Most of the Republican presidential primary fielders met tonight in Wisconsin for a “debate.” So who won and who lost? The frame I ran this by was: Are they in better shape in the presidential campaign after tonight? And the only way he’s going to be in a better position is if he creates opportunities to beat Donald Trump in the coming months.


mike pence

Yes, yes. I am as surprised as you are. He was criticized during the months-long campaign and on 6 January for standing in favor of democracy. He faced the MAGA audience, which must have cheered him on that day. And he claimed that he was single-handedly tested on the stage and that he stood up for the Constitution under possibly the worst pressure. He looked like a politician, talking slowly and calmly while a circus was going on around him. Then, at a crucial point, Chris Christie vehemently defended Pence’s courage.

As if that weren’t enough, he then confronted the Ukraine-skeptic MAGA crowd and got them to cheer for the defense of our country’s democracy and acknowledge the threat of Vladimir Putin.


The chatting class, including Fox News, will give Pence some airtime in the coming week.

nikki haley

OK, he didn’t crush it, but he had some great moments defending Ukrainian democracy and taking the bat to Vivek Ramaswamy. He hit a good punch at Margaret Thatcher’s quip, “In politics, if you want to say something, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman. And I don’t remember him being scolded.

chris christie

Christie faced one of the most intense, sustained and hostile audience reactions of the night, and yet he stood his ground and encouraged some. His defense of Pence not only put him on the right side of the Constitution, but it showed he could be kind to his opponents in a way few others can. And he did everyone a favor by killing Ramaswamy.

And yes, being a leader matters. Everyone is so afraid of angering Trump, as if they can somehow win over Trump voters. If he is serious about running for the presidency, he needs to unify around 50% of the party Not there. Support Trump, as well as encourage non-primary voting Republicans to attend. This is how you do it:


This segment could easily have turned into a Putin lovefest. Ramaswamy was trying to appeal to Trump’s supporters by aggressively criticizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and calling him “the Pope”. Yet Pence and Haley come to the defense of Ukraine, cheer the crowd, and that’s it.

rule of law

This somewhat breaks conventional wisdom:


Donald Trump

Had Trump been on stage, he would have become a story. Instead, the frame read, “He is guilty.” Is he so badass that you will still support him?” They thought their poor pre-recorded interview with Tucker Carlson would dominate the debate, but… to be honest, I don’t even know if it ever went on. And not because I didn’t go looking for it, but because No one It was being talked about somewhere. It was a non-existence.

While on their platform, Christie and Pence could not defend the Constitution as forcefully. His being on stage would have given everyone 20% airtime.


The candidates tried to reinforce their allegiance to “life”, yet the crowd grew bored and alienated. A random mention of Hunter Biden got more of a crowd response than “live life life.” You would think they got the hint. Even Fox News, which was not running, introduced the segment by saying, “Abortion has been a losing issue for Republicans,” before listing all the elections they lost because of abortion. And yet… the candidates couldn’t let go of the issue.

Abortion is a political defeat for Republicans, and they haven’t even been able to rally their crowd republican Discussion.

Vivek Ramaswamy

My God, Ramaswamy was terrible. He came to cheer, channeling the best Trump: belligerent, brusque, rude, disrespectful, talking down to people, etc. He “joked” that he was a skinny guy with a funny nickname, totally imitating Barack Obama, but the crowd was too uninformed to notice. Sure, he was channeling some televangelist energy, but that never ceases to be conservative.

But he’s quickly outdone and slammed by Christie (resorting to an Obama reference), schooled in Ukraine, touches the Republican third rail of support for Israel, and finds his way out of his depth. Finished.

His unreasonably enthusiastic support of Trump is incompatible with his running for the presidency against Trump. And he’s in danger of thinking that the conservative bubble reflects reality, even among other Republicans:

How terrible was Vivek? This awesome:


Ron DeSantis

It’s impossible to imagine how further DeSantis could fall, but he refuses to answer the simple question, “Did Mike Pence do the right thing on January 6th?” Showed once again what a weak and cowardly campaign he is running. Also, did he say something memorable, something that got the crowd really excited?

Tim Scott

The debate was his first national appearance and he faded into the background. His most emotional moment came when abortion was discussed, which led to a scuffle with the crowd. He didn’t interrupt the conversation or fight like the more aggressive candidates. He…was just there.

other candidates

There were other candidates too, but I forgot who they were and nobody cared.

Last speaking time,

New York Times screenshot of speaking time at the first Republican debate, August 23, 2023

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