Issues & Insights

Guv Ron’s Great Republican Comeback

1980 produced a formative moment for this then-young and very junior Democratic Capitol Hill staffer, who was shocked to hear himself musing while watching the first Republican primary debate: “I could vote for any of these guys.”

44 years later, he might at times have felt the same way about Wednesday night’s initial GOP wrangle. All eight candidates showed up prepared to present compelling personal and professional narratives and stake out distinct terrain.

Vibrant Vivek Ramaswamy buttressed his claim to be the revolutionary, multiethnic candidate for a new generation. He dared to speak straight truth on the climate change “hoax” and leveraged early-on and closing opportunities to drive home his unique but simple platform and novel message. 

Especially his slam-bang closing defense of God (real), gender reality (two), fossil fuels (requirement for human prosperity), the border (an open one isn’t one), parents and the family (the greatest form of governance) capitalism (lifts us up from poverty) and the Constitution (the strongest guarantor of freedom in human history).

Magisterial Mike Pence, with a “yuge” assist from uber-present, overbearing Fox debate moderators Bret Baier and Martha McCallum, made a virtue of the issue that has bedeviled his early candidacy – his certification of suspect 2020 election results. Not to mention a surprisingly credible case for himself, a former congressional leader and successful governor, as the “best prepared, most-tested, most qualified and proven conservative.” While navigating a tightrope: expressing pride in Trump administration successes while decrying the former boss who allegedly demanded his veep “put him over the Constitution.”

Slick Nikki Haley – despite a vexing insistence on playing the woman card – played up her foreign policy experience and positioned herself as the principled yet common-sense conservative on debt (fingering fellow Republicans on earmarks), abortion (need 60 votes for a ban), Ukraine (leaders require “moral clarity”) and education (zero in on getting kids reading).

Confident Chris Christie brought back the Jersey-tough governor and prosecutor who whupped a Democratic incumbent and won a landslide re-election in a bright blue state. Plus scored the evening’s highlight: his feigned, Bidenesque shock at getting “the UFO question” – “c’mon man!” Then flipping it into a reminder of how he took on teachers’ unions, “the biggest threat to our country … not UFOs.”

True-blue Tim Scott offered his optimistic, faith-filled personal story of rising from poverty thanks to a sacrificial single mom who taught him the able-bodied should work, borrowers pay back loans, violent criminals go to jail, and men “play sports – against other men.”

Earnest Asa Hutchinson established his pro-life, budget-cutting, law-and-order and border control credentials as former governor of Arkansas, U.S. attorney, and Drug Enforcement Administration head. 

And dogged Doug Burgum – gritting out a fresh Achilles tear – introduced himself to America by seizing the coveted (here at least) role of China “vindicator” while highlighting his advocacy of educational innovation and refreshing respect for the 10th amendment.

But the night’s big winner? Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose candidacy was last seen circling the drain after a series of missed opportunities, missteps and miscues. One such misfire – his ultra-lame “Great American Comeback” slogan – was displaced by his Great Republican Comeback. 

The Sunshine State’s chief executive displayed the energy, enthusiasm, confidence and, most of all, competence that earned a record re-election margin – and an initial spot atop the 2024 presidential polls – bursting from the gate with pitch-perfect talking points that offered, finally, the right focuses. 

The plight of Americans victimized by a “country … in decline.”

Making Joe and Hunter Biden the issue.

And most of all, his accomplishments in Florida – and taking them nationwide. 

The economy and COVID: “Why are we in this (fiscal and economic) mess? … a major reason is how this federal government handled COVID-19, by locking down this economy…. (W)e kept our state free and open.”

Contrasting himself from Biden on national disasters like Maui (after deliciously upbraiding the moderators on having candidates raise their hands “like schoolchildren”): “You’ve got to be there, you’ve got to be present.”

Abortion: “You’ve got to do what you think is right.  I believe in a culture of life … we’re better than what the Democrats are selling.” 

Crime: “When we had two of these district attorneys in Florida, elected with Soros funding, who said they wouldn’t do their job, I removed them from their posts. They are gone.”

Education: “We need education, not indoctrination … we had schools open during COVID … I stood for our kids … we have to make sure our schools are standing on solid academics” (versus critical race theory and gender ideology).

While for once neatly side-stepping the trapdoor of taking on the absent Donald Trump and his fellow White House wannabes: “I know what the Democrats would like to do. They want to talk about all these other issues [i.e., Jan. 6] but we’ve got to focus on your future … on reversing the decline of our country.”

Unlike other candidates who stooped to annoying and artificial confrontations and cheap shots that distracted from otherwise creditable performances.

Pence on Ramaswamy: “We don’t need to bring in a rookie.” 

Ramaswamy on his peers: “SuperPAC puppets … bought and paid for.” 

Christie on Ramaswamy: “A guy who sounds like ChatGPT.”

Haley on Ramaswamy: “You are choosing a murderer (Putin) over a pro-American country (Ukraine).”

Ramaswamy back to Haley: “I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.”

This correspondent to all of them: enough already.

Guv Ron soared above it all. Despite this commentator’s previous misgivings on the gambit, he also managed to relate his background as a “blue-collar kid” who “worked minimum-wage jobs to be able to make ends meet.” A “dad and a husband” who “understand(s) the importance of protecting parents’ rights and the well-being of our children.” And an Iraq veteran “who knows what it means to put service above self” and that “it’s about focusing on the mission above all else.”

Above all else, DeSantis’ mission in Milwaukee was to rescue his flailing campaign. The verdict here: mission accomplished – and then some.

Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at

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  • I agree that DeSantis did the best of all of them.
    One point missed is the fact the Pence lied to the People.

    Trump did not ask Pence to “overturn the election.”

    Trump asked him to ask for a 7-10 day DELAY in certifying the ballots because states were still investigating issues. And he had every right to do so.

    Pence is a disgrace.

  • Have to say, this is some really good /sarc.
    The debate winner got 230MM views on X with Tuck

    • Except that as it turns out a poll indicates that only 7% of the folks actually watched the interview as even skimming X of a couple seconds on the interview counts as a view. The number of views being touted is clearly on of the most bogus numbers ever presented to the public.

      • Oh, “a poll” indicates? Good thing you’re here to share with the group or we’d never have suspected.

        And in the never-ending, rolling sea of lies and stupidity in which we live, citing this as “on[e] of the most bogus numbers ever presented to the public” is soft, weak, and pathetic trolling.

        I’ve got some better numbers for “most bogus”: 97% of climate scientists, 11 million illegal aliens, 81 million votes — need I continue??

  • “Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter.” In other words, you are a spin doctor. You are paid to ‘slant’ (or lie about) the news to the public. You haven’t drank the kool-aid; you’re just trying to get everyone else to. 250 million viewers of Tucker Carlson are not drinking it…Why should anyone else?

  • Yes, I especially appreciated how Ron carefully looked up an down the stage to see how the others were answering the “Would you support Trump” question. Then, hedging, he limply raised his hand, assured that “yes” was the correct answer. Plus that whiney, petulant voice of his. What leadership!

    • Exactly so. This article was written for the dwindling number of anti-Trump Republicans, an even smaller number of which did not see the debate at all.

      Meatball Ron’s disloyalty is being repaid in spades.

  • I would feel a lot better if Ron was calling the climate hoax a hoax. It’s the issue doing us in.

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