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Some Quick Hits on the First 2024 GOP Presidential Debate
If I had to watch it, you have to hear about it.
Just before the first 2024 GOP presidential debate began on Fox News, my daughter walked by andsaid, “Don’t torture yourself.” I am therefore pleased to report that it went far better than I expected. That is not to say that it was good, mind you, but there were legitimate differences of opinion on a variety of issues that allowed the myriad candidates to air their differences.
My quick takes, in no particular order:
The foreign policy portion of the debate was more substantive than I expected ex ante, though my expectations were admittedly pretty low. The question of further aiding Ukraine provided the most interesting exchanges of the evening. I was surprised at how poorly Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy handled their anti-aid position and how vigorously Nikki Haley and Chris Christie made their case. The discussion about China was way too short. The most disturbing part was the eagerness so many candidates displayed about militarizing the border with Mexico and taking military action inside Mexico. Such ideas are both militaristic and bad.
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In terms of overall debate performance, Nikki Haley surprised me on the upside and Vivek Ramaswamy on the downside. Haley’s answers were crisp and actually contained pertinent facts. She defended European support for Ukraine, which was not an obvious point to make with the GOP crowd. Even on issues where I disagreed, her answers seemed rooted in reality far more than anyone else’s. Ramaswamy, on the other hand, sounded like the guy at the party who is just thirty seconds away from pitching his bullshit cryptocurrency scheme. Lots of confident sounding words covering his interesting mixture of vapidity and authoritarianism. In the end, he was all hat and no cattle.
Given the current state of the GOP, the fact that I thought Haley was substantive and Ramaswamy was repugnant means the former will hemorrhage support while the latter will gain it.
Did you know that Doug Burgum grew up in a small town? Congratulations, you now know everything he said during the debate. Here’s your reward:
Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott did not make much of an impression either way. DeSantis seemed too amped up for my tastes; Scott seemed more passive. That probably represents a relative win for DeSantis and a relative loss for Scott.
Mike Pence was more energetic in this debate that I can recall him being in the last five years. That said, he was better at counterpunching Ramaswamy and DeSantis than when he tried articulating his own message.
As the moderators, Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum were wildly uneven. For every great question they asked (I was legit impressed they raised climate change) there was a badly framed one (Bret Baier declaring “American cities are in decline” as an incontrovertible fact). One reporter noted on BlueSky: “I hope there will be some fact checks on the questions being asked in this debate, not just the answers.” They failed to facilitate moments when the candidates were actually debating each other. On the other hand, I thought they handled the Trump question pretty well. The TikTok ad coming right after the “let’s bash China” section was unintentionally hysterical.
Finally, Trump’s absence from the debate stage made the viewing experience about 50 percent less grating. If any of these candidates gets a bump from the Milwaukee debate, it will be interesting to see if he enters the debate fray.
That’s it from me. What did you think?