During the debate Wednesday night, Nikki Haley said “We have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America. We can’t win a general election that way.” Vivek Ramaswamy will never catch up with him on that— or any other— front, but he’s going to be America’s most disliked wanna-be politician for a while. One of my favorite lines during the debate was when he said, “I’m the only person on this stage who isn’t bought and paid for.” Oh, the howling from the other 7 was absolutely fabulous. The audience didn’t care much though. Americans expect their candidates to be bought and paid for— or, like Ramaswamy (Trump), rich enough to do the buying and paying.
In his who-won-who-lost wrap-up after the debate, Aaron Blake declared Ramaswamy a winner, “the momentum candidate in the race who has risen to third place. Ramaswamy’s frequent foils worked most: Pence and Christie.” Yeah, so smart enough— unlike the stiff -of-the-night, Ron DeSantis— to hone in on the 2 candidates the MAGAts hate most. “Both dismissed Ramaswamy as a political amateur. Christie compared Ramaswamy’s first answer, in which Ramaswamy called himself ‘a skinny guy with a funny last name,’ to Barack Obama. He also memorably labeled Ramaswamy ‘a guy who sounds like Chat GPT.’ But Ramaswamy was unfazed through just about all of it. And over and over again, he benefited from being pitted against the two most unpopular candidates in the field. He got in perhaps the most pronounced defense of Trump, accusing Christie of ‘blindly bashing Trump without an iota of vision for this country.’ It was a line that DeSantis’s super PAC wanted its candidate to land, according to a memo leaked last week, but Ramaswamy beat him to it. Ramaswamy also frequently cut in, gaming relatively lax enforcement of the debate rules to make himself the center of attention.”
Right after the debate ended, Natalie Allison wrote that “Ramaswamy got all he could have wanted out of tonight: attention and the opportunity to reinforce the idea the party’s establishment is out to get him. If you were a Republican who still hadn’t seen a clip of Ramaswamy on social media or TV, you learned who he was tonight. And the fact all knives were out for him shows that the other candidates see him not just as an annoyance, but as a threat right now as they’re trying to break through themselves.”
Also writing for Politico hours after the debate ended, Michael Stratford noted that Ramaswamy quickly emerged Wednesday night as the punching bag in the first Republican presidential debate, finding himself in the midst of nearly all of the most fiery clashes. And the 38-year-old political newcomer, who’s been rising in the polls, seemed to relish in the attention… ‘Now is not the time for on-the-job training,’ Pence continued. ‘We don’t need to bring in a rookie. We don’t need to bring in people without experience…We don’t need a president who’s too old,’ he said. ‘And we don’t need a president who’s too young.’”
Less likable than DeSantis! Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis didn’t mince any words: Republican Debaters Agreed on One Thing: They Hate Vivek Ramaswamy. “Everyone hates Vivek. That was the biggest takeaway from the Fox News debate on Wednesday night. And who can blame them?… Ramaswamy, a slick, young, rich man in a hurry (who has been gaining in the polls), came into this debate with the idea that he should pander to the base with impunity and simultaneously be involved in every skirmish. This is often a smart move, akin to controlling the clock in a football game. But he forgot that he was facing some talented (and vastly more experienced) competitors, and that picking a fight with seven adversaries might amount to biting off more than he could chew, especially for a “rookie,” as Mike Pence called him… [E]ven Sen. Tim Scott— you know, the optimistic guy who has a reputation for being too nice— even accused him of ‘being childish.’”
Anyone who dared disagree with Ramaswamy wasn’t just wrong, they had their motives questioned. Chris Christie, he said, was campaigning to get a paid MSNBC contributor gig. Christie’s trip to Ukraine was to pay homage to his “pope,” Volodymyr Zelensky. Of Nikki Haley’s support of Ukraine, he averred, “I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.”
“You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,” Haley told him. Speaking of Vladimir Putin, she said, “This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer” over a pro-American country [Ukraine].
No doubt the nationalists, populists, conspiracy theorists, isolationists, and “blame America firsters” who now dominate the MAGA right-wing media will side with Ramaswamy on most of the issues. But for this night, at least, the traditional Reagan Republicans like Pence, Christie, and Haley more than held their own against Ramaswamy, who most prominently represented the MAGA wing of the party on stage.
It was a reminder that, despite Donald Trump’s many faults, he carries this banner in a somewhat entertaining manner that is occasionally even charming and disarming, while also being dominant. Ramaswamy seems to have assumed that the MAGA policies that have come into fashion of late have won the day in the GOP. Of course, it could simply be that people like Trump, and retroactively embrace the issues he favors.
…As the political writer Michael A. Cohen tweeted, “Vivek Ramaswamy is one of the more unappealing politicians I’ve seen in quite some time...which means that he will likely rocket up the GOP polls.”
If Ramaswamy surges after this performance, as he very well might, it will be a sign that the GOP is in even worse shape than I had previously imagined. And that would be saying a lot.
That’s exactly how I saw it as well. Ramaswamy was the most repulsive among the 8, so he will be embraced most fulsomely but the MAGAt base. In fact, I noticed yesterday that Nate Silver told his audience to expect to see a polling bump for him. Right after the debate, I tweeted this:
And yesterday Ipsos had a more formal poll that asked who won. The three who did best were DeSantis- 29%, Ramaswamy- 26% and Haley- 15%. Those polled said Christie performed worst (22%), followed by Hutchinson (14%), Pence (13%) and Ramaswamy (11%). No one else was in double digits in either category. However, when debate watchers were asked who did well, they were a lot more generous than I would be:
Silver noted that “It’s very hard not to gain ground in polls when you get a rapid increase in name recognition. Right now, Ramaswamy is at about 10 percent in national polls with 50 percent name recognition. So he has a 20 percent yield— of the voters who know him, 20 percent have him as their first choice. That’s actually not too bad… Even if his yield were to fall to 15 percent (there’s no particular reason to think it will) but his name recognition rose to 80 percent, he’d move up to from 10 percent to 12 percent a first-choice candidate. His polling rise will almost certainly beget more media attention, making this a self-perpetuating dynamic… The media is bored with Trump’s ostensible main challenger (DeSantis) underperforming, and the Democratic primary being noncompetitive. It will have a high propensity to chase shiny objects. Most primary voters like multiple candidates, and that makes multi-candidate primaries intrinsically volatile. If you’re a liberal Democrat reading this, you probably wonder how voters like any of the Republican candidates. But put yourself in the mindset of a conservative Republican in Iowa. They’re like kids in the candy store: most of them like Trump and they also like several of the other candidates… [T]he average Iowa caucus voter had a favorable impression of 4.2 GOP candidates. Voters can shift rapidly between the several choices they like; it doesn’t take that much to go from Snickers to M&Ms. So ‘momentum’ and ‘vibes’ can be self-fulfilling over the short run.”
Momentum and vibes seems to have worked for Angela McArdle, chair of the national Libertarian Party. Thursday morning her office sent me this note from her: “Vivek Ramaswamy is dominating online and political discourse after he took his opponents to task on the United States' aggressive and unsustainable foreign policy. His comments stood out among the GOP candidates on stage as an indictment to the state of their party, and the acceptance of a constant state of war in the political class. Peace-centric candidates shouldn't be an outlier in any political party.” I wonder if this would excite Ms McArdle too: