April 12, 2024

Last a Meaningful Debate

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective                                                                     
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
At last a meaningful debate
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — It is game on for the first one-on-one Republican debate of the 2024 campaign season between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The two will face off on CNN with seasoned moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash while the leading Republican, Donald Trump, will be on Fox trying to steal the show, and Vivek Ramaswamy will be where he belongs – somewhere else.
          The ratings for the GOP debates have been lackluster, but this one could be different. The two debaters can take their time with both questions and answers. No interrupting or shouting need be in play. And if one of the candidates scores a big moment, or there is a clear winner, it could alter the dynamics of the race.
          Haley is the better debater of the two, but her practiced answers on most issues are now being scrutinized, and she is taking flack for being overly scripted and trying to please all sides of controversial debates.
          Yet if she excels, she could pull votes away from everyone, Trump, DeSantis, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. That happens if she keeps an even keel. More likely, she will just go after the DeSantis and Christie folks because they have one thing in common: They are not Trump MAGA voters.
          This would not be enough to achieve victory in Iowa, but more than enough to propel her into a near one-on-one with Trump in New Hampshire. A victory or near victory there would take her on to home turf in South Carolina, and then we will have a Haley-Trump campaign season.
          On the other hand, if DeSantis prevails in the debate – an unlikely event – there would not be the same sort of rush to him from the Haley and Christie camps that find him unpersuasive and unimpressive.
          DeSantis is expected to push her to state her views clearly and directly, and he has got good material with Haley’s refusal to rule out being Trump’s vice president, should he win the nomination and invite her to join him.
          Both DeSantis and Christie have said declaratively they would not serve with Trump. Easy for them to say since it is unlikely Trump would pick DeSantis, whom he ridicules as governor DeSanctimonious, or Christie, whose whole campaign is predicated on Trump being unfit to serve as president. But Haley’s problem is to decide if she is going to appease Trump voters or go after attainable DeSantis and Christie voters, which is what we believe she is going to do.
          One area where DeSantis should be poised to question is her statement that she would as president send U.S. troops into Mexico to go after the drug cartels. That would be an unforced escalation of border tensions with a friendly neighboring country, and not the kind of wild proposal one would expect from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the post Haley held during the Trump administration.
          Another issue of tension between Haley and DeSantis is China. Both proclaim their toughness toward the country with the world’s second largest economy, and neither is pure when it comes to welcoming China’s imports and investments.
          An ad from Haley’s Super Pac says DeSantis called China “Florida’s most important trading partner,” a claim many states could make given the goods imported from there.
          However, as ambassador to the United Nations, she praised China on numerous occasions, and as governor of South Carolina, she welcomed into her state hundreds of millions in investments from Chinese businesses.
          It will also be noteworthy to hear what they have to say about Taiwan, and how far they would go to protect the independence of the island from further Chinese actions.
          Of course, they are battling each other for a distant second to Trump in Iowa. In any other election cycle that would be considered a prohibitive lead. However, Trump is facing legal, ethical, and moral problems any one of which could derail his campaign either in the primaries or at the Republican Convention, when delegates might have buyer’s remorse. Politics is a dynamic sport.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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