In the Republicans’ first presidential debate, August 23, I thought the best performance of the eight came from Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey. I didn’t always agree with him — he’s for a much more interventionist foreign policy than I am — but he was a straight shooter, at least when compared with the other seven.
Only four pols remained in the fourth debate on December 6: Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis. Again I liked Christie for the same reasons as before, and with the same reservations.
The way these debates go is that journalists ask each candidate a question. The tougher the question, the more likely the recipient is to pretend to answer it. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has been the champion evader. Christie was ready for him this time and went after him.
The first question was about the nine American hostages held by Hamas. Would DeSantis send U.S. troops into Gaza to get them out?
Given that it would be impossible to identify fentanyl mules when they were wading the river, wasn’t this a “shoot-first policy”?
DeSantis had said in the first debate that he’d send US troops into Mexico. Asking him this question about Gaza was entirely appropriate. In his response, DeSantis bashed the Biden administration for its wimpiness, for “trying to hobble Israel for trying to defend itself.” The Florida governor ended by saying, “We stand with Israel!”
And sending in US soldiers? Christie butted in: “Ron is asked a question and he doesn’t answer it.”
DeSantis never did answer it. Christie did: “You’re damn right I’d send in the American Army in there to get our people home.” He gave a similar answer when the question was about defending Taiwan.
Later, DeSantis was asked about a statement that he would order US forces to shoot migrants smuggling fentanyl over the Mexican border. Given that it would be impossible to identify fentanyl mules when they were wading the river, a moderator asked, wasn’t this a “shoot-first policy”?
Again DeSantis danced around the question, and again was challenged. Would he shoot first? He said the men guarding the border would have to “make a judgment.”
It sounded like “yes” but technically wasn’t.
“The question is direct,” he bellowed. “Is he fit to be president, or isn’t he? Is he fit? Is he fit, Ron?”
Another answer-the-question challenge came when DeSantis said Americans should elect a younger man than Donald Trump, who would be 78 on his first day in office on January 20, 2025. Christie, who flatly said that Trump is “an angry, bitter man,” a “bully” who is “unfit to be president,” asked DeSantis whether he thought Trump was mentally fit to be president.
“You need to get somebody younger,” DeSantis said.
That answer didn’t satisfy Christie. “The question is direct,” he bellowed. “Is he fit to be president, or isn’t he? Is he fit? Is he fit, Ron? Is he fit?”
“We should not nominate somebody who is 80 years old,” DeSantis replied.
It was not a difficult question. DeSantis could have said that Trump seems mentally fit now, but might not be before he finishes his term at age 82?
DeSantis was not going to be goaded into giving a straight answer.
In the debate the larger target was Nikki Haley, who now claims the No. 2 position in the race behind (way behind) Donald Trump. Vivek Ramaswamy lit into Haley for having been on the Boeing Company’s board of directors after she left office. Ramaswamy then called her a fascist, and later held up a note pad on which he had written “NIKKI = CORRUPT.”
Maybe that changes if Donald Trump is convicted of a felony in federal court — and maybe it doesn’t. You never know.
To call somebody corrupt you need evidence, and Ramaswamy didn’t offer any. In its absence, being a director of one of America’s largest exporting companies (with a big assembly plant in Haley’s home state) would seem to be a plus. Haley has seen the world from a corporate boardroom, as well as a governor’s chair and the General Assembly of the United Nations. That’s a much stronger resume than Ramaswamy’s — despite his stellar career as an entrepreneur — for the top political job in the United States.
At one point Christie attacked Ramaswamy for acting in these debates as “the most obnoxious blowhard in America.” He was, at times, obnoxious, and he said some things I thought were beyond the pale — for example, that the 2020 election “was indeed stolen by Big Tech” that “the climate-change agenda is a hoax.” (Some of it is questionable, but a hoax is a deliberate trick, and it’s not that.) Then again, Ramaswamy said some things that no one else did, and that I liked — that from an American point of view, the war in Ukraine was “pointless,” and an attack on Israel was not an attack on the United States.
Well, Ramaswamy is not going to be the nominee. Right now, it looks as if none of them is — that the debates have been a sideshow to the second Trump nomination. Maybe that changes if Donald Trump is convicted of a felony in federal court — and maybe it doesn’t. You never know. There’s a lot of wishful thinking going on, and I’d rather keep mine to myself.