Presidential Contenders in the Wings
The GOP can put forward the winning slate that our country desperately needs.
A debate among GOP presidential candidates? Why bother? Isn’t the nomination already in the bag for Donald Trump?
Hardly. With the political whirlwinds already swirling at hurricane force, the 2024 presidential election will be unlike any we’ve ever seen. It’s early. Anything can happen.
Last week’s debate was our first real look at the GOP candidates in the wings, an opportunity to get some measure of their relative stature, seriousness, and potential. These are the ones hoping to break Donald Trump’s apparent lock on the GOP nomination, or to be beneficiaries should the Democrats succeed too well in damaging Trump, their preferred opponent.
These pre-primary debates are important. Voters must find some way to penetrate the slick, focus-group-tested TV spots and the phony personal appeals (“Jack, you’re one of my top supporters, could you please…”) — and, most importantly, to cut through the fog of biased media coverage. As we’ve learned too many times, it’s nearly impossible to see the real person behind the façade before casting our vote — but watching two hours of live TV of presidential candidates fielding tough questions can be very informative.
The debates are our chance to look for glimpses of the attributes we want in our president. My list: authenticity, integrity, meaningful experience (primarily executive accomplishment), energy (it’s a tough job), intellectual strength, and clarity of thinking.
A few obvious takeaways from the first debate: It was an impressive group, including several who could make it to the top. And it’s probably a good thing that Donald Trump dodged the debate — we know him only too well; we don’t know these others well enough.
And my first reactions to the individual candidates:
- Ron DeSantis: an achiever, deadly serious, clear thinking, and articulate. His service as Florida’s governor demonstrates exceptional executive competence.
- Vivek Ramaswamy: whip-smart, high energy, impressive private sector experience, and a great communicator, but maybe too good (like a performer playing to his audience).
- Nikki Haley: solid, accomplished, insightful, truthful — with formidable breadth of domestic and international experience.
- Mike Pence: authentic and principled, but preachy. We know him well.
- Tim Scott: a good guy who’s rightly proud of his heritage and his life’s path, but that’s not enough.
- Chris Christie: forceful, aggressive, and successful (for a time) as Republican leader of a deep-blue state — but in his second term, he wore thin on New Jersey voters.
- Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum: impressive individuals but unlikely to be credible contenders.
Also worthy of mention is that a handful of other declared GOP candidates didn’t meet the debate stage criteria, and at least one undeclared but possible candidate — Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin — could be a game changer.
And now, back to the King of the Hill: former President Donald Trump, who (for now) holds a massive lead over everyone above, as indicated by polls of prospective GOP voters.
A Trump second term wouldn’t bring many surprises — we’d get the good Trump (unflagging energy, self-confidence, resiliency) along with the bad Trump (egomania, bluster, impulsive decision-making). The former president has a base of diehard supporters who sincerely believe in him, will follow him anywhere, will surely vote for him if he is the GOP nominee, and may not vote for anyone else.
But hold on. For the Trump advocates, even if we were to accept without argument that he is the answer, the superman, the only one with the gumption to wade in and drain The Swamp — and even if we were to agree that the four indictments charging him with 91 felony offenses constitute unprecedented and wholly improper election interference — none of that matters if he does not win the general election.
And as Governor Haley asserted (while brushing off the expected audience boos), Trump is the most hated politician in America. Polls differ on the accuracy of that comment, but the perception matters.
Democrats have done their best to make it so. They’re confident that Joe Biden can beat Donald Trump, particularly if Trump is dragging four indictments along with him. And if they find a way — or are forced by circumstance — to replace Biden/Harris with a more attractive slate, all the better. In either case, their political strategy is to make sure Trump is their opponent, and a badly damaged opponent at that.
But to anyone of any political stripe who believes that our country is in a deep decline, it should be clear that a continuation of the Biden agenda (led by Biden or his anointed successor) is not the answer. In counterpoint, the GOP can offer some terrific alternatives.
If I had to pick today, I’d go with a Haley/DeSantis or maybe DeSantis/Haley slate; or perhaps try to get Youngkin in the mix. A ticket like that — fresh, energetic, loaded with executive talent and none of the Trump baggage — can win the day, hands down.
It’s that simple. We (American voters) just need to make that happen.
Start a conversation using these share links: