Known knowns about the first Republican presidential primary debate
Three bets for Wednesday. Clip and save 'em now, check me later.
The true starting gun for the 2024 Republican presidential primary race goes off Wednesday night when eight candidates convene under Milwaukee’s klieg lights to be beamed before millions of eyeballs for the first debate of the campaign.
Donald Trump isn’t going. But the GOP front-runner’s absence itself is guaranteed to be a hovering storyline.
Given Ron DeSantis’ dreadful summer, the bar for the shrinking No. 2 candidate looks appreciably low for him to cross. And yet with Trump sitting on a 20-point lead in first-in-the-nation Iowa, DeSantis’ sole objective can no longer be simply trying to cut into the former president’s large lead. He’ll also need to defend his shaky status as most favored alternative to Trump.
Debates are designed for made-for-television moments. Tightly constructed soundbites. Clapbacks. Reaction shots and body language readily manufactured into GIFs.
It will drive the conversation more substantially than any other political event thus far, for at least through the weekend — and potentially longer.
And while ambitious politicians on live television always offer the opportunity for surprises, there are also a handful of known knowns, as the late Donald Rumsfeld once explained. Things that we just know are known to occur.
Here are my 3:
Vivek Ramaswamy will have a moment. The 38-year-old entrepreneur has been the early surprise of the cycle, demonstrating communicative and charismatic ease that DeSantis can only envy. Ramaswamy’s aides tried to get him to sit for a mock debate to prepare for Wednesday, but he didn’t like it, didn’t think it was natural, according to an adviser. Instead, he decided to incorporate more Q & A from voters on the trail in order to train for the unrehearsed back-and-forth. But in reality, Ramaswamy has been preparing for this moment for months. His torrent of television and podcast interviews has not only revealed him to be the most unconventionally talented orator of the 2024 Republican lot, but has primed him for a viral moment under the hot lights. Whether it be defending the MAGA movement or slapping back at a premeditated attack from DeSantis, the first debate will widen the aperture on Vivek, with millions of would-be Republicans being exposed to him for the first time and leaving wanting to learn more. The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous. Ramaswamy has attempted to position himself as the No. 2 alternative to Trump this summer. Now, a scattering of recent polling is showing his aspiration is slowly nearing reality. This is no longer a 2-man race as was framed at the start of the year through the spring. As DeSantis loses altitude, Ramaswamy is swooping in as the outsider voice carrying the America First message without the awkward personal quirks of DeSantis or the criminal liability of Trump. He is the 2024 GOP version of Pete Buttigieg — emerging out of thin air through sweat, talent, access and raw ambition. The debate will be a win for him, the only question is if it’ll deliver the high-octane virality that will vault him over DeSantis by the fall.