This correspondent, who departed the GOP, stage right, 10 years ago this month, generally delights in trafficking in former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s characterization of his can’t-shoot-straight comrades: “The Stupid Party.”
Yet the Republican presidential debate in Miami Wednesday night offered no occasion to apply that label.
Instead, in one of the best beginning-to-end, top-to-bottom, left-to-right ensemble performances this pundit has witnessed in his 45 years in and around the political game, America watched a collection of candidates come across as substantive, slick, savvy, sensible, self-assured, at times swinging-for-the-fences, and – yes – smart.
To illustrate: moderator Lester Holt inserted himself into the debate with a moron-omics claim that Tim Scott’s proposal to restart the Keystone XL Pipeline and reintroduce certainty and predictability into energy leases would not immediately reduce prices.
The South Carolina senator demonstrated his superior understanding of market function by gently smart-splaining: confidence from renewed ability to ramp up production would quickly show up in current pricing. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – as usual confident and thoughtful throughout the debate, especially with cogent observations on the fentanyl epidemic – later specified that this production potential would be reflected in energy futures.
Further underscoring the candidates’ sophistication and preparation for the role of commander in chief: asked if the Navy had sufficient ships to credibly deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis off the top of his head produced precise facts and figures on inadequate current and future force levels and his plans to increase them. Erstwhile United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley – in her strongest debate showing to date – then raised the ante by rattling off corresponding counts for China’s naval assets.
Haley in general depended less on her customary woman-card tropes (with one notable, defensive exception discussed below) and more on well-considered, well-rehearsed, and unhesitatingly delivered position statements.
She and DeSantis both wowed in answering the opening question – why they would be stronger general election candidates than Donald Trump – by using the opportunity to focus on economic woes top-of-mind with American families. In addition, the former diplomat topped the fevered competition to raise the bar highest on China, calling among other measures for an outright trade ban until the Middle Kingdom ceases supplying Mexican cartels with fentanyl ingredients.
Haley also largely dispensed with her previous hyperfocus on irritating attacks and frustrating cross-talk, as did most of the other candidates. Although naturally, much coverage has focused on the usual attention-grabbing personal repartee (Vivek Ramaswamy: Haley is “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels.” Haley: actually 5-inch heels, and not a “fashion statement” but rather “ammunition.”)
Still, the comparatively fewer ad hominem exchanges among the contenders were mostly in-bounds. Including Haley questioning DeSantis’ bona fides on a drill-baby-drill overall energy policy that he opposes within the Sunshine State’s boundaries.
Ramaswamy implying that Haley’s migration from government service to lucrative defense contractor board membership colors her gung-ho attitude toward arming Ukraine.
And both the youthful entrepreneur and the Florida governor highlighting her apparent flip-flop from having previously dubbed China America’s “friend” and “welcoming” CCP-backed enterprise into her state.
As a matter of fact, the night’s hardest and squarest blows landed off the stage. Ramaswamy channeled George Bush versus Dan Rather, vintage 1988, by confronting the NBC moderators for having fed the anti-Trump Russia collusion hoax. And even more daringly, charged Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel face-to-face with being a “cancer in the party establishment” responsible for Republicans becoming a “party of losers.”
Which brings the discussion to the one area where the output of assembled brainpower sailed “just a bit outside” of the mark: the party’s Achilles heels of Social Security and abortion, the latter demonstrated again in the GOP’s latest election rout.
None of the White House wannabes managed to finger the real culprit in Social Security’s woes – plummeting fertility caused by the demise of marriage and family formation. Connected in a direct line to the Democrats’ abortion fanaticism and the Republicans’ stubborn cluelessness on the issue.
How should Republicans, especially conservatives, be addressing abortion? Not through a cowardly, full-scale retreat from their generational victory in Dobbs, as the frontrunner and other party lights (including Haley) are suggesting under withering Democratic assault.
Rather, go directly at the other party, in kind, and contextualize abortion. Because the D in their name should stand for their three-fold, of-a-piece platform: Not just Death to babies in the womb. But also Deviance in doubling down on transgender child mutilation and drag-queen story hours for kindergartners.
And Defeatism for their pinched Green New Deal vision: depriving families of their cars and gas stoves, inducing energy poverty, and generally burying the American Dream under a mountain of devalued dollars and government mandates.
Then, contrast those three Ds with — excuse the phrase — an audaciously hopeful vision of supercharging family formation, demonstrated since creation’s dawn to be the healthiest, most happiness-inducing and most prosperity-generating of relationships. (And one in which the young adults so overwhelmingly backing abortion amendments actually make human connections and have sex.)
Pro-life bonus: Barely more than 4% of married women’s pregnancies end in abortion, as opposed to nearly 40% of single women’s. Plus, married women vote GOP.
As your correspondent has previously suggested in this space, a pro-family policy package would be the very essence of smart (there’s that word again) government.
But perhaps this observation is quibbling. After all, the debate revealed the depth of the GOP bench compared to the woeful, radical-led opposition – especially the relatively youthful DeSantis and self-described “fresh leg(ged)” Ramaswamy.
In fact, a final word goes to the final word – both DeSantis’ and this scribe’s own. The Floridian’s closing statement, the last due to his poll standing, was magnificent in re-emphasizing his own commitment to service that started with his exemplary military record, and in insisting that he would not let voters down.
Your correspondent’s last entry in his notes on the evening, describing Guv Ron’s pièce de résistance: “presidential.” A quality which more than anything else, is what the otherwise generally Stupid Party™ needs about now in its champion.
Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at email@example.com.