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A Few Thoughts Before Tonight's Debate

State of the Union: The whole thing feels like the 2016 undercard debate.

(By L.E.MORMILE/Shutterstock)

In Micah‘s column this week, he handicaps tonight’s Republican presidential primary debate. Here’s an excerpt of his analysis:

On the stage will be, in alphabetical order: Doug Burgum, the unknown governor of North Dakota who does admittedly look like a 19th-century president; Chris Christie, who has said he’ll show that Trump isn’t the only one who can smack people around on stage; Ron DeSantis, defending second place and a sterling gubernatorial record now greasy with campaigning; Nikki Haley, challenging President Biden for the Democratic ticket; Asa Hutchinson, who is campaigning for the Mike Pence vote; Mike Pence, who is campaigning for the Asa Hutchinson vote; Vivek Ramaswamy, running for the 2028 nomination; and Tim Scott, with his $22 million warchest and army of adoring AARP members. 


Since Micah’s column was published, we learned Doug Burgum potentially tore an ACL playing pick-up basketball—a man after my own heart—and saw a specialist this afternoon. Burgum told CNN he plans to “cowboy up” and stand for the two-hour debate, which would be foolish if he’s eager to play basketball again, but seeing as he resorted to a pay-for-donations scheme even to qualify for the debate, I doubt basketball matters as much to him as scratching whatever itch prompted his doomed presidential bid.

One other thought: Chris Christie’s politics aren’t TAC‘s, not by a long shot, but he is an exceptionally talented debater. Go back and watch the footage of him sparring with public school teachers about pension reform from his days as New Jersey’s governor, or effectively ending Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Republicans regularly face skeptical reporters, but Republicans who actually want to govern in the northeastern part of the country face particularly hostile voters, audiences, and local press. They tend, either as a result of that experience or as a prerequisite qualification, to be skilled debaters. Former governors Jodi Rell (Connecticut) and, especially, Donald Carcieri (Rhode Island) were really sharp, and Christie is no exception.

Conventional wisdom has it that Christie will aim his fire at the former president for declining to appear at the debate and at second-man Ron DeSantis, for being, in Christie’s eyes, a paper tiger. It’s hard to muster much excitement for the inevitable Christie-DeSantis brawl or potential attacks on Vivek Ramaswamy. The whole event, without Trump on stage, feels a lot like the 2016 undercard debate. Who remembers the Mike Huckabee for President campaign?


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