I did not watch the second Republican debate. I could not watch it because it is on Fox News and its related cable and streaming channels and I do not subscribe to cable. But even if I had access, I would likely not have watched because all indications were that it would have hardly anything of substance.
And so it proved. In reading about the debate afterwards, it looks like it was a shambles.
It took about a half hour for the Republican Presidential debate on Wednesday night to descend from merely being very boring to unrecoverable chaos.
This was the “thank you for speaking while I’m interrupting” debate, the event at which the confusion and aimlessness of the Republicans challenging Trump for the Presidential nomination became apparent to all. Trump, far ahead in every poll, had opted out of the event, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, California, a venue whose leadership he has sometimes sparred with. In his absence, the debate was billed as a chance for the other Republicans on the ballot to change their fortunes: for Haley to establish herself as the mainstream alternative to Donald Trump, for Scott to make clear what he is campaigning for, and for DeSantis to find a way to reverse his slide in the polls, which has now lasted several months and still defines the campaign.
On that count, DeSantis failed from the beginning, when it took a full fifteen minutes for the moderators to call on him. When he did get a chance to speak, generally looking a little glum, he tended to rattle off some suspiciously rehearsed-sounding lines. Of his plans to expand domestic oil drilling, DeSantis said, “We’re going to choose Midland over Moscow. We’re going to choose the Marcellus over the Mullahs. We’re going to choose the Bakken over Beijing.” Stop this man before he alliterates again.
I felt that surely. during the two hours there had to have been some discussion of policy and the participants would highlight how they differed on one another on at least a few major issues. But I could not find much other that broad swipes. This article tried to provide some information.
The participants spent the two hours largely agreeing with each other on substance, but bickering over baroque bits of policy or history. Unless prompted, they didn’t bring up the man who is absolutely dominating the field, Trump.
The only exception was Christie, whose entire campaign is predicated on slamming the man whose two prior candidacies he supported. But even most of Christie’s barbs were about Trump’s debate dodging rather than trying to persuade Republican voters to end their love affair with the ex-president.
Still, he went further than just about anyone else in arguing against Trump, closing the debate by saying, “This man has not only divided our party, he’s divided families all over this country.”
That was just about the only thing that made any single candidate stand out. Otherwise they all sounded similar on most issues without staking out any distinct ground. It wasn’t until the end that DeSantis touted his Florida record of a conservative renaissance. Unlike in the initial debate, Haley didn’t highlight her background as an accountant, mom, governor and diplomat into one package. She instead got into sniping fests with Scott, a fellow South Carolinian.
There were some cringe inducing moments.
There were some awkward and downright cringeworthy moments during the debate, from lines that were heavily rehearsed to some clunky retorts.
Christie, in an early broadside against Trump, looked directly into the camera and declared that if he keeps skipping debates, he would deserve a new nickname: “Donald Duck.”
Scattered laughter was slow to follow.
Christie made another uncomfortable barb later at someone no one expected to be mentioned Wednesday: first lady Jill Biden. The New Jersey governor, while trying to suggest that teachers unions have a strong influence in Biden’s White House, declared the president is “sleeping with a member of the teachers union.” The first lady is a community college teacher and member of the National Education Association.
Rather than staying away from the uncomfortable subject of private marital relations, former Vice President Mike Pence ran toward the subject when he got his first opportunity after several other candidates gave other answers around education. He referred to his own wife’s work as a teacher.
“I gotta admit, I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years,” Pence said.
He didn’t need to.
This article gives us some of the lowlights, including the absurd discussions about curtains in the office of the ambassador to the UN!
The debate itself was a muddled mess — a nonevent distinguished only by its embarrassing lack of substance and its utter pointlessness. Other than that, it was great.
How much of a shitshow was it? Much of the time, the candidates were yelling at or interrupting one another as they rolled over the hapless moderators. The result was occasionally as incoherent as it was inaudible. My colleague Barry Rubin put together a montage of the lowlights:
Meanwhile, as one might expect from a Fox Business debate, there was no mention of Donald Trump’s call for the execution of General Mark Milley, or a judge’s ruling that may put Trump out of business in New York. Some of the candidates did take shots at the former guy, but it mostly amounted to rhetorical slap-fighting.
One thing that commentators seem to agree on is that all of the candidates actively dislike Vivek Ramaswamy. It is not hard to understand why. There is something really annoying about him, an air of overweening smugness. We all know someone like that, who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and makes sure that everyone knows he thinks it.
Another thing they agree on is that the two moderators were lousy and lost control of the debate early on and never regained it.
Apparently the viewership for the second debate was smaller than the first, dropping from 12.8 million to 9.5 million. I expect the decline to continue.