Round 3: Fight!

Last night was the third GOP presidential debate, and as I did with the first and second debates, I watched this one so you don’t have to. But I’ll be honest: this one was eminently more watchable than the first two. 

Much of that had to do with the narrowing of the field to five candidates from the previous seven. Doug Burgum failed to meet the polling threshold, while Mike Pence ended his campaign two weeks ago. With five on the stage, each candidate could be assured of a substantial amount of response time in the two hour debate. Crosstalk and squabbles were much rarer, and the candidates mostly respected the time limits. 

The format also allowed for each candidate to respond to every question, sometimes with minor variations geared to each candidate. This let candidates differentiate themselves from each other rather than just fight to get any amount of speaking time to deliver their rehearsed sound bites.

I noted after the last debate that we might be best served by narrowing the next one to three candidates: Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, and Nikki Haley. Yesterday’s debate confirmed that those were the three who demonstrated the intelligence, policy judgment, and experience to be the next President of the United States. But before we get to those three, let’s talk about the other two.

I want very much to like Tim Scott. He has an inspiring personal backstory, it helps the party to have a more diverse candidate pool for high office, and he comes across as genuinely a nice person. But after three debates, he just hasn’t shown a strong reason to support him for President. While I admire his faith, I don’t think it’s a substitute for specific policy ideas, and he was the weakest on the stage in talking about specifics. He still has the opportunity to do great things in the next administration, but this time around it shouldn’t be as the top of the ticket.

Vivek Ramaswamy was simply an embarrassment from start to finish. When asked about Trump, he attacked Ronna McDaniel. When asked about Israel, he made stupid and sexist comments about Nikki Haley, and later attacked her daughter out of absolutely nowhere. Ukraine? He called their Jewish president a Nazi and said Russia deserved the land it had invaded. Oh, and he wants to build the border wall. On the Canadian border. His presence on the stage is all the proof we need that shame is no longer a concept in our politics. 

Now, on to the credible candidates. There wasn’t a lot of daylight between them on policy. Christie had the best and most specific answer about our naval forces with respect to Chinese aggression; strangely, DeSantis didn’t even mention his own service in the Navy in response to that question. All three agreed on support of Israel and Ukraine, although DeSantis wasn’t quite as strong as Haley or Christie on Ukraine. They also agreed on reducing regulations and increasing energy supply in order to address inflation, in a question where the moderators made it clear they didn’t want to hear anything about the deficit spending that’s the actual root cause of inflation. All also agreed that abortion laws should be left to the states.

Both Christie and Haley admitted there would have to be changes to Social Security and Medicare to keep the program solvent; specifically, means-testing beneficiaries and raising the retirement age for those young enough to have decades to plan for the changes. The need for these changes has been obvious to me for my entire adult life and it’s refreshing to hear candidates admit that; anyone who denies it should not be taken seriously. DeSantis wouldn’t raise the retirement age and would address the problem by cutting other spending to fund Social Security, which probably sells well with the large population of retirees in Florida but isn’t really a permanent solution.

If the election were held today, I’m comfortable saying that Chris Christie or Nikki Haley should be our candidate. I’d gladly vote for Ron DeSantis in the general election, but both Haley and Christie have delivered more effective answers to serious policy issues. DeSantis certainly has a path to the nomination, but he’s underperformed the other two serious candidates in the debates thus far. He’ll have an opportunity to improve on those results next time.

We do have one other candidate, and I’d be happy to consider his answers and policy positions. Unfortunately he continues to choose to hide from debates; he spent last night whining about losing elections to a half-empty high school football stadium. Until he actually chooses to participate in the campaign, I see little reason to consider him.

The next debate has just been announced for December 6th. I would like to see that debate be between Christie, DeSantis, and Haley. Trump, too, should he choose to participate and assuming he’s not in jail at the time. Regardless, I’ll be watching, and now that the field is thinning, I think you probably should be too.

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