I’d like to add a couple of things to the post-debate analysis TAC managing editor Jude Russo wrote, especially on rampant Ramaswamy and docile DeSantis. I personally felt that the two exchanges between Nikki Haley and Mike Pence on abortion and between Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy on American decline were the two eye opening moments of the night.
The first was an amplified gender difference and the second stemmed from the growing generational divide, the two chasms within the conservative movement. Conservatives have to bridge the gap on both, somehow. Else the entire movement is going to fracture and lead to a permanent liberal overlordship.
It was interesting to see the reflexive muscle memory of Bush-era conservatism slithering underneath what is now considered a changed party. Other than Ramaswamy and DeSantis, there is arguably no difference between Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, on foreign policy. They are still the voice of the failed consensus of the last quarter century.
Only Ron and Vivek talked about dumping Ukraine and bombing Mexico, arguably where more than 70 percent of the registered republicans are. See the replies under Nikki Haley’s tweet. Or the response of undecided voters in New Hampshire, or the undecided voters showing who they support after the debate, on CNN. It is still overwhelmingly Vivek and Ron. And yet, it is difficult to fathom, hearing the think-tankers and talking heads on TV praising Nikki Haley and Chris Christie.
The talking heads and johnny public clearly do not read the same book. One questions if they ever did. Marco Rubio was once considered a princeling in the GOP, and a nerd, as he could talk about the nuclear Triad. Fat lot good that did for him. A fluffy blond haired older man came down an escalator and said that the Iraq war was the stupidest mistake in modern American history.
Nikki Haley's dig about Vivek’s "experience" likely won't have the same effect as she is apparently convinced it would. What foreign policy experience in the last twenty years is she proud of anyway? But the reflective GOP hawkery among the majority of candidates, who combined can only pull a narrow double digit, demonstrates two things.
One, Trump might have changed the party, but he didn’t change the party elite. He simply gave voice to the voiceless, the millions of “shy Tories,” who felt something was going wrong but were not getting their champion, so to speak. People need that. But that’s not governance. Every society needs an elite, or a counter-elite. Otherwise elections are meaningless and a praetorian bureaucracy looms.
Two, there is an open lane, at least on foreign policy, to be a realist and gain the majority of support. There will be donor influence, and lobbying, and all sorts of character assassinations and appeal to emotions. But that is where the normal people dwell. And if one can give voice to the voiceless, they have a route to the top spot. But also, given the lack of bench cultivation on the realist right, the risk is that the party reverts back to its older instinct, led by those who crashed the country on the first place.
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Think of it this way: What would have been the case if Ron Desantis chose to wait for the next election cycle, and Vivek Ramaswamy didn’t feel the Wodehouseian call of service one random morning, and didn’t run? It would have been still only Trump calling for a narrow, realist foreign policy. That is unsustainable. And that needs to change. Policy is of course, policy, but having personnel to back it up, and a counter-elite to drive it through, is the key in this game.
Some people are unable to comprehend the dissatisfaction that is the main cause behind the return of narrow, nationalist, "old conservatism" and realism on the right, and therefore seek other explanations such as external Russian influence, or deplorable bigotry, or both. Bigotry doesn’t explain the rapid gain of popularity of a man with a surname of Ramaswamy. But they cannot fathom that a whole bunch of people might not like what they are selling.
But people on our side, too, need to understand a simple truth: nothing is a permanent state of affairs, in history. Continuing the political realignment will need more than just random tweets and a few eccentrics running for the president.