Chris Christie giving the former president a new nickname — “Donald Duck” — was almost the best line of the night.
That’s how big a mess the second Republican presidential debate was.
In the absence of Donald Trump, the remaining candidates valiantly tried to summon his spirit by injecting chaos, interruptions, meaningless crosstalk, personal insults, and pointless non sequiturs (at one point, the topic turned to who paid for the curtains in Nikki Haley’s office) in an attempt to make you forget your favorite character has left the show and isn’t coming back.
Here are each candidate’s best (or worst) moments from the night.
The most quoted and quotable line of the night went to Nikki Haley. After a Vivek Ramaswamy diatribe on… something (I kind of tune out from what he says unless he raps it), Haley turned, looked him straight in the eyes, and said:
Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.
Sure, it’s a line she cribbed from the principal in Adam Sandler’s film, Billy Madison, but Haley takes the points for pitch perfect delivery. If only she’d finished the job by adding “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Having delivered the line of the night, Haley could have dropped the mic then and there, but she persisted, rapid-firing at Ramaswamy with deadly accuracy every time he opened his mouth.
The tables now turned on the candidate who made his mark in the first debate as a serial interrupter, he suddenly had the look of a deer in headlights. A facial expression every candidate would wear before the night was through.
When Fox News host Stuart Varney stepped in to say, “Mr. Ramaswamy, you have 15 seconds,” it was not entirely clear whether he meant 15 seconds for a rebuttal or was predicting the remaining lifespan of Ramaswamy’s political career.
Having been briefed by his team that the biggest takeaway from the first debate was that he is an annoying little twerp with a very punchable face, Ramaswamy tried to be conciliatory and polite this time around.
These are not his strong points.
Unable to play Trump Lite, he had nothing to say worth reporting. Maybe the Eminem thing has still got him down. Since he isn’t allowed to rap anymore, I have condensed his comments into another form of poetry, the haiku:
Mexican cartels, China
Tim Scott had another bad night, and his campaign surely can’t take much more of this.
Almost a pity. Despite any cursory inspection of his policies showing him to be even more reactionary than Ron DeSantis, Scott still seems the most genuinely decent person in the Republican race and at least tried to inject a factual point into the question of funding Ukraine.
It is not 90 percent of the money that we send over there is loan. We could talk about this. But at the end of the day, 90 percent of the money that we send over there is actually…
But of course, no-one was even slightly interested in talking about that and just proceeded to talk over him instead.
That’s what happens when you bring a fact to a hyperbole fight.
For his own sake, that should have been the last we heard from Tim Scott for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, Fox political commentator Dana Perino switched things up to beast mode by pitting Scott and Haley against each other Hunger Games style, demanding each explain why the other should not be “CEO of the nation” in their place.
Scott made a decent fist of it, summarising his Made in America plan that was long on facts and figures, if short on substance, without criticising his opponent directly.
Whereas Haley, having tasted political equivalent of human flesh and finding it sweeter than champagne, was still in the grip of bloodlust. She eviscerated Scott in a manner that, from this point on, should become its own verb: Ramaswamied.
Ramaswamied verb (used with subject)
1. To verbally assault one’s debate opponent with interruption and scolding.
2. To interrupt and demean a political opponent just to watch a grown man cry.
Example: “Nikki Haley complexly Ramaswamied Tim Scott up there. It was a gruesome sight, yet I could not look away.”
When Scott finally tried to turn the screws on Haley over gas prices in South Carolina, she interrupted him, daring the Senator to “Bring it.”
In response to a question from Dana Perino, Pence was more animated than he has been in years, delivering a solid, no-nonsense, law-and-order response.
I am sick and tired of these mass shootings happening in the United States of America. And if I’m president of the United States, I’m going to go to the Congress of the United States and we’re going to pass a federal expedited death penalty for anyone involved in a mass shooting so that they will meet their fate in months, not years.
The question was about Obamacare.
So, under a Pence Administration, the way to fix health care is… kill more people? I guess?
But back to Chris Christie and the former anthropomorphic waterfowl in chief.
Christie was listless in the first debate because all his A-material required Donald Trump turning up. This time, Christie did better, up to a pointWhen Perino asked the former prosecutor what he would do to end the revolving door of criminality in Washington. Christie in his element and on a roll.
For seven years I ran the fifth largest office in this country, at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, and we set records for the number of prosecutions that we brought that still have not been broken.
Great start, Chris. Credentials established. Give us more!
We’ve got to bring law and order back to this country. And not just in our cities… And we need it in Washington, D.C. also.
You’re on a roll. Now look down the camera and give Trump a piece of your mind.
And I want to look in that camera right now and tell you, Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. I know you’re watching. OK? You’re not here tonight because you are afraid of being on this stage and depending on your record.
Now bring it all back home, Chris. Seal this deal!
You’re ducking these things. And let me tell you what’s going to happen. You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re going to call you Donald Duck.
Ummm… OK. Sure, it sounded cringy, but it could still be topped. I mean, Mike Pence was standing right there.
And ready to turn this into a double act. More on that later.
Doug Burgham’s greatest contribution to the debate was to interrupt Notciero Univision anchor Ilia Calderon’s question on the economy, apologise for interrupting, then immediately interrupting again.
CALDERON: Allow me to.
BURGUM: I interrupted. I’m sorry.
CALDERON: Allow me to — allow me to.
BURGUM: I’m sorry. I have to jump in, because we’re missing the point. And every other network is missing the point.
Burgham tried his hand again later at interrupting moderators but Dana Perino wasn’t having it.
BURGUM: Stuart, can we go back to the question? The question is on technology.
PERINO: Governor — no, we cannot. Governor DeSantis, I’m going straight —
BURGUM: There’s one person on this stage that has a career on technology.
PERINO: Sir, we will have to cut your mic and I don’t want to do that. I don’t.
Burgham finally took the hint and went back to being just as surprised as you are that he qualified for the debate.
Chris Christie and Mike Pence
Christie has developed a strange tic on the debate stage. Every time he is about to land a killer blow, he just makes the whole thing kind of weird.
Case in point, his attacks on teachers unions for, in his view, holding kids back academically.
What we did was institute more charter schools and more renaissance schools, and more public school choice in New Jersey with innovative solutions in cities like Camden where now we took what was the worst school districts in America during my time. And we have now increased that by nearly 40% in terms of their proficiency… This public school system … is run by the teachers unions in this country… They’re taking the worst of their members and defending them rather than advocating for our kids.
And when you have the president of United States sleeping with a member of the teachers union, there is no chance that you could take the stranglehold away from the teachers union every day.
To be clear, Christie was talking about President Biden getting jiggy with his wife.
While everyone else in the room quietly mouthed “WTF?”, Mike Pence saw a bandwagon he definitely wanted to join.
Chris, you mentioned the President’s situation. I — my wife isn’t a member of the Teachers Union, but I got to admit I — I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years and a full disclosure.
Quoting the above on a page does not do it the awful, cringeworthy justice it deserves. It must be seen, not read, to take in how visibly uncomfortable Pence was when even obliquely referencing S-E-X. The thing is, this wasn’t an off-the cuff response to Christie’s comment. It happened after a long back-and-forth between candidates. Pence had a full five minutes to think this through.
Then went with it anyway.
(The best take on this bizarre exchange goes to Pod Save America’s Jon Lovett, who said “I think if more people thought Joe Biden was fucking Jill Biden, maybe these age problems wouldn’t be as big of a deal in the polls”)
Okay, I really tried to find something for you here but I’ve got nothing.
I’ve read the entire debate transcript three times and can’t find a single interesting the Florida Governor had to say, so I will leave the last word to New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who summed up DeSantis’ impact on this debate far better than I ever could:
Really distracted by the way he raises his eyebrows, which doesn’t speak well for the depth of his comments.