"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

GOP debate shows party’s future beyond Trump

Vivek Ramaswamy in particular asserts himself as a strong alternative to the former president
Getty Images
Republican candidates debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Courtesy of Getty Images).

The first Republican presidential debate was mostly a breath of fresh air for conservative viewers looking to move away from the distinct spectacle of Trump-era politics. A relatively small portion of the debate was dedicated to discussing Trump and, surprisingly enough, the candidates complained they were spending any time at all on the former president. Even after some taunting from co-host Brett Baer who reminded the candidates that Trump was beating them soundly in the polls, the eight Republican hopefuls remained focused on presenting their own vision for the country’s future, even if that vision had little more nuance than undoing anything and everything President Biden has done.

While many were expecting Trump to be the most criticized man not in the room, it soon became clear that the candidates actually had more quips and diatribes prepared against President Biden. Everyone on stage was in agreement. President Biden is too old. He’s incompetent. He’s weak, and so on. However, I imagine the general sense among viewers at home would be, “We know, but why should we expect you to be any better?” In this regard, nobody on stage did themselves any favors when it came to taking votes from Trump. 

In fact, it seemed as if the strategy among the candidates — aside from Chris Christie — was to treat Trump as if he is a great Republican president of years past, not their most formidable rival. As if Trump not being on television is enough to make his dedicated base forget he’s the frontrunner, many of the candidates had nothing but nice words for former president Trump. Perhaps the most difficult-to-watch moment of the entire evening was when DeSantis shamelessly pantomimed Trump’s signature move from “The Apprentice” and said, “Anthony [Fauci], you are fired.”

DeSantis also tried to mimic Trump in how he attempted to control the flow of the debate: answering questions he was not asked, not answering the questions he was asked and cutting off the moderators before they were finished speaking. The most promising moment of the evening for left-leaning viewers occurred when DeSantis did just this. As the moderators asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed in man-made climate change, DeSantis quickly stepped in, saying, “We’re not schoolchildren. Let’s have the debate.” Because of this maneuver, the only Republican candidate to give a straight answer was Ramaswamy, who said, “The climate change agenda is a hoax.” The other seven coolly dodged the question. But we’ll continue discussing the environment in a bit.

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Now, let’s look at each candidate individually.

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Former governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson was invisible and forgettable. All I remember of him is that he is adamantly pro-life, which I could have told you simply by the stage he was standing on.

North Dakota governor Doug Burgum was surprisingly strong, preaching traditional small-town values and a blue-collar work ethic. However, he is far too Canadian, too nice and too underwhelming to make it very far.

Former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie was quick and quippy as always, but prowess in debates has always been his one trick. The only time he has shown any heart in his entire political career was when he hugged Barrack Obama, a sin most Republicans will never be able to absolve him of.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott was stiff and did not seem confident or enthusiastic about anything he said.

Former Vice President Mike Pence focused all of his energy on Ramaswamy and did little to distance himself from Trump. I do not see any path to the nomination for him unless he goes through Trump. 

Former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley was convincingly the most intelligent person in the room. She embarrassed Ramaswamy on foreign policy, had the most electable position on abortion and positioned herself as a champion of women. However, it is difficult to see her resonating with the new conservative base that Trump has engendered over the past decade.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis was largely non-combative, affecting an undeserved demeanor of superiority over the rest of the candidates on stage. His performance likely will not hurt him but it certainly did nothing to help him either. The guy is simply chronically unlikeable.

In my eyes, Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy was the winner of the debate. Because Pence and Christie consistently went after him, he had exceedingly more air time than anyone else on the stage. If we learned anything from the 2016 debates, it is that conservatives want to see fireworks, and Ramaswamy brought the gunpowder.

If we learned anything from the 2016 debates, it is that conservatives want to see fireworks, and Ramaswamy brought the gunpowder.

More than just a showman, though, I think Ramaswamy might be a juggernaut-caliber candidate in a general election scenario. On the one hand, his personal testimony to the American dream is a reproduction of Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention,  and he might have the youthful energy to sell it as well as Obama did. On the other hand, he takes after Trump in how he plays the role of the outsider looking to upend the status quo in Washington. Like Trump and Obama, he takes the criticism that he is too politically inexperienced and flips it on his head, claiming that his lack of political contamination is the very reason he can bring about change. He simultaneously preaches the American dream and a near-apocalyptic worldview. After talking up his personal rags to riches story he claims that  “we’re in the middle of a national identity crisis.” He is a gifted speaker who knows how to pack a punch into his words and he presents himself as a family man who shares the same values as Christians. He is the antithesis of Joe Biden, and he’s probably the only candidate who has a shot of beating Trump. Biden — as well as those of us who are concerned about the health of the planet — better hope he doesn’t.

Ramaswamy’s main issue right now is that, up until this point, he has been a sycophant to Trump. Not being a federally indicted criminal is not going to be enough for him to step out from underneath Trump’s shadow.

If Ramaswamy does win the nomination, I believe that President Biden has only one path to victory: environmental policy. Ramawsamy’s third claim in his list of ten “truths,” which is that “human flourishing requires fossil fuels,” is one of the great euphemisms of the current presidential race. The man is a flat-out climate change denier. Biden’s only hope would be to goad Ramaswamy into taking his inflammatory rhetoric regarding the environment too far, alienating not only the youth but also science-respecting moderates. After all, Ramaswamy is much, much more likable than 2020 Donald Trump, who Biden only squeaked by.

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About the Contributor
Adam Coil
Adam Coil, Arts & Culture Editor
Adam Coil is a junior from Marietta, Ohio, majoring in English. He loves to write short stories, play chess online and fall asleep during the day reading.

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