The First Republican Primary Debate

It seems that everyone is weighing in on the winners and losers from the first Republican primary debate last Wednesday evening. All things considered it was an introduction more than an issues debate. That’s not surprising given that most of the Republican primary candidates claim to be conservatives and their view will not differ greatly – although most of them really don’t know what conservatism is all about.*

Following are my views on the various candidates. I did not pick winners and losers because this was more about personalities and appearance than about substantive matters with the exception of views about the war in Ukraine and the concept of a nationwide limitation on abortions. So my views are about as important/unimportant as the rest of those commenting. Take what you will from my observations:

First, the elephant-in-the-room, former President Donald Trump (R) declined to participate. That was a good thing because Mr. Trump tends to suck up all of the oxygen and media attention in the room. Had Mr. Trump participated we would not have had the opportunity to see the other candidates. Having said that let’s move on to those who did participate:

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) – Mr. DeSantis is the extraordinarily successful governor of Florida who has tackled difficult issues ranging from a COVID response to the declining quality of our education system due to the various teachers unions. He exuded competence and reminded us of what has made Florida a mecca for those fleeing states failing under progressive ideologies. Mr. DeSantis suffers from what I would call the “Richard Nixon syndrome” – he does not photograph well indoors and as a result has a dark and malevolent look which is foreign to his actual being. He needs expert advise on how to project a better look on the television.

Vivek Ramaswamy (Rep) – Mr. Ramaswamy is a study in progress. He is glib, confrontational, and relentless. He is also an extraordinarily successful businessman and tends to look at government problems in the way that business leaders look at difficult problems – find a plausible solution and create consensus, instead of the other way around. He is worth watching.

Ambassador Nikki Haley (R-SC) – Recently I penned a column talking about Ms. Haley as a dramatic departure from the current and previous Presidents of the United States. In that column I noted:

After four years of bluster and bombast followed by over two years of incompetence, deceit, corruption, and economic instability, it is time to return to electing someone who epitomizes leadership on an international and domestic scale.”

Ms. Haley confirmed my previous comments. She stood firm in the face of criticism from lesser candidates particularly on the issues of the Ukraine war and restrictions on abortion. She understood that the Ukraine war is an opportunity to take a nuclear armed kakistocracy** off the world stage – Russia as run by the international bad boy Vladimir Putin. She understands there is no national consensus on abortion nor will you ever get a two-thirds vote from the Senate*** to pass a national ban and, therefore, has suggested a minimum standard and left the rest to the states as the Constitution suggests. I am an ardent opponent of abortion on demand (as is she on a personal level) and even at that I recognize that her suggestion is politically achievable if it includes a ban on taxpayer payments for abortions regardless of the timing. Ms. Haley, by any measure, was the adult in the room.

Former Vice-president Mike Pence (R-IN) – Mr. Pence is authentically competent and well spoken. Having said that he is about as exciting as watching soccer or paint dry.

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) – I have always liked Mr. Christie because he is a bona fide New Jersey tough guy. But it is a bit unsettling to see that persona on the international stage again. Make Mr. Christie the next Attorney General with full rein to clean out the swamp as Mr. Trump once declared.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) – a genuinely nice guy you would want for your friend but probably not your defender.

Gov. Doug Bergum (R-ND) – I am just as puzzled today as I was before the debate as to what Mr. Bergum brings to the table. I think he is sort of the Republicans’ mirror image of former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) in his losing quest for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2020 – Don Quixote in cowboy boots and a big hat.

Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AK) – He doesn’t like Mr. Trump. Period.


*For those of you who were forced to endure a teachers union run education in the Portland Public Schools, or who did not read last week’s column, what defines a conservative is not, as progressive complain, that they are racists, homophobes, misogynists, or xenophobes; rather they are ones who believe in limiting government to its legitimate purposes implemented in its least intrusive manner.

**A kakistocracy is a government run by the least suitable and most criminal elements of society. Russia and Haiti are primary examples.

*** Under Senate rules you must have a two-thirds vote for an issue to avoid a filibuster. It has become the watermark for advancing legislation.