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Response: The Republican Debate and What it Really Means

by R. Anthony Arnold
Photo by News Rite Now/
August 2023

Perhaps unintentionally, our decision to not react immediately to the first Republican debate has proven to be a wise one. Because the two main events of this week, the debate and the booking of former President Donald Trump in Georgia, are very much related.

Whether Republican leadership likes it or not, Trump is the leading man in their party. Not only is he the candidate most likely to emerge as the Republican nominee, but he’s also going to be the most talked about candidate between now and next year’s general election. And the reason for that has nothing to do with policy, debates, or electability, all of which makes the events of the Republican debate incredibly strange.

Do any of them believe they have a chance to beat Trump? Or are they all just competing for second place, in the belief that an opening will only appear if the criminal justice system, or Trump’s own unpredictability, does their work for them? It’s strange indeed to have a party where the guest of honor not only didn’t attend, but where everybody went out of their way to avoid talking about him.

With the exception of that one question, of course. You know the one. Where they asked TRUMP’S COMPETITION, people who are spending millions of dollars, and thousands of labor hours, to try and beat him, if they would support him in the case that THEY LOST AND HE WAS CONVICTED OF A CRIME. How utterly bizarre. How hysterically unhinged.

Even when he’s not there, he still manages to steal the show. His presence looms, or does it lurk? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

At any rate, the various candidates' answers to that one question tell you everything you need to know about them.

Not only did Vivek raise his hand, he was downright enthusiastic about it. He couldn’t wait to let everyone know that he would absolutely love the chance to support a, in this scenario, convicted criminal for president. Bravo? Good for him? Frankly, I’m not quite sure how to feel about someone who expresses such unrestrained excitement about doing something that would represent one of the darkest and most depressing moments in American political history.

After Vivek, a host of other, frankly irrelevant, candidates slowly raised their hand. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, who at least seem in touch with reality most of the time, promised to support a criminal. Political reality and base support being what it is, it’s hard to argue with the political wisdom of their position. But, in both of their cases, it is quite hard to argue that you’re the person representing some kind of moral position when you cravenly cave-in to the lesser angels of our nature. If having a spine is still a job requirement for being President, and I’d certainly like to think it is, then both of them spectacularly failed their first test.

Mike Pence said he’d support Donald, as well. It was only a few years ago when Trump’s supporters, furious that the former Vice President wasn’t going along with Trump’s scheme to steal that which he couldn’t rightfully win, were making plans to dispense some frontier justice in the form of a gallow and a hangman’s noose for Mr. Pence. But what’s a few death threats between friends, right?

Doug Burgum said he’d support him, as well. But nobody knows about, or cares about, Doug Burgum. Maybe if he wasn’t such a coward somebody would?

And then there was Ron DeSantis. O Ron. He entered the night as the second-place candidate in a one horse race. But he sure didn’t act like it. He was silent, passive, and had the appearance of a man who very badly wanted to be the boss, but wasn’t sure how to apply for the job. And that was before this question came. Because it was at that exact moment that we saw him for what he is.

Instead of doing something bold, even if it was something I disagreed with, he waffled. He left his hand down, glanced around to see what everybody else was doing, and then half-heartedly raised his hand too. This was less an act of support, and more the behavior of a hostage who feels compelled to support his captor. A move so transparently empty in meaning that I doubt any of Trump’s supporters, who were the audience for that move, were fooled by it.

And then there were two: Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson. Of all the candidates on stage, only they managed to answer the question correctly, by leaving their hand down. Of course you shouldn’t pledge to support a convicted criminal for President. But, of course, by doing that they merely sealed their fate. The party has no appetite for people who don’t toe the line.

After all, it’s Donald Trump’s party. Everybody on that stage is just along for the ride.