Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with ISRAEL; fight against those who fight against ISRAEL!
Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for ISRAEL'S help! Draw the spear and javelin against ISRAEL'S pursuers!
Thursday, November 9, 2023
Morning Jolt: Finally, a Debate Worth Watching
NBC News hosted and broadcast a Republican presidential-primary debate and it was . . . good?
On the menu today: NBC News hosted and broadcast a Republican presidential-primary debate and it was . . . good? Really? Miraculous!
A Wednesday Night Miracle
For the first time in a while, I can say, "Hey, if you missed it, you should go online and watch some of that Republican presidential-primary debate last night."
Not because I expect the debate will alter the trajectory of the primary. Donald Trump entered the night the front-runner by a wide margin, and he is likely to remain the front-runner by a wide margin. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley were the only candidates with even a slim chance of turning it into an actual race before the debate, and that remained the case after the debate. But if you're going to have these debates, the moderators and the candidates might as well try to make them worthwhile, have a serious discussion, tackle the toughest issues, and generate something more than a boring recitation of soundbites.
Oh, it wasn't perfect. Two hours of debate, with commercial breaks, is still a lot, probably way more than the average American is interested in watching. But my sense, and the general sense of a lot of people who watched, was that this debate, moderated by Kristen Welker, Lester Holt, and Hugh Hewitt, was serious and substantive, and showcased four of the five candidates at their best. There was much, much less crosstalk and finger pointing than in the previous two debates. It generated significantly fewer exasperating moments of spontaneously sighing, "Why am I watching this?" than the other debates.
Having only five candidates on stage and leaving the longest of longshots like Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson at home meant that every candidate got to speak frequently. Asking each candidate to weigh in on the same issue didn't feel all that repetitive. The announced rules made clear that one candidate mentioning another candidate's name or policy did not necessarily mean the mentioned candidate was entitled to a response. The conversation moved. You didn't hear candidates saying, "Before I answer your question, I want to go back to that topic you were talking about a few minutes ago. . . ."
Perhaps the better debate reflected the seriousness of the topics discussed. After an almost perfunctory question about why each candidate would be a better choice than Trump, Holt asked each candidate, "As president of the United States, what would you be urging Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do at this moment?" Matthew Brooks, the CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, appeared moments later to ask the candidates, "Given attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq, attacks that have wounded approximately two dozen of our U.S. servicemen, do you support the use of military force by the United States against Iran?"
Brooks followed up with a question about the protection of Jewish students from antisemitism on college campuses, and then it moved on to supporting Ukraine in its efforts to repel the Russian invaders, the size of the U.S. Navy — a Hugh Hewitt special — the rise of China, and the threat of fentanyl coming across the border. Yes, eventually the discussion moved on to entitlements and abortion, but for most of the first hour, the debate was like a complete set of the DVDs of the old Fox action show 24. It's a dangerous world out there, and the candidates want to be the next commander in chief.
There was even a question about the political situation in Venezuela. I can see somebody out there asking, "Who cares about that?" but I remind you that this debate took place in Florida, and the Venezuelan Americans of Florida are every bit as passionately anti-Communist as the Cuban-American community. There are a lot of GOP votes in those communities!
This debate was so heavy on foreign policy and war that the first commercial in one of the breaks was for the upcoming Napoleon movie.
As for the candidates and how they performed, Tim Scott is an excellent senator, an inspiring orator, and a bucket of pure charisma. His heart is in the right place. But I fear that he is not, as they said in The Godfather, a wartime consigliere. (I noticed last night that even Scott's answers on foreign policy sound like he's giving a sermon on Sunday morning. "Got to cut off the head of the snake. . . . You cannot negotiate with evil!") It's odd: Everybody in the Republican Party seems to like Scott, but few see him as their first choice to be commander in chief. Maybe he's just a little too sunny and cheerful for a job that inevitably requires tough-minded decisions.
Chris Christie does come across like a wartime consigliere. Alas, his entire campaign this cycle has been predicated on the notion that at some point, he and Donald Trump would end up alone on a debate stage, and he would clobber Trump. And at this point, it appears that moment will never happen. Christie has teased, taunted, dared, mocked, and done everything possible to provoke Trump into deciding to join the debates. The consistent refusal to debate, and the refusal to return to Twitter in any serious way, are two of the odder and more unexpected demonstrations of self-control on the part of the former president.
Vivek Ramaswamy was a disgrace, but I recognize that not only is he not trying to win my vote or appeal to people like me, but the entire philosophy of his campaign is also to repel people like me. (I also believe that Ramaswamy would drop out the moment a cable-news network offered him his own prime-time show.) I did like that the night began with Ramaswamy, a guy who's never been elected to anything, explaining to everyone else what Republicans must do to win more elections. He then complained that Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, and Greg Gutfeld weren't the debate moderators. (It's as if Ramaswamy's answers were all deliberately engineered for search-engine optimization.)
My Washington Post colleague Marc Thiessen thinks that DeSantis and Haley should be the only candidates on stage next month. I would have no real objection if that came to pass, but that debate might be less edifying, because I think DeSantis and Haley's worst moments came when they tried to attack each other. In the end, these are two conservative figures who don't have a lot of daylight between them on most issues — except maybe support for Ukraine. But the need to score points against each other required both to act like the other was some sort of squish, soft on China, or an egregious flip-flopper on fracking.
On the notion that Haley invited Chinese investment into South Carolina back when she was governor . . . for a long time, almost everyone in the world of corporate America, state governments, and the federal government was eager to welcome Chinese investment. As the threat from China became clearer and clearer, year by year, wooing Chinese investors became both less popular and less worthwhile. Both Haley and DeSantis are China hawks by any reasonable measure; do you really think that Haley wouldn't be tough on Xi Jinping as president because she welcomed a Chinese-owned fiberglass manufacturer to Richland County, S.C., in 2016?
It was a little bizarre to see the current governor of Florida and the former governor of South Carolina get into a fight over fracking and alleged hypocrisy or flip-flopping on that issue. Lots of Republicans like fracking, and, often, offshore drilling in the abstract. But lots of Republicans who live in coastal communities — particularly in states such as Florida and South Carolina — do not like the idea of oil derricks or platforms off the coast of their beaches. They remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and remember the damage it did to the fishing industry in Louisiana, as well as tourism there. People whose livelihoods depend upon scenic beaches in places such as South Carolina and Florida don't want offshore drilling or drilling in the Everglades. I don't think they're hypocritical or inconsistent to conclude, "I'm fine with drilling, but if you do it offshore, and something goes wrong, our community could end up paying the price for a long time." I mean, "Let's not drill in places where a scenic view is what drives hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity" is not some hippie tree-hugger position.
On fentanyl smugglers, DeSantis had the line of the night: "We're going to shoot them stone-cold dead." It was so good it worked its way into Hewitt's follow-up question, "stone-cold dead at the border," which, if it is not the title of the next film from the Coen brothers, it ought to be.
ADDENDUM: I will be out tomorrow, so one of my distinguished colleagues will be writing the Friday Jolt. After a crazy summer and autumn that have taken me to Ukraine, Transnistria, and Taiwan, I'm taking an anniversary trip to the most dangerous destination of all: Minneapolis.