The Miami Herald’s headline this morning had it that the state’s governor “fights for attention” in the first GOP presidential debate. Instapolls and betting markets says it was a big win for Vivek Ramaswamy who as I put it last night “comes off as a cocky little shit” and thus will “probably be rising in the polls.” For a good rundown of what happened you can listen to Kate Riga and my overnight insta-pod, in which we provided our initial reactions.
But if our metric is the 2024 presidential race and who will be the GOP nominee, the most important thing to remember is that the entire exercise was meaningless. Donald Trump will be the nominee. The most fascinating thing about last night’s spectacle — if you step back from the immediate fisticuffs — is the sight of the Republican Party so totally enmeshed in Donald Trump that even those candidates who really think they’re trying to defeat Trump are chained to the belief in the strategic necessity of defending him. They are vaguely reminiscent of the small number of legal alternative parties in the old Soviet Union (China has a similar setup today) which were allowed to exist mostly to the extent they chiefly talked about how awesome the Communist Party was.
If there was a revelation last night, at least to me, it’s that I believe there’s a very good chance Trump will choose Vivek Ramaswamy as his running mate. People frequently speculate that Kari Lake or another Trump super fan will get the nod. But I doubt it. Even for big time Trump and Big Lie supporters Lake, I believe, has become kind of a joke. Ramaswamy captures the aggression and transgression of Trump without at all clearly copying him. He’s also managed to break through, and not as a one-dimensional Trump defender, while checking every key box for Trump. He matches him on every policy goal, such as they are. He is basically alone in promising to pardon Trump for any crime he gets convicted of on Day One. He threw out the needless and actually quite silly line that Trump was the greatest president of the 21st century. (Since presumably Democrats — Biden and Obama — aren’t in the running this equals saying that Trump was better than George W. Bush.) But I’m sure it sounded great to Trump. Trump would like a younger, non-white veep candidate with a ton of energy, who matched and exceeded him on aggression and served as his attack dog during the campaign. In those American carnage moments, reclaiming our “identity,” he has Trump’s darkness. He also has the one seal of validation Trump’s always respected: money.