July 16, 2024

Wednesday’s second GOP presidential debate was hosted by Fox Business and held at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The focus should have been on how best to cull down the now seven candidates on the dais. Instead, the spotlight was on the venue and the person whose name is on the venue. Is this an attempt to try and reframe the GOP as the Party of Reagan once again?

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The stage is set. 

 The Reagan Foundation president and CEO detailed what to expect at the historic site of the second Republican primary debate. 

“When President Reagan established this library in 1991, he said he wanted it to be a dynamic, intellectual forum where policymakers would debate the future. That’s exactly what’s going to happen here tonight,” David Trulio told “Fox & Friends” co-host Pete Hegesth on Wednesday.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, will host the top seven Republican presidential candidates Wednesday night as they debate and discuss top campaign issues. 

The White House contenders, in alphabetical order, are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur and political commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Republican pundit and talk radio host Larry Elder was absent. (What happened with that threatened lawsuit against the RNC?) Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson also did not make the cut. As alluded above, several of these candidates should have absented themselves, not only for the sake of the republic but for the sake of our sanity.  

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The Fox Business folks learned something from the last debate. Stop this lightning round garbage and let the topics actually be discussed. Fox Business host Stuart Varney, Fox News’ Dana Perino, and Univision’s Ilia Calderón moderated this time around, and they led with the economy, which is on every American’s mind, adequately covered the Southern Border, and actually discussed crime. Someone paid attention to actual polling instead of whatever the Acela Corridor happens to be discussing.

The format still blows. My colleague Ward Clark feels that the Lincoln-Douglas style debates should wait for the general. I respectfully disagree. If you’re going to have several of these debates, then pick THREE topics at most, and let everyone have at it and discuss them exhaustively. Instead, the moderators ask the question of one of the candidates, and the rest have a 30-second window to chime in or respond. This is, frankly, FUBAR. Let’s throw the question out and then allow the candidates to have at it and each other. Frankly, this is where you see what they are made of and how well they handle the pressure.

Varney, Perino, and Calderón were a step above Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum, in my opinion. However, they were still closer to being monitors instead of moderators, not allowing every candidate a chance to respond or answer and scolding candidates for going over time. 

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This is stupid. Treat them like adults, and maybe they will act like adults.

The highlights: Sen. Tim Scott established himself and even got combative with tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. They brought the theater, which was unexpected but fun to watch. Scott’s comments about the power of the Black family to survive slavery, and how Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society helped to erode this was inspired. His ability to speak from an authentic place and truth to power is unmatched, and his closing on that question? All I can say is, “Damn straight!” 

Just WATCH:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at first faded into the woodwork, but then he rallied. When asked about Florida having the worst healthcare numbers, DeSantis turned the tables and presented a great contrast between an entitlement state like California versus a self-empowerment state like Florida. DeSantis also glowingly spotlighted his leadership in Florida on the economy and education. If there was a win in this debate, DeSantis had it, especially in discussing education and parental choice, colleges’ responsibility in the whole student loan forgiveness debate, and how 9/11 was the impetus for his serving in the military.

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North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also established a bigger footprint and may have distinguished himself enough to move up in the polls. Whether he makes the cut a third time still remains to be seen. 

The lowlights: Vivek Ramaswamy became testy when challenged or corrected. Ramaswamy was challenged by all the candidates even more than in the first debate. Many called him out on his past statements, and it did not go well for him. The most notable takedown: Nikki Haley telling Vivek Ramaswamy: “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.” 

WOW.

Ramaswamy’s poll numbers may well drop after this performance. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence’s poor attempts at jokes fell rather flat and felt glaringly out of context.

All in all, the debate wasn’t mind-numbingly boring, nor was it revelatory. Frankly, after an hour and 10 minutes and the discussion on education, much of it became blather. No one rose above the fray, and I think whatever candidate is in someone’s corner, they probably remained there. Not a whole lot of needle moving happened. The perpetual allusions to President Ronald Reagan and his looming legacy of leadership did less to inspire and more to leave the American people wanting. While some of these candidates could point to their own solid, cogent, and clear leadership, they pale in comparison to Reagan’s large precedent. Perhaps the GOP should consider that the age of Reagan is a thing of the past, and the need to recast themselves for a new century is not only necessary but critical if they expect to remain relevant or influential. At present, they are neither. 

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Debate No. 3 is scheduled for Miami. If God is merciful, the number of candidates will be whittled down to three or four, and former President Donald J. Trump will bother to show up for this one.

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