First debate leaves Republican picture both clear and muddled

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


One would be hard-pressed to find a presidential primary in the nation’s history more discombobulating than the one currently being staged by the Republican Party. 

It’s a case made all the more confusing by the fact that, on paper, everything should be settled. 

If polls from left- and right-leaning services are to be believed, former President Donald Trump is a shoo-in for the nomination. He tracks well north of 50% in every poll and outstrips his competition by well into double figures. 

But, two factors make even the sure thing uncertain. 

First, polls differ wildly in terms of predicting how Trump will do in the general election against sitting President Joe Biden. Most of Trump’s opponents are fond of reminding voters that a Trump nomination could be the easiest path to reelection for Biden. 

Second, but certainly connected to the first, Trump’s neverending parade of legal battles keeps the practical nature of his candidacy in limbo while concurrently damaging his standing with independent and moderate voters. 

“What I do believe is you’re going to have Donald Trump spend more time in a courtroom next year — not through anything outside of they’re weaponizing government against him — but he’s going to spend more time in a courtroom than he is campaigning,” former UN Ambassador and Trump opponent Nikki Haley said during an appearance on Fox News. “I served with him, I was proud to serve with him, I agree with him on most issues and he’s my friend. But the reality is we cannot afford Joe Biden.”

It remains to be seen if the 2024 Republican primary will be a race for second place or a second option should Trump become unavailable. 

The problem for the right is that, after Trump, there is no clear second choice in the Republican field. 

As reported by The Hill, two major polls show Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the perceived winner of the first Republican debate, one made noteworthy as much by Trump’s absence as any sparring among the other candidates. 

“Ron DeSantis won the night!” Casey DeSantis, the governor’s wife, tweeted. “He is the proven leader who will reverse America’s decline. We’re not getting a mulligan on 2024, he will get the job done, no excuses!”

However, it’s hard to call DeSantis’ showing a rousing victory. He was the winner by plurality, tracking well below 50% among poll respondents. 

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy won the unofficial award of the most-searched candidate. 

According to Fox News, Ramaswamy and Haley went first and second in Google searches, which speaks to the pair’s relative lack of national notoriety compared to the likes of DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

Ramaswamy is also the early leader in the purely speculative race toward eventually becoming Trump’s running mate. Newsweek quoted experts who question whether Ramaswamy has any real interest in winning the nomination. 

On the campaign trail and social media, Ramaswamy has given no hint of shooting for the lower half of the Republican ticket. He remains steadfast in pushing for traditional values and going headfirst into showdowns with legacy media journalists. 


In a race of more unknowns than knowns, there are still a few things that are given. 

Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – truly any candidate who is particularly vocal in their opposition to Trump – face all-or-nothing propositions. 

They must win the nomination. There will be no vice-presidential olive branch extended should Trump prevail, and even non-Trump candidates are likely to steer away as hardcore anti-Trump sentiment is not popular among right-leaning voters. 

Polls show neither Pence nor Christie have much of a chance, but optimism still reigns in their camps. 

“I really do believe more after last night that Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee,” Pence said during an appearance on CNN. “I know that many of you in the media think this is already a rematch between Trump and Biden, I don’t see that.” 

Another certainty is that the American people are interested in these proceedings. An estimated 12.8 million viewers watched the debate on Fox News, which is quite the number for an event that lacked the presumed nominee.

That, however, paled in comparison to the 170 million views that Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson drew over the course of 12 hours. Trump has since stated that the total views have surpassed 230 million. 

Ratings do not necessarily equate to anything at the ballot box, but the numbers at least indicate that the American electorate is searching for something. Whether it’s a search for a new president or just curiosity as to what comes next on the right is a question yet to be answered.