘all candidates matter’? 

Most of the candidates appeared to have used the same debate tactics checklist:

  • Humble beginnings story
  • Attack line against big orange monster
  • At least one recent statistic
  • Campaign trail anecdote of a “real” person or family
  • Attack line against at least one other candidate
  • An “I’m the only one on this stage who…” sentence.

This may have worked for the first debate, but it seemed a bit amateurish for the 2nd time around. Our nation is teetering on WW3, and Tim Scott continues reciting his story about his background and how he was able to succeed despite his disadvantages. It is truly an inspiring story; however, it is beginning to look like a crutch to lean on. We are very impressed with how you got here, but what are you going to do for our country?  Even Vivek had to throw in some ‘woe is me’ background tidbits like his mom had to work overtime once in a while. Please stop trying to impress us with your ‘hardships.’ Do you think it makes you more relatable? We respect and admire you all, but focus on how you will turn this country around in the extremely turbulent season we are in.

Poking the Bear

We would have been foolish to think that that several of the candidates would not be taking swipes at President Trump, but a few took it to extremes. We expected attacks from the usual suspects but were disappointed that Ron DeSantis had to get in there with some cheap shots. We get it that smack-talk gets attention, but it seemed to fall short for DeSantis—it sullied his upstandingness and felt unnatural.

Mike Pence and Chris Christie are another story! We’ll get to Mr. Christie’s epic Trump-bashing failure, but let’s start with Mr. Pence. To hear him so smugly berate his old boss is particularly abhorrent—especially when in the next breath he is bragging about the accomplishments of their administration! This is a clear reflection of who Mike Pence really is—he oozes hypocrisy at democratic speed (think Gavin Newsom without the slick). It is hard to believe his egregiousness and hubris have gotten him even this far. 

On to Chris Christie. Did he think he was auditioning to host SNL? He couldn’t wait to execute his well-rehearsed bit about why Trump was ducking out of the event, which concluded with him looking directly at the camera saying, “Donald Duck.” It was like a parody of himself! It was hilarious—just not in the way he wanted it to be. We got the sense that he hired on some of those on-strike Hollywood writers to come up with a zinger that would end up in a viral soundbite and provide him his place in history. He failed to realize that most television writers are mediocre at best, so he got what he paid for. 

The fact that these candidates think that they can impact a freight train gaining speed and momentum is absurd. It’s like they’re hurling toothpicks at King Kong. It makes you wonder who is coaching these guys? They must realize they are so far behind the frontrunner, that their silly little barbs are just that (maybe it just makes them feel good).

Poking Each Other

Not everyone was throwing cheap shots at Donald Trump, but most of them had their sleeves rolled up to spar with each other. Most notably was the almost united attack against Vivek Ramaswamy. It felt like siblings at a Thanksgiving dinner—everyone jealous of the baby. You know, the whole ‘Mom always loved him the most because he’s the cutest and smartest one of the family. He always got away with stuff WE never did!’ routine. Vivek, to his credit, did admit to sometimes coming across as a ‘know-it-all’ (obviously his coaches are tuned in). But what this really demonstrates is that they fear Ramaswamy, since all attacks are rooted in fear. 

Haley was in full combat mode when she attacked Ramaswamy regarding the Ukraine war and China. Ramaswamy was explaining, “just because Putin is an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good.” Haley quickly chimed in “a win for Russia is a win for China…but I forgot you like China…” To which Ramaswamy explained that China is the real enemy and “we’re driving Russia further into China’s arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this.” Mike Pence squirmed in with “if we let Putin take Ukraine that’s a green light to China to take Taiwan. Peace comes through strength,” quoting those famous words from Reagan. Haley also attacked Ramaswamy over his strategy to reach young voters where they are (Tik Tok), expressing the security dangers of this platform and ending her argument with “we can’t trust you.”  (Ironically, Tik Tok was a major sponsor of the event with their ads airing during the breaks…. can’t make this stuff up!)

Another notable spar toward the end of the debate was between Nikki Haley (once again) and Tim Scott. In fairness to the candidates, they were egged on a bit by Dana Perino’s request for Mr. Scott to explain why he should have the job as CEO of America instead of Ms. Haley. This prompted the claws to come out in full view as they ripped into each other over policies and curtains. The debate ignited when Haley accused Scott of being in office for 12 years and not doing anything. Haley asserted, “He increased the national debt, he voted on the spending…12 years, Tim, where have you been?” Tim later came back to the argument and accused Haley of a 10-cent tax gas increase in South Carolina and said, “talk about someone who has never seen a federal dollar she doesn’t like.” To which Haley replied, “Bring it Tim.” (Can’t you just feel the heat?) Somehow the argument led to a set of $50,000 curtains which Haley emphatically stated that Obama purchased. Yes, this is petty and ridiculous, which is the point.

The Issues

The candidates were in lockstep with most issues. At a high level, they all shared similar standings on Education, economy, immigration, healthcare, energy, crime, childcare, the UAW strike, etc. They collectively demolished Bidenomics and were all passionate about becoming energy independent by utilizing our natural resources. (DeSantis was accused by Nikki Haley of banning fracking and offshore drilling but taking green subsidies, which he vehemently denied.) But for the most part, candidates were in alignment. (They are in the same party after all.)

Where the major divide comes is Ukraine War. It’s easy to spot the establishment neo-cons in the room (Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Chris Christie), vs. the America-first candidates (Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Doug Bergum). The establishment candidates have no issue with spending as much money as needed to continue funding this war. Tim Scott said, “90% of the money we send to Ukraine is a loan.” (Does he actually believe that?) Whereas the America-first candidates question this war and are more interested in negotiating peace and ending it then continued funding. Ron Desantis stated, “It’s in our interest to end the Ukraine war—no blank checks. Our own country is being invaded. I will defend this country’s sovereignty.” 

The Dark Horse

Since we tend to have a soft spot for underdogs, we were pleasantly surprised by a strong performance by North Dakota Governor, Doug Bergum. (Perhaps not having a basketball injury the night before the debate was a winning strategy for him!)  He had some very thought-provoking, common-sense responses that we thought deserved some recognition (especially since he was overlooked so much, he HAD to make the time he had count).

His entrepreneurial business background along with governing North Dakota provides some unique perspective. He is pro business and brought up the how the government-forced technology in the health sector has only driven up costs to the American people. “Every time the federal government gets involved, things get more expensive and less efficient.” He also brought up how China is targeting American farmers and how we are in a cold war, economic war and cyber war with China, which Biden does not acknowledge. He pointed out that since China is the largest importer of oil in the world, why didn’t the four Biden cabinet members who went over there talk about US energy? —they only talked about climate policy. “It’s not about climate change that we need to worry about, it’s about the Biden climate policies that are actually the existential threat.” 

Good work, Doug! You probably won’t make it to the next debate, but we appreciated the opportunity to get to know you better.

The Really Stupid Question and the Really Good Answer

The final question of the night was posed by Dana Perino. “It’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump wins the nomination. None of you have indicated that you’re dropping out. So, which one of you on stage tonight should be voted off the island?” (Yes, that really happened!)

The voice of reason in the form of Ron DeSantis jumped in, “I’ll decline, with all due respect, we’re here, we’re happy to debate but I think that’s disrespectful to my fellow contenders…let’s talk about the future of the country.” Amen Brother Ron!

In Conclusion

We’re not entirely certain why this debate took place. With President Trump so vastly ahead of this formidable group of contenders, not one of them can even hope to see the dust kicked up from his shoes. Therefore, the candidates are essentially vying for second place or future cabinet positions. Of course, some of the candidates are betting on Trump eventually caving to all the indictments, thereby opening a path for their victory. We believe otherwise. It’s like the scene from the original Jurassic Park movie where Jeff Goldblum’s mathematician character (in talking about the inevitability of nature) states, “life will find a way.” Trump seems to thrive on all of the negativity coming his way and has a unique gift to make it work for him against the odds…Trump will find a way.