Wednesday night was enjoyable since we had substance overall with limited shenanigans. A panoply of talent showed viewers strong alternatives as the GOP’s standard bearer. Let me recap the melee in Milwaukee as objectively as possible, with succinct thoughts on each participant and the notable absentee.


Tim Scott

The South Carolinian is gaining popularity, probably because voters like his happy warrior mentality and believe he can win the general election. Unlike the populists, Scott is not uniformly negative; he’s substantive and uplifting in an era where likability matters. However, the senator needs to be more aggressive in future debates if he wants to stand out.


Nikki Haley

Arguably still the best option for the general election, she hasn’t gained much traction in six months. That should change after her vintage performance inside Fiserv Forum. She was natural, informed, and compelling. She eviscerated Ramaswamy with facts on his dangerous international ignorance. The former governor and ambassador was the first to mention Trump, saying the former president “added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us.” She also differentiated herself with a nuanced abortion position.


Vivek Ramaswamy

After he espoused 9/11 conspiracy theories and simultaneously assuaged Putin, Xi’s Chinese imperialists, and radical Islamists while bashing key international allies, the Trump proxy used canned answers, petulant personal attacks, and strawmen setups to gain applause from paleoconservatives. Ramaswamy’s aberrant foreign policy views would end the American-led world order. We are facing the most dangerous axis of evil in 80 years, so the naïve millennial owes us an explanation of how betraying allies and empowering enemies is beneficial.


Ron DeSantis

Due to his poorly run campaign, he had the most to gain and lose. And he flopped, especially on Ukraine and his initial hesitation over Mike Pence’s noble decisions on Jan. 6. His team was seduced by raising too much money too fast. Now they’re running out of it. DeSantis is scripted and runs a presidential campaign opposite his successful governorship. The governor’s sheepish reaction to the question about supporting Trump as nominee if the former president is convicted in a court of law also was a low point.


Doug Burgum

With a saner voting populace, the North Dakota governor is an attractive candidate due to his successful leadership and common-sense views, especially on China and energy. Sadly, this is 2023.


Mike Pence

Well-prepared as usual, but also assertive. However, if the man who arguably saved the Constitution 31 months ago does not get a bump now, you must wonder if he will make it to Iowa. The former VP is 100% solid on the Capitol riots, but he was apparently happy to serve an administration he eventually saw as a threat to democracy.


Chris Christie

With the former president AWOL, the New Jerseyan made poignant remarks on the frontrunner’s role in the Jan. 6 attacks and other key issues. I am impressed with candidates who visit Ukraine and take national security seriously. You cannot hide in the sand and place foreign policy at the bottom of your agenda because if you get foreign policy wrong, you’re dead.


Asa Hutchinson 

See Doug Burgum. He’s a solid conservative leader. Experienced, articulate. The Arkansan would be a good president, yet likely won’t last much longer in the race.


Donald Trump

Frontrunners rarely skip a debate. The former president instead decided to join Tucker Carlson, which further cements Trump’s lack of broad appeal. I cannot imagine they discussed anything substantive besides redundant grievances and debunked conspiracies. The Iowa caucuses are just 140 days away, and his campaign has endured nine tumultuous, policy-free months. As monomaniacal supporters have an emotional connection where a candidate’s policies aren’t relevant, the 77-year-old’s cowardly move likely won’t matter.


To summarize
Debate season usually starts earlier than late August. The next Republican gathering is not for five weeks. There are none scheduled beyond that. It is absolutely getting very late, very fast. If patriotic voters want to nominate someone who can end the tyrannical Biden administration and ensure the GOP retakes the U.S. Senate, they’ll need to coalesce soon around a singular electable candidate.


Ari Kaufman is a correspondent for several U.S. newspapers and magazines from Minnesota and Ohio to Tennessee and Virginia. He taught school and served as a military historian before beginning his journalism career. He is the author of three books, a frequent guest on radio programs, and a regular contributor here at The Lid.