Now that the Republican B-List debate is in the books, it is time to take note of the fundamental problem facing the GOP in this election cycle: its voters.
Back in 2016, excuses could be made that Republican voters were misled by Russian interference and fake news, meaning the actual disinformation campaign waged by the Russians and not just Donald Trump’s “alternative facts.”
In the upcoming election, voters have to be willing to dismiss what they saw with their own eyes as Trump fomented an attempted coup, lied about election fraud and inspired a mob to attack his own vice-president.
They also have to be willing to ignore multiple indictments in multiple jurisdictions for actual crimes committed against the US and its people. And guess what? They are.
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in all polling for the Republican nomination, whether it is national preference polling or state by state matchups.
In fact, since he was first indicted in March, and since a jury found him liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll in May, his polling numbers have actually gone up 10 points.
Given the disdain with which Donald Trump regards women, truth-telling and the Constitution of the US, you would think that he would be punished by his voters for this non-stop circus, but nope.
One might also be inclined to think that a Republican candidate could seize this moment to challenge Republican voters to be better than this. Nope again.
While the junior varsity battled to lap up scraps from Donald Trump’s table, hoping that they just might have a chance if a court somewhere convicts him of his alleged crimes and he becomes ineligible for office, none of them demonstrated any willingness to actually tell Republican voters that it’s time for them to grow up.
Not Vivek Ramaswamy, the ascendant star of the debate with his 7% polling average who said that if he becomes president he would “shut down” the FBI, ATF, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the IRS and the Dept. of Commerce. His hatred of the “Administrative State” runs so deep that he apparently wants to be president so that he can cripple public safety and the economy.
Not Asa Hutchinson and his 0.6%. He wants to use lethal force against illegal border crossers, ignoring the fact that the Border Patrol is already responsible for perpetrating double the number of violent incidents that migrants are (“Assaults and Use of Force Statistics, cbp.gov) and we are already responsible for the nearly 900 migrants who died in 2022 (Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2023) due to CBP action, hazards of the journey and neglect. Despite that, Hutchinson feels the need to fuel voters’ blood lust by assuring them we will kill some more.
Not Ron DeSantis and his 20, 18, 16, 14% (by time you read this, it could be in single digits). DeSantis hates “wokeness,” Critical Race Theory, AP classes and Disney. The latter represents his most bitter interlocutor, leaving one to wonder how he would manage Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping when he is struggling with Mickey Mouse.
Then there’s the gang who worked for Donald Trump. Mike Pence had a front-row seat for January 6, or more accurately a front-row bunker behind Secret Service agents to defend him from the President’s mob. Still, he and his 4.6% refer to the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence Administration,” invoking the name of the man who called him, well, a misogynistic euphemism for “weak.”
Chris Christie and his 2.9% went after Ramaswamy, trying to tie him to the legacy of Barack Obama by referring to him as “this skinny guy with a funny last name.” Never mind that in most of the world, Chris Christie would be the funny-sounding name.
Nikki Haley and her 6% sought to be the adult in the room by calling for “consensus” before outlawing abortion, which Pence derided as illustrating her unwillingness to lead since he is on record as acknowledging that the facile Republican claim that this should be a state’s rights issue is really just a smokescreen for shackling women with a forced birth agenda.
Haley scores some points for actually noting that the US can’t knuckle under to Russian aggression, abandon allies like Israel, and still expect to lead the world. She was also the only candidate to acknowledge that climate change is real and an important issue.
Even so, she has called trans boys playing girls’ sports the “women’s issue of our times” and the debate spent a good deal of time addressing that and no time addressing the looming crisis of insurance companies abandoning homeowners in the face of rising climate-related risk.
The host for the debate, Fox News, and the candidates know what the voters want to hear, so they gave it to them. The questioners wanted a Jerry Springer-like free-for-all with the crowd cheering and booing to try to attract ratings in the absence of their star attraction. The candidates played it safe, pretending the debate was more than just a pre-season game with the starter on the bench. None of them sought to talk straight with the voters by saying, “Hey, it’s a problem that one of our senators is trying to decapitate the US military because he is opposed to abortion.”
Of course, none of them told their voters, “Hey, we talk a lot about family values, isn’t it a family value to be able to raise kids who don’t have to be afraid that they might get shot at school, the movies, a parade, the mall, a concert, or pretty much anywhere else that we ought to be able to go freely and safely? Maybe it’s time we could at least talk about just how many guns the public really needs.”
They could have seized the chance to have a real conversation without Trumpian bluster, but they didn’t because their voters don’t want it.
That’s the problem.