The Year in BS #5: The Potemkin primaries
None of these guys will be the nominee. So what’s with the debates?
The “race” for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination is so non-competitive as to constitute fraud — or would, if its fraudulence were not obvious to everyone, and not only acceptable to but also endorsed by anyone who might have standing to file a complaint.
In the past we’ve had primaries in which the nominee was obvious from the start even when he or she wasn’t the incumbent. Also, way back in the old days we had “front-porch campaigns” where the front-runner didn’t work the hustings or debate his opponents.
In the modern era, where debates are traditional, we’ve had campaign seasons in which the nominee-presumptive refused to engage in them. But that usually meant either that the nom-pres had no challengers or that such challengers as he had were considered so hopeless that no one would, or could, require he debate them. So the debates didn’t happen.
Trump has declined to meet his challengers in open combat — and with good reason: He has cruised in the GOP primary polls, never less than 15 points ahead of his nearest competitor and currently a ridiculous 50+ points up. Yet the Republican Party has held televised prime-time debates among these also-rans-presumptive without him — as if Trump were not only absent but non-existent, or as if the debates were actually a battle for second place.
Also, with the partial exception of Chris Christie — whose candidacy seems like an expensive trolling operation against his old buddy, or a TV talk show audition — on the rare occasions when these candidates do mention Trump, they do it very cautiously, careful not to show disrespect, as if he were a beloved former leader cut down in his prime rather than a twice-impeached insurrectionist grifter who blew the last election and is currently engulfed in multiple criminal prosecutions (and is also, I repeat, the guy the GOP will actually run.).
Primary debates have degenerated over the years but the two part-of-a-debates I’ve covered so far this year have reached rock bottom and then dug for substrata. DeSantis had become the Great Fash Hope of anti-Trumpers when he implemented rightwing fever dreams as state policy in Florida, raising their hopes of electing a more paper-trained would-be dictator — which faded as soon as national audiences got a load of what a weird creep he is.
DeSantis’ airtime, and everyone else’s, has been eaten up by Vivek Ramaswamy, whose demeanor is techbro-repulsive and whose policies and conspiracy theories (including 9/11 crypto-trutherism, which is hilarious considering how have-you-forgotten Republicans used to be) are insane, but whose bravado reminds Republicans that they don’t want just any asshole — they want an alpha asshole.
The debates have eliminated some of the weaker candidates — including Tim Scott, who presumably entered only so that, if Trump needed a black guy he could boss around for his VP candidate, people would go “oh yeah I know who he is.” This has left Christie, DeSantis, and Nikki Haley, who is constantly portrayed by the prestige press as a Moderate because, I guess, she’s a woman, plus she deflects deftly when softball moderators and interviewers ask her about the highly unpopular rightwing policies she supports, and she very occasionally makes extremely mild, plausibly-deniable criticisms of Trump while assuring voters “I think that his policies are good” lest they lynch her.
Haley has also defended Trump from his disqualification on constitutional grounds from the Colorado ballot — as have all his remaining opponents. Under normal circumstances, one might find this a clever feint at comity; but, given that present-day Republicans obviously aren’t into comity at all — in fact, I do believe any candidate who said “that’s fine, I’ll be on all 51 ballots and I’m going to win” would gain, along with multiple death threats, a dozen points at least — it just seems as craven as anything else they’re doing.
Why even have this pseudo-competitive campaign? Why not just say, fuck it, we know as well as we did in 2020 who the nominee will be, so once again we’re not gonna bother to pretend?
There are a couple of upsides for the GOP: The debates keep them in front of audiences (notwithstanding, with these candidates, that could prove a drawback), and maybe make them look less like total patsies for Trump.
But for me the big thing is this: It’s really the version of democracy that Republicans prefer to older models — one where the result is a foregone conclusion (which, admittedly, has been the case in some before-time primary seasons) but everyone acts as if it isn’t, which is new.
There’s always some bullshit and rigging in politics, but these Potemkin debates are genuinely surreal — unless you really believe, as MAGA people do, that everything official and traditional, like political parties and primaries and debates, is totally corrupt and ridiculous, something only fools take seriously, and that all Republicans except Trump and those he personally anoints are also corrupt and ridiculous.
Seen this way, it begins to look like an elaborate self-humiliation ritual — something that shows the RINOs fretting and sweating while the big man makes a show of ignoring them and then struts in at the end to take the prize. At the next debate, look at the candidates’ eyes and tell me you don’t see that they know it, too.