The second Republican debate has concluded, and the undisputed winner was Donald Trump. The former president declined to attend, and for good reason, it was an unmitigated s**t show. It was the battle of the ‘mid’ because no one on this stage had a shot of usurping Trump from his comfortable lead in the polls.
Fox Business hosted last night’s Fight Club at the Reagan Library, where Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) got into it over curtains, Gov. Doug Burgum tried in vain to tout how South Dakota is a conservative mecca, and former Vice President Mike Pence dropped weird sex jokes.
Even Ron DeSantis’ stock dropped. The Florida Republican is, on paper at least, the only candidate who has a shot of overtaking the former president. I believe he’s also the only candidate that has double-digit support. Everyone else is beating themselves bloody for a two-to-three-point increase in primary surveys.
Republican voters have yet to cast their ballots, with plenty of time where the landscape can change, but if the debates keep going like this—Trump doesn’t have to do much to re-clinch the GOP nomination. The former president won last night’s duel, as the rest of the crop did an excellent job showing the GOP base that none of them could win a national election. The frenzy did have its humorous moments, like when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he respected everyone on this stage before snapping at Vivek Ramaswamy to put his hand down. Given the event’s mood, the debate moderators thought they could get the candidates to participate in a Survivor-like segment where they wrote down the name of someone they felt should be voted off the island. All refused.
Larry Kudlow was pointed in his disappointment with the second debate since Bidenomics wasn’t given the skewering it so richly deserves. Biden and his agenda should be the core of the discussion regarding these debates. It’s akin to when the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013 had next to nothing on health care, a critical issue that cost us the 2012 race, among other things.
But a disturbing quality was also exposed: we have no depth on the presidential stage. We’ve discussed at length how Joe Biden and the 2020 election showed that Democrats face serious obstacles to finding quality presidential candidates. That remains an issue, but it also seems like the GOP might face the same problems heading into 2024 and beyond. Who comes after Trump?
The 2016 race was loaded with candidates, some of whom were seen as the cream of the party—the future heavyweights who would keep the Republican Party competitive for years. Donald Trump wrecked all of them. Is that a blessing in disguise, sparing GOP voters from throwing their lot in with a crop who couldn’t hack it? Maybe. In 2020, the Democrats had some well-known names; almost all were exposed as a mile wide and an inch deep. Essentially, that’s how Biden won. When it became clear that Black Democrats, a core constituency, wouldn’t back Bernie Sanders again, liberals turned to who could provide them with the best chance to win. That person was the half-braindead former Senator from Delaware.
In 2024, these lower-tiered Republicans with no shot at winning the nomination engaged in a Tyler Durden-inspired scrum for little to no gain. What is similar between the two cycles regarding the parties is that for Republicans, I’m sure most came away from this debate seeing Donald Trump as the only person who can win. That’s not an overreaction. None of the candidates had a Rick Perry-like brain freeze moment. That’s a low bar, though.