Big Tent Ideas

CHRISTIAN WHITON: DeSantis Prevails In Noisy Second Debate

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Christian Whiton Christian Whiton was a senior adviser in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest.
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When the Democrats proceed with their still-furtive steps to unload senile President Joe Biden from the 2024 ticket, whom will Republicans put forth to challenge the actual Democrat nominee, who will enjoy the full support of the media, big tech, Wall Street, and every other corrupted institution in America? Who can fight against hard odds, win, and then enact a radical reform agenda?

That, along with saving the country generally, was on the mind of most Republican voters watching Wednesday’s painful GOP presidential debate. By staying above the kindergarten-level fray of much of the debate and speaking from the confidence of experience and accomplishment, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis prevailed. 

One of the debate moderators, Univision presenter Ilia Calderon, whom Wikipedia describes as a “Colombian journalist,” was leading the race to be most annoying until some of the candidates themselves took the prize. She asked about gun violence, stating that it was unique to the United States (presumably overlooking her native country) and put in a plug for “dreamers” who just want to stay in America despite coming here illegally. With an attempted gotcha question, she seemed to think the onus was on former Vice President Mike Pence in particular to accommodate illegals. (RELATED: JESSICA ANDERSON: The American Dream Is Not Dead, We Just Need Leaders Willing To Fight For It)

Alas, I too am a dreamer like most of the people the watching on Wednesday night. I dream of an America where people immigrate by following our laws, not breaking them, and where authorities deport illegal aliens with the same zeal they apply to taxing and policing the American middle class. I also dream of presidential debates where moderators moderate and do not try to make themselves the story. 

Calderon was soon surpassed in degree of annoyance by candidates interrupting each other to deliver canned lines that break the most basic innovation that former President Donald Trump brought to light: be candid and pretend to be human when answering questions. 

Pence was over-programmed. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had an odd combination of deep-geek wonkery on healthcare and canned input on topics like schools and China. 

But former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie screwed up a perfectly enjoyable take-down of Trump for wimping out of the debate with a canned and practiced declaration that he was now “Donald Duck.” Maybe the world needs preening, overbearing prosecutors, but we should never make one president. Canned gotcha statements hit their peak in 1988 when Lloyd Benson declared future-Vice President Dan Quayle to be “no Jack Kennedy” and have been increasingly annoying ever since.

Through it all, DeSantis stayed above the fray and—shockingly—spoke when it was his turn. When Haley tried to ambush him, he didn’t even bother looking at her as he parried her false claim and explained his pro-energy policies. 

Haley did one great favor in pointing out that Ramaswamy was tainted by China, including doing business there until he decided to get political and by embracing TikTok, which many suspect compromises Americans’ information to the Chinese government. Haley also pointed out the scandal of America’s dependence on China for pharmaceuticals. 

Ramaswamy in turn did a favor in pointing out the GOP field’s revolting, cartoonish love for forever-war, the latest example of which is Ukraine. So engrained in the establishment GOP’s foreign policy is the desire for a war with Russia in a situation where no definable vital U.S. interest is at stake that no fewer than three other participants felt the need to interrupt Ramaswamy as he attempted to answer a question on Ukraine. They can’t event tolerate a few moments of reasoned opposition to their desire to fund a corrupt government that just cancelled elections.

But even here DeSantis came up on top, letting experience speak in lieu of hypotheticals. As someone who has worn a military uniform—the only one on stage to have done so—he spoke from authority about the need to conserve American national power and focus on the threat from China’s communist government. He alone also identified the China threat as not just economic and military, but political as well, noting he had shut down Chinese political warfare instruments like Confucius Institutes on Florida campuses. (RELATED: JON DECKER: The GOP Is Still Reagan’s Party)

DeSantis also had the clearest policy on using the U.S. military if necessary to confront Mexican cartels that in effect are running a parallel government in Mexico and waging war on America. Despite her neoconservative, pro-war credentials, all Haley could offer was a vague promise to use the magic of special forces against the cartels. DeSantis offered a comprehensive effort of defense-in-depth to defend the border and take the fight to the cartels. Our military brass may be more interested in flighting far-off conflicts in Ukraine and Syria (Haley and most of her colleagues on stage are too), but DeSantis will refocus the military on actual clear and present dangers.

The net outcome of the event was that DeSantis remains the ultimate alternative to Trump—one with the actual accomplishments and proven political acumen to take on Democrats who unfortunately won’t be dumb enough to renominate Biden. Come January, Trump will stumble in Iowa and DeSantis will be there to carry the torch as the leader of a new generation who is long on accomplishment and skips the cute posturing and canned verbiage.

Christian Whiton was a senior adviser in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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