Direct from the somnolent center of the Midwest, the city that gave America the Fonz, Laverne, and Shirley, Milwaukee hosted eight Republican dwarfs gathered Wednesday night to derail the 800-page gorilla who was not in the room.
Candidate and former President Donald J. Trump, who is carrying more indictiments than a Mafia godfather, which Georgia accuses him of being, was not present because a) he has a ginormous lead, and b) almost all of the dwarfs will beat each other over the head, leaving him unscathed, except by the 800-pound gorilla who is on the stage — Chris Christie, who seems to be running on pique, for having been displaced as the biggest bully in American political life by The Donald.
The Conventional Wisdom says Trump retains his lesd by staying away and airing on the former Twitter a pretaped, which means it will be edited, interview with fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who is removing his lips from Vladimer Putin’s rectum long enough to serve Trump orally. The two biggest liars in American politics, together at last, at the request of virtually no one.
The distant No. 2 is Ron DeSantis, who has been falling in popularity since the day he announced. The Florida governor has avoided directly criticizing Trump, because Trump — despite everything — remains the most popular person in the Republican Party. To survive politically, DeSantis’ numbers must bounce. If not, his money people might flee, directly into the arms of Vivek Ramaswamy, No. 3 in many polls, who earned his millions at a hedge fund before launching a biotech company. His is the oddest name in U.S. politics since Millard Fillmore, and a nonwhite candidate named Barack Hussein Obama. That guy won. Twice. (Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney claimed they were cheated.)
The five others, polling in single digits and needing a breakout moment, are former ambassador Nikki Haley, whose ancestors, like Ramaswamy’s, come from India, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence.
So that was the Racing Form before the introductions made by Fox News anchors Martha McCallum and Bret Baier, each experienced journalists. Their mission was to remain impartial, allowing each dwarf time to make his or her point.
They often got rolled, bullied into letting Tim Scott and Mike Pence exceed the 30-second limit by a lot.
At one point Baier admonished Pence and also the noisy audience.
Next time, the anchors need to cut off the mics of those who don’t play by the rules.
The attention-seeking missile was Ramaswamy, who started out hot to cheers, but his vociferousness, and his willingness to abandon Ukraine (and Israel) turned most of those cheers to boos before the night ended. He is smart enough to know television is a cool medium.
He was a gatling gun, taking the most shots at the most people, accusing everyone else of being bought and paid for. Christie accused him of coming across like “a ChatGBT.” There’s no doubt Ramaswamy provided the most clips that will be played all day Thursday.
Surprisingly, it took 53 minutes before someone attacked Trump. That was Hutchinson, without mentioning him by name, followed by Christie, and then, yes, Haley, calling the former president the most disliked politician in America. She got a mix of cheers and boos. She also got booed when she said, entirely correctly, that Republicans were responsible, along with Democrats, for out-of-control spending and exploding debt.
The truth hurts.
The frontal assault expected by Christie on Trump was oversold.
The expected attack on the front runner (on the stage) DeSantis materialized and he parried them well, on my scorecard. At one point, when the anchors asked a question about climate change and asked for a show of hands, DeSantis broke in, saying that was childish, and stopped the show of hands.
The candidates pretty much agreed that Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6, but then patted himself on the back and made some uncomfortable with references to his savior, Jesus Christ. It’s fine to be religious, but it should not be a hammer.
To me, there was no “winner,” but the soft-spoken Hutchinson got very little face time, ditto Burgum, Scott was too much honey, and not enough pepper, Pence was too much Jesus.
I think DeSantis helped himself, along with Haley.
The polls will be interesting.