Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate highlighted the ongoing hold that former President Donald Trump still has over the party and the presidential race. Trump decided to protect his current polling lead by staying away and trying to upstage his challengers by releasing a pre-recorded interview with Tucker Carlson on the platform formerly known as Twitter just before the debate.
The Trump Loyalty Test
While most of the candidates said they agreed that former Vice President Mike Pence had done the right thing by refusing Trump’s demands that he reject swing state Electoral College votes, almost all the candidates raised their hands when asked if they would vote for Trump if he were the GOP nominee, even if he had been convicted of a crime. So much for the supposedly “rule of law” party.
Promoting Trump Claims About ‘Weaponized’ Justice Department
While candidates did not repeat Trump’s claims about having won the 2020 election, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy were quick to reinforce the Trump team’s anti-government conspiracy theories, complaining about a supposedly “weaponized” Justice Department unfairly targeting Trump, who is facing multiple criminal indictment for his effort to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. That rhetoric is also used to justify authoritarian plans being made by Trump and right-wing political organizations to conduct an ideological purge of the civil service to fill federal agencies with Trump loyalists.
Ramaswamy Takes Blue Ribbon for Trump Toadyism
Ramaswamy, a super-wealthy political newcomer, made it clear that he had fully adopted Trump’s 2016 strategy by displaying open contempt for everyone else on stage and hogging the limelight. He claimed that he was the only one who was not “bought and paid for.” And when former South Carolina governor and former Trump administration official Nikki Haley aggressively challenged Ramaswamy’s policy of surrendering Ukraine to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, he snidely implied she was on the payroll of defense contractors. He accused others of spouting memorized talking points while repeating his own well-rehearsed “ten truths”—a list of right-wing culture-war one-liners that is the heart of his campaign stump speech. Ramaswamy made the most pandering pitch for Trump loyalists’ support, pledging to pardon Trump on day one and challenging the other candidates to make the same promise.
Support for Abortion Bans, State and Federal
Asked about their support for a federal abortion ban that is being demanded by anti-abortion leaders, candidates bragged about their support for abortion bans, differing only about whether that should happen at the state or federal level. When the “unapologetically pro-life” Haley said a ban could not make it through the Senate but that she would seek consensus to move forward, Pence chastised her, saying “consensus is the opposite of leadership.”
Sen. Scott insisted that the president must fight for “at least” a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks, saying “we cannot let” pro-choice states like California, New York, and Illinois have “abortion on demand up until the day of birth”—a false formulation being pushed by Republicans who know their bans are unpopular with voters and so want to distract from those bans by dishonestly portraying pro-choice Democrats as “the real extremists.” DeSantis, who signed a virtually complete abortion ban in Florida, used the same misleading line while ducking the question about a federal ban.
Carlson Suggests ‘Left’ Will Try to Kill Trump, Asks About Civil War
Meanwhile, over on X, Trump said virtually nothing that he hasn’t said countless times before in his rambling, self-congratulatory, grievance-stoking campaign speeches, including his strange obsession with the amount of water that dishwashers use. He repeated his false claims about the election having been stolen and insisted that Jan. 6 was a day filled with “love.” He described his political opponents as “savage animals.”
Carlson, nursing his own grievances about having been deplatformed by Fox News, seemed to be trying to get Trump to make news by asking questions sure to rile up the MAGA base. Since impeachment and indictment hadn’t stopped Trump yet, he asked, wasn’t the next logical step for the “left” to kill Trump? Carlson asked more than once if Trump thought “they” would try to kill him. Carlson also asked whether Trump thought we were headed for civil war, to which Trump responded that people are filled with both passion and hatred for what is being done to the country, adding “that’s probably a bad combination.”
Trump supporters have threatened civil war over the lost 2020 election, his impeachments, and the FBI carrying out a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. Speakers at the religious-right Road to Majority conference in June, at which Trump spoke, declared that the country is “at war” and rallied people to “the battlefield of the spiritual civil war.”
MAGA Republicans Threaten Democracy: Pledge to Vote Against Them
The debate confirmed that the Republican Party is in the grip of Trump’s MAGA movement, which is a threat to our democracy. Commit to fighting this authoritarian movement by signing People For the American Way’s pledge to vote against MAGA Republicans in coming elections.