Who stole the show? And who helped themselves the most?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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- Two months after leading a mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed Wednesday northwest of Moscow, killing everyone on board. (The crash)
- Rudy Giuliani surrendered at the Fulton County, Georgia, jail on Tuesday afternoon and his bail was set at $150,000. Former President Trump is expected to surrender today. (The surrender)
- India became the first country to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon's south pole just days after a similar Russian attempt failed. (The landing)
- South Carolina's Supreme Court upheld a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. (The ban)
- Japan will begin releasing over a million tons of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean today. (The release)
The Republican primary debate. Last night, eight candidates took the stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a live, two-hour debate. Frontrunner and former President Donald Trump opted to skip the debate, instead sitting for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Throughout the night, the candidates made their pitches to voters about why they were best qualified, discussing issues like the economy, education, the southern border, the war in Ukraine, China, Trump's legal troubles, abortion, and crime. Some issues that were not explored include health care, minimum wage, Hunter Biden, artificial intelligence, and marijuana legalization.
Given the breadth of the debate, today we are going to do something a little different. We're going to highlight each candidate — from least to most popular in polling positions — and briefly recap their highs and lows on the night. Then we're going to share some views from the right and left, and then my take.
— 0.4% in the polls
Burgum, the 67-year-old governor of North Dakota, played a minor role in the debate, but during his limited time in the spotlight he focused on issues related to U.S. energy policy and touted his record as governor. At times, he floundered when speaking, stumbling over his words and repeating phrases. His mild-mannered and affable demeanor stood in stark contrast to some of the more combative candidates on the stage.
- A recurring theme of Burgum’s answers was energy, which he argued should be at the forefront of the U.S.’s dealings with China and Russia. Further, he called for exercising the strength of the American military to ensure peace abroad — specifically, preemptively sending anti-ship missiles to Taiwan to defend the island from a potential invasion by China.
- One of his standout moments came when he took a strong stance against a federal abortion ban, suggesting it would be unconstitutional and maintaining that the issue should be left to the states.
- He also weighed in on a number of “culture war” issues, highlighting North Dakota’s ban on trans girls participating in girls’ sports as a model for other states to follow and vowing to dismantle the Department of Education to invest in more innovative approaches to learning.
- While he appeared most comfortable when talking about his small-town roots and how it informed his leadership style, there were also moments where he struggled to match the energy and confidence of others on the debate stage, and he was left out of multiple discussions.
— 0.7% in the polls
Hutchinson, the 72-year-old former governor of Arkansas, had a relatively quiet night as well, but stood out as one of the few candidates on stage willing to openly disparage former President Trump (often to boos). Hutchinson didn't speak for the first 20 minutes of the debate, but when he did, he emphasized his record of leaving his state with a surplus, lowering taxes, shrinking the size of government, and having the most pro-life state in the country. "We had 14% fewer state employees in Arkansas after I left government than when I took over as governor eight years ago," he said.
- Each Republican candidate had to sign a loyalty pledge to participate, agreeing to support the party's eventual nominee. When asked to raise their hands if they'd support Trump as the nominee if he's convicted of a crime, Hutchinson was the only candidate to keep his hand lowered (Christie briefly raised his hand, then said he was raising it to make a point).
- Hutchinson was one of two people on stage to name Trump and attack him, telling the audience that Trump had attacked the rule of law, was morally disqualified, and may even be legally disqualified according to some constitutional scholars.
- He also stood out by arguing that both the federal government and state governments have a role in restricting abortion, while many other candidates argued to leave it to the states or use Congress to broadly restrict abortion.
— 3.3% in the polls
Christie, the 60-year-old former governor of New Jersey, positioned himself as the only conservative candidate with the ability to win support from and govern across the aisle, often invoking his executive leadership experience as a two-term governor in “deep-blue” New Jersey. Despite trailing most other candidates in the polls, he managed to snag the third-most speaking time of the group, often capitalizing on openings to discuss President Trump and the future of the Republican party.
- Christie made the case that Trump’s conduct has consistently been below the standard Americans should have for a president, regardless of whether he’s guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with. He praised former Vice President Pence for standing up to the president on January 6 and said the party needed to move beyond Trump to be successful in future elections.
- When he wasn’t talking about his own record or attacking Donald Trump, he turned his attention to the candidate who appeared to be the former president’s strongest ally on the stage: Vivek Ramaswamy. The two had a number of heated exchanges, including one where Christie said Ramaswamy “sound[ed] like ChatGPT” in his debate responses and derisively suggested he was trying to emulate Barack Obama as a candidate.
- While his combative debate style was the focal point, Christie also answered questions on Ukraine (America should continue its support), the U.S.-Mexico border (deport anyone who is in the country illegally), and, much to his chagrin, UFOs (the president should tell the truth about whatever information we have).
- In an awkward moment, Christie appeared to initially raise his hand when moderators asked candidates on stage if they would still support Trump should he be convicted of a crime; Christie quickly lowered his hand and then wagged his finger to indicate ‘no.’
— 3.4% in the polls
Haley, the 51-year-old former ambassador to the United Nations, was frequently at the center of the night's most contentious moments, openly criticizing Trump, Ramaswamy, Republicans who ran up the debt, and her fellow candidates, whom she characterized as being about too much talk and too little action. Haley leaned into her status as the only woman on stage, and at one moment of chaotic crosstalk quipped a Margaret Thatcher quote: "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." Haley was also the first candidate on stage to name and criticize Trump, saying he and congressional Republicans added $8 trillion to the debt. Later on, she said Trump can't win a general election, calling him the "most disliked politician" in America and claiming 75% of Americans don't want a Trump-Biden rematch.
- Haley's most memorable moment came when she criticized Ramaswamy for his position on Ukraine, arguing that an American president has to have moral clarity and understand right from wrong or good from evil. Further, she said, a win for Russia was a win for China, and noted that Putin has promised Poland and the Baltics would be next if he takes Ukraine, meaning Ukraine is the first line of defense against World War III. She then accused Ramaswamy of "choosing a murderer," adding that he didn't have any foreign policy experience and it showed, which received an extended ovation.
- Haley also stood out for stating clearly that "climate change is real" and Americans should care about having clean air and clean water. But, she said, we need to start telling India and China to lower their emissions, and argued that green subsidies and electric cars were a gift to China.
- On abortion, Haley called out her friend Mike Pence, saying he was lying to Americans by pretending there was a path to a federal ban. Instead, she said, it was "great" that abortion had been put to the people, and that Congress should try to find a consensus limit on abortion that could get 60 votes, expand contraception, and not punish women for abortions.
— 3.6% in the polls
Scott, the 57-year-old South Carolina senator, brought the positive and uplifting attitude to the stage he's been known for on the campaign trail. Rather than attack his fellow candidates, Scott spent much of the night talking about his own record in the Senate and the promise of America that allowed him to be on stage. At one point, Scott scolded the other candidates for their bickering, arguing that going back and forth and "being childish" is not helpful for the Republican party or America.
- Asked if Mike Pence did "the right thing" by certifying the 2020 election, Scott said affirmatively that he had, but pivoted the question into an argument about the weaponization of the Department of Justice, which he said is being used to attack conservatives and conservative causes. He then raised eyebrows by promising to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray if he were to become president. He also said he’d fire Attorney General Merrick Garland, though it is standard practice for new presidents to appoint new attorney generals when they take over.
- Scott told the audience that the number one issue facing America is insecurity on the southern border, which he blamed for the deaths of 70,000 Americans due to the fentanyl crisis.
- He argued that Congress needs to focus on reducing spending and cutting taxes, noting his role in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. However, Scott also took immediate criticism from Haley, who called him out for voting for two massive spending bills in the wake of coronavirus.
— 4.3% in the polls
Pence, the 64-year-old former vice president, was in perhaps the most difficult position of any candidate on stage. He simultaneously defended his and Trump's record, while also distancing himself from the president and his actions after losing the 2020 election, proudly reminding audience members that he had chosen the constitution over the wishes of Trump. Pence also spoke the most of anyone on stage and was often combative, at several points being warned by the moderators to stop talking over other candidates. At one point, he forcefully went after Ramaswamy, saying "now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don't need to bring in a rookie. We don't need to bring in people without experience."
- Pence tried to position himself as the person on stage who was clearly most prepared and most experienced, touting his record as a former governor, U.S. representative, and vice president. He boasted about the Supreme Court justices he and Trump appointed, the build-up of the U.S. military, and the growth of the economy during his time in the White House. He also took credit for helping negotiate funding for the border wall, reducing illegal immigration, and using economic pressure to force Mexico into changing its immigration policies.
- As expected, Pence also tried to position himself as the most pro-life person on stage, saying he gave his life to Jesus Christ and was "not new" to the cause of life. He criticized Haley for taking a "consensus" position on abortion, saying "consensus is the opposite of leadership" on this issue and insisting the federal government ban abortion from the moment a baby can feel pain (Pence pointed to roughly 15 weeks into pregnancy, though this is hotly contested).
- Pence and Ramaswamy regularly exchanged barbs, at one point arguing over whether America needs a new national identity (Ramaswamy's argument) or whether Americans already understand how great of a country it is (Pence's argument).
- Interestingly, despite boasting about his role in preventing a constitutional crisis caused by Trump, Pence also raised his hand when moderators asked if he would support Trump if he ends up winning the nomination and being convicted of crimes.
— 9.7% in the polls
Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old entrepreneur, had arguably the most noticeable night of anyone on stage. Standing center-stage because of his polling position, he was frequently prodding his fellow candidates and dismissing them as "bought and sold" by the Republican machine and "Super PAC puppets." A powerful public speaker, he drew major applause for describing the nuclear family as the greatest form of governance known to man and was the first to raise his hand in a pledge that he would still support Donald Trump if he were convicted, and would pardon him as president, challenging the others to say they would as well. He was also the first to deny human-caused climate change, calling it a "hoax."
- Perhaps Ramaswamy's best moment was when he called out Chris Christie's campaign as one of vengeance and personal grievance against Donald Trump, which got major applause from the crowd. Ramaswamy called Trump “the best president of the 21st century” and repeatedly defended him throughout the night.
- He also received uproarious applause at various points when he called for drilling, fracking, burning coal, embracing nuclear energy, destroying the administrative state, and unlocking the American economy. Ramaswamy repeatedly called for abolishing the Department of Education and ending teachers unions.
- At one point, Ramaswamy seemed to lose his footing on Ukraine, saying he would not support Ukraine in the war against Russia —a moment Nikki Haley pounced on.
- Throughout the night, Ramaswamy emphasized his outsider status: He is young, not a politician, and unbound by the rules the other candidates were playing by, arguing that he was the lone truth speaker on stage. He framed the Republican choice as between incremental changes (the other candidates) and revolution (himself).
— 15.2% in the polls
DeSantis, the 44-year-old governor of Florida, came into the night as the best-positioned candidate to stage a comeback and defeat Donald Trump. He boasted about his record in Florida throughout the night, touting decisions he made to shorten lockdowns during Covid-19 and remove "critical race theory" and gender ideology lessons from classrooms. He criticized Bidenomics, saying Americans were struggling to afford new homes, groceries, and cars. He also focused on crime more than any other candidate on stage, promising to remove district attorneys and prosecutors who were soft on crime and pledging to re-establish the rule of law on the southern border.
- Early on in the night, DeSantis took command of the stage, refusing a request to raise his hand to indicate whether he believed human behavior is causing climate change. "We're not schoolchildren," DeSantis said, which led the moderators to abandon the request and allow DeSantis to explain his position.
- One of the biggest applause lines for DeSantis came when he noted that he was the only person on stage to remove Democratic prosecutors who were elected with donations from the network of Democratic billionaire George Soros.
- While promising to secure the southern border, DeSantis made news by pledging to deploy the U.S. military against the cartels on day one of his time in office.
- Throughout the night, DeSantis regularly sat back and let the other candidates spar, waiting instead to deliver lengthier answers when he got the chance or had questions directed at him.
- At one point, the moderators had to twice ask DeSantis to clarify his answer on whether Mike Pence did the right thing by allowing Congress to certify the 2020 election. “I’ve answered this, Mike did his duty, I’ve got no beef with him,” DeSantis said, before arguing that discussing January 6 was exactly what Democrats wanted, which also drew a huge applause from the live audience.
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What the left is saying.
In MSNBC, Mehdi Hasan said the debate proved “these GOP candidates are not serious people.”
“Wednesday night, we witnessed over two hours of fear-mongering and gaslighting, of cynicism and whataboutism, of canned talking points and memorized one-liners,” Hasan said. Despite the “pious-sounding, high-minded” tone struck by many candidates, their responses lacked substance and underscored their lack of seriousness in the race.
“Forget a vision for America. These people have no vision for the Republican Party — a party that lost the House in 2018, lost the presidency and the Senate in 2020 and only narrowly regained the House in 2022,” he added. “It was another reminder that the Republican Party of the United States is not a normal center-right or conservative party… These are political pygmies, trailing a disgraced front-runner who is facing 91 criminal counts in four different jurisdictions.”
In The Atlantic, David A. Graham called Ramaswamy the “breakout star of the melee in Milwaukee.”
The debate was Ramaswamy’s “coming-out party,” and even if he wasn’t the definitive winner of the night, he was “clearly the main character.” In particular, he quickly established himself as “the most MAGA candidate onstage,” emulating Trump in his powerful speaking style and tendency to disregard the debate’s guidelines. Like the former president, he also “openly mocked his rivals.”
“Watching how Ramaswamy handles his new turn in the spotlight will be interesting,” Graham said. “He’s charismatic, a smooth orator, irreverent, and funny. But it’s easy to imagine that his shtick will wear thin. Ramaswamy sounds good, but once you slow down and think about what he said, it often makes little sense or means nothing.” His “smarmy student-government president” personality also runs the risk of turning him into the next Ted Cruz instead of the new Donald Trump.
What the right is saying.
In Fox News, Liz Peek said there was “one clear winner” and “one clear loser” in the debate.
Haley had the best night of the candidates, coming across as “tough on national security and securing the border, smart about education,” and as “the only candidate to stake out a winning position on abortion.” Although her campaign has failed to gain traction thus far, her strong debate performance “could prove a turning point.”
Ramaswamy came into the night with momentum but quickly “blew that advantage, and — most probably — any chance he might have had of securing the nomination,” Peek said. His “lack of civility was shocking, at odds with [his] trademark sunniness,” and he came off as “smart-alecky and disrespectful of his fellow contestants,” a fatal error for a young candidate “eager to convince voters he belongs in the Oval Office.”
In The Federalist, Shawn Fleetwood argued DeSantis and Ramaswamy were the only two candidates who “seemed to understand the will of Republican voters.”
DeSantis and Ramaswamy effectively communicated their positions on the issues that animate the modern GOP, including a focus on America-first policies. In particular, they were “the only two on stage who raised their hands when the Fox News moderators asked which candidates would not support continuous U.S. funding to Ukraine, aligning them with a majority of Americans.”
“Meanwhile, the six other candidates on stage seemingly thought they were in a GOP primary debate from 2008 or 2012,” he added. They were more focused on topics like tax cuts and defending Ukraine than issues that Republicans actually care about, like the “Department of Justice weaponizing America’s law enforcement apparatus,” “a wide-open southern border allowing millions of illegal aliens to pour into our country unchecked,” and “a tyrannical health bureaucracy attempting to bring Covid authoritarianism back into style.”
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.
- Ramaswamy is definitely going to be declared the winner, but there is a fatal flaw in his strategy.
- To me, Haley did the most to help herself in the debate.
- Nobody seems to really have a chance to beat Trump.
The common wisdom here is going to be that Vivek Ramaswamy won the debate. And I understand why: He was often the center of attention, drawing the most attacks from his fellow candidates, which is typically a sign of strength. He got the post-debate praise from Trump, who declared Ramaswamy the winner (because he called Trump the greatest president of the 21st century). He was the favorite of several focus groups in their snap reactions to the debate. And he got talked about the most online.
Here's why I think this is wrong: If Ramaswamy wants to win, being a Trump impersonator isn't going to work. Trump is leading the race, yet Ramaswamy is trying to use his playbook against him. He's positioning himself as the "truth-saying outsider” who isn't scared to say what everyone is thinking, while taking nearly identical positions to Trump on every issue possible.
Even (or perhaps especially) if this were the general election and Ramaswamy was already the Republican candidate, this isn't a great strategy. We just witnessed several election cycles where candidates in battleground states did their best Trump impersonations and flopped — from Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona to Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
If anyone wants to beat Trump, they'll have to zig in places he zags, and offer something actually new. There's no denying Ramaswamy is an excellent speaker, and I think he ran circles around the others on stage in terms of optics. But he needs to have the courage to attack Trump in places he's vulnerable while praising him in places where he could win over some of his voters. I didn't see Ramaswamy do that.
I also think some of Ramaswamy's stuff just didn't land. He got smoked by Haley on Ukraine, and even if you are partial to Ramaswamy's position about cutting off funding (as many Americans are), Haley's explanation of why he was wrong — and his lack of moral clarity — was the most devastating blow he took all night.
As the other Republicans on stage pointed out, his lack of experience alone could be disqualifying, but I also think he got out over his skis a few times throughout the night. Obviously, I think he's wrong about climate change, though I'm sure his "climate change is a hoax" line will resonate with many Republicans. But I think he crossed the thin line from confidence to smarminess at times, including on that issue. There were moments I felt like I was watching a snake oil salesman rather than an honest speaker of hard truths, and I doubt I’m alone.
Again, though, all of this is less relevant than the simple fact that Ramaswamy isn't going to beat Trump by trying to imitate him. This, to me, was the fundamentally shocking thing about the entire debate: There was nothing new.
Aside from Ramaswamy, I didn't really hear anything I hadn't heard in past Republican debates — except for calls to send troops into Mexico and abolish the Department of Education, two ideas I simply can’t take seriously and don’t think would be popular with Americans if actually proposed from a position of power. The conservative pundit and activist Charlie Kirk put it this way: "This is what the GOP would sound like without Trump. Be careful what you wish for. The muscle memory of the old Republican Party is strong. Neocons. Warmongers. Boring. This is a branding disaster save for Vivek." And I think he's right.
That isn't to say everyone had a bad night, though. Aside from Ramaswamy, I thought Haley was the strongest of anyone on stage, and given her polling position probably has the most ground to gain. Her policy positions were clear, she was unafraid to go after Trump or other Republicans for out of control spending, she focused a lot on the economy, and she was the only one who really got their hands around Ramaswamy and pinned him. She had the best answer on abortion to take to a general election, though I'm not sure how it moves the needle in the primary. And overall, I thought she was the least mistake-prone of the group.
DeSantis, to me, seemed underwhelming. In writing the recap for this piece it was hard to remember what he even did or said, which is not good for someone who is purportedly the runner-up in the race. He spent too much of the night hanging back and letting others fight, a surprising strategy given his need for some momentum. Oddly, he probably has the strongest conservative record on the big culture war issues of the day, but he doesn't seem capable of messaging them well on stage.
Pence was memorable if for nothing else than his combativeness, which struck me as unusual. He spoke the most and stood tall on his record. He doesn't have a shot to win, but it was probably the best debate performance possible for him given the needle he is trying to thread of being both for and against his own administration's record.
Burgum, Christie, and Hutchinson should all drop out. Christie is clearly on a singular mission to harm Trump and Ramaswamy was right to call that out. Burgum, at times, seemed like he didn't even want to be there (perhaps because of his torn achilles). And Hutchinson, who has a solid record as governor, had nothing but stale platitudes and old GOP talking points better fit for the late 1990s. I don't see any of them moving anywhere close to contention, and it's time to pull the plug.
Scott, for me, was the most disappointing of all. I have expressed high hopes about his candidacy and pointed to him as a potential threat to Trump if his campaign were to gain momentum. He brought his congenial attitude last night, but little he said seemed to rev up the audience or land with me personally, and I was surprised about just how few fresh angles he had on the issues of the day. He seemed to disappear, which is not what you want to do when you're struggling to stay relevant in the polls.
On the whole, Ramaswamy had the best audition for vice president, and if Trump were forced to exit the race because of his legal troubles, he’d probably be the biggest threat to DeSantis taking the nomination. I thought Haley did the most to improve her odds, while Scott did the least, and DeSantis still seems like a weaker candidate than so many of us thought a few months ago. All in all, I saw nothing that makes me think anyone on that stage is going to wrest this candidacy from Trump's hands, unless his legal troubles do the job for them.
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- 14. The number of times President Joe Biden was attacked by Republican candidates during the debate, the most of any political figure.
- 6. The number of times Trump and Ramaswamy were attacked, tied for second-most behind Biden.
- 12 minutes, 37 seconds. Mike Pence’s total speaking time during the debate, the most of any candidate.
- 7 minutes, 33 seconds. Asa Hutchinson’s total speaking time during the debate, the least of any candidate.
- 7 minutes, 54 seconds. The total time spent discussing abortion during the debate, the most of any topic.
- 6 minutes, 50 seconds. The total time spent discussing Donald Trump during the debate, the second-most of any topic.
- 50,000. The number of individual donors each candidate will need to have in order to qualify for the second debate on September 27, in addition to polling at 3% or higher in at least two national polls.
- 196 million. The number of views, as of 11am ET, on Tucker Carlson's interview with Donald Trump posted on X (formerly Twitter) shortly before the start of the GOP debate. X calculates views by the number of users who “see” a post while logged in to their account.
- One year ago today we covered Dr. Fauci's retirement.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the Mar-a-Lago witness flipping.
- Weiss isn't Right: 674 Tangle readers answered our poll asking about the Hunter Biden special counsel, with 59% saying the case should have a special counsel, but NOT David Weiss. 26% said the case should have had an independent counsel instead. 8% said Weiss's appointment was appropriate, and 3% said no special counsel should have been appointed at all. "I think given the timeline to this point it should be Weiss. However, it should have been someone else and it looks like one should have been appointed a while ago," one respondent said.
- Nothing to do with politics: Fyre Festival 2 tickets have gone on sale — buyer beware!
- Take the poll. Who do you think won the Republican debate? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
In Japan, 'Hikikomori' are people who isolate themselves at home for more than six months, rarely interacting with anyone other than their families, or sometimes with no one at all. Over the past two decades, as their numbers have grown, they have become a phenomenon of increasing public concern in Japan –– concern that has grown more urgent since 2020, when the pandemic swelled their ranks dramatically. A relatively new therapeutic concept aimed at helping hikikomori is part support home, part collective farm. Its Japanese name is Hito Okoshi, literally “person revitalization,” and so far it has shown promising results at helping hikikomori seek out responsibility and reintegrate into society. Reasons to Be Cheerful has the story.
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