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GOP Debate: Ulterior Motives
At least two of the candidates on stage tonight have designs other than actually winning the nomination.
This is my second in a series of Daily Saucer takes on the current crop of GOP candidates leading up to tonight’s presidential debate.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Governor Chris Christie, like Governor Burgum and Senator Tim Scott, do not appear to have any credible path to the nomination. But unlike the two “duds,” Christie and Ramaswamy both have their reasons for running, and those reasons clashed strongly in the last debate. We can assume they’re going to clash again tonight.
Chris Christie, I think, knows he’s not going to be the nominee. But he seems to be looking to accomplish two things with his campaign.
First, he wants to take on Trump. He’s out for figurative blood, and he’s going to stay around until he can get on the stage with Donald Trump and let him have a piece of his mind. He seems to want to do this both for the overall health of the Republican Party, but also so he can provide block and tackle for other candidates, who would be given a wider Overton Window to work in against Trump with Christie taking the bulk of the heat.
Second, I think the Christie campaign thinks they have a real shot at taking New Hampshire from Trump. They know, or should know, that he’s simply not a fit for Iowa and that the chances of him taking home a big catch of delegates on Super Tuesday are abysmal. But New Hampshire is a state well suited to Christie’s style. The idea is, even if Christie can’t build on a New Hampshire win toward the actual nomination, that a single defeat of Trump is blood in the water, an impactful shattering of the myth that Trump controls the GOP electorate no matter what anybody else does.
But the question for Christie, of course, is whether such a strategy is worth the risk of sucking votes away from a non-Trump candidate who could plausibly win both New Hampshire and Iowa, and thus gain real momentum to build on while marching toward Super Tuesday.
My debate prediction for Christie is that he will hammer some more at Ramaswamy in place of being able to hammer at Trump and maybe try to torpedo, a la Rubio, DeSantis or Scott. Long-term, I think Christie stays around until he gets his shot at Trump and then, sometime in December, step down and endorse the strongest non-Trump candidate heading into the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.
As for Ramaswamy, it’s pretty clear to me that the man is little more than a Trump mini-me. Christie wasn’t far off when he accused Ramaswamy of being a ChatGPT candidate. Everything he says and does comes off like the kinds of things a chatbot would spit out you if you asked it, “What should I say to get Trumpists fired up?”
Whether he’s an actual surrogate of the Trump campaign, if he’s truly auditioning for Vice President, or if he’s just leveraging free media toward a book deal or future entrepreneurial efforts, it’s hard to see how Ramaswamy could ever be a serious candidate.
If, for example, he really believes Donald Trump is the greatest president of the 21st Century, what has changed since 2020 in Trump’s style, demeanor, politics, and abilities that make Ramaswamy think he and not Trump should be the 2024 Republican nominee? He has no answer to that question, nor will he, because he’s not actually running for the nomination.
In tonight’s debate, Ramaswamy will perform the same song-and-dance routine he offered last time. He will offer obsequious defenses and declarations of admiration for Trump, he will accuse everyone else on stage of being stooges, the establishment, “bought and paid for,” “the controlled opposition,” or something of a similar vein, he’ll talk about how easy governing should be while saying things that demonstrate he has no capacity to do his homework, and he’ll probably say something that Obama once said, again.
The ulterior motives of Christie and Ramaswamy are that one is running to be the loudest anti-Trump voice in the room, and the other is running to be the loudest pro-Trump voice in the room. And so, unavoidably, these will be the two clashing the most with each other in tonight’s debate.
The question for tonight is whether Christie lands hits that not only shut down Ramaswamy but carry on impact to Trump and whether Trump decides that Ramaswamy is failing to adequately defend him or has grown too big for his britches to continue on to future debate contests.
While neither Christie nor Ramaswamy have a path to the nomination, the results of their likely brawl this evening could determine whether Trump himself climbs in the ring the next time around.
The Daily Saucer is our place for freelance contributors and editorial staff to offer short takes on the news cycle, quick observations on the issues, and brief thoughts on broader topics. The views offered in this space reflect only the personal views of the authors.