So, last night’s debate had a lot of fairly memorable moments. It was the type of debate that we really needed. We needed to see a lot of the candidates on policy. We really needed to see a lot of the candidates being able to take each other on and we saw that and I think it was good for the overall debate on the nomination process. But it’s hard to talk about last night without talking about Vivek Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy is a curious candidate. With no political experience whatsoever, Ramaswamy showed up with a lot of buzzwords, a lot of references to revolution and war (metaphorical ones, at least), and this desire to attack everybody else with little regard for the debate structure or how well it came across.
Overall, I don’t think he came out looking strong from it. He’s certainly overshadowed a lot of people, but he didn’t really prove himself to be a presidential candidate. Instead, he proved himself to be an annoying millennial on the stage who thinks he knows better than everybody else.
Now, you can tell almost everybody else on the stage is concerned about his rise in the polling numbers. We have to keep in mind, though that his numbers are on the rise nationally but not necessarily in the state-level polling he needs to win in early competitions. But there’s also something else. The other candidates went after Ramaswamy with a level of maliciousness that suggests more than just worry about polling numbers.
You can always expect Chris Christie to go after somebody and just take them out at the knees. That’s just what he does in a debate. However, the tell is Nikki Haley. She can get very passionate, but it’s about things she truly cares about it. When she is just making a political point for the sake of hitting the point on a checklist, you can tell that she doesn’t feel that strongly about it. But the fire with which she went after Ramaswamy suggested a deeper maliciousness there. It was a genuine dislike of Ramaswamy and his principles, particularly when it came to foreign policy.
And to be fair, his foreign policy ideas are really bad. In Ramaswamy‘s America, the United States is comfortable abandoning allies once they can “stand on their own.” He believes in “friendships,” not “alliances.” He has shown a level of comfort in abandoning Taiwan to China. He has shown a level of comfort in abandoning Israel in the Middle East. We live in a world where the U.S. needs to take a firm stand on the global stage, and Ramaswamy is comfortable with America continuing to retreat from the global stage.
This is not popular with a lot of Republicans, many of whom feel that foreign policy is extremely important. The big concern of voters right now is domestic and economic, but a lot of voters still care about foreign policy, and what Vivek is proposing goes way beyond anything any other serious Republican would call for. Even Donald Trump, who was a big advocate for getting America to focus more on nationalism and rejecting globalism, supported Israel. Famously so. It was one of his foreign policy strengths.
But Ramaswamy feels that it’s time for America to abandon Israel. That’s just bad policy.
Ramaswamy‘s campaign is very clearly geared toward younger voters and political counterculture voters. The problem is that younger voters don’t show up to the polls (just ask Bernie Sanders) and the counterculture voters are already solidly behind Trump.
The thing I just can’t buy about Vivek as mini-Trump is this: Trump is clearly fun at parties; Vivek is the guy you try to escape a conversation with at a party https://t.co/SWLNrmWOvn
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) August 24, 2023
This leads to the other big concern that a lot of folks have with Ramaswamy. On the stage, he looked and sounded like a Trump surrogate rather than a presidential candidate. If Trump is the greatest president of the 21st century, as Ramaswami said, then why is he running against Donald Trump in 2024? It was a failure of the moderators and the other candidates on stage to not ask him that. But he’s very clearly running interference for Trump.
All of this pretty well explains the maliciousness behind a lot of the attacks against him last night. It does not seem like he’s a serious candidate so much as he’s there to disrupt and run interference for the former president. Maybe he’s auditioning for a cabinet position or something like that. Or maybe he just wants to be an agent of chaos.
I’m not sure which it is, but last night was not a good night for Ramaswamy. He and his allies and supporters will say that his aggressiveness, his ability to get talking time in, and everything like that was perfect. However, there are a good many Americans who will see that performance and decide that this young millennial guy is simply too annoying. We’ll see how the poll numbers turn out. Maybe he’ll get a bump, or maybe he’ll tank. But I don’t see this campaign, being a successful one in the long run with that type of behavior.