Sep 28, 2023

The second Republican debate.

Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nikki Haley (left), Ron DeSantis (center) and Vivek Ramaswamy (right) during the second Republican primary debate. Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The candidates sparred over some of the biggest issues facing America.

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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Today's read: 16 minutes.

We have a long newsletter today to break down everything that happened at the second Republican debate last night. Plus, I give "my take," a new YouTube video, and some quick hits.

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Quick hits.

  1. The federal investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents has turned into a sprawling examination of Obama-era security protocols. (The investigation)
  2. A federal judge overseeing former President Trump's election interference trial denied his request to recuse herself. (The denial)
  3. U.S. crude oil posted its biggest price jump since May, and is now at its highest price point so far this year. (The prices)
  4. North Korea released Travis King, the 23-year-old U.S. soldier who crossed the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. King was released into the custody of Swedish officials and then sent back to the United States. (The return)
  5. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy rejected a short-term Senate proposal to fund the government, increasing the chances of a government shutdown beginning this weekend. (The standoff)

Today's topic.

The second Republican debate. On Wednesday night, seven Republican candidates for president participated in the second Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

To qualify for the debate, candidates needed at least 3% support in two national polls or 3% support in one national poll and two polls from four of the early voting states (New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina). Additionally, candidates needed at least 50,000 unique donors to qualify, with at least 200 donors coming from 20 states or territories. All seven candidates signed a pledge to support the party's eventual nominee. Seven of the eight candidates from the first debate qualified — only Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, missed the cut.

The first Republican primary is now four months away. Former President Donald Trump, who is leading primary polls by a wide margin, once again skipped this debate, opting instead to hold campaign events in Michigan, a battleground state.

During the debate, candidates discussed auto workers who are on strike, health care, education, rising foreign threats, the border, LBGT issues, and parental rights, among other issues.

Given the breadth of topics and people to cover, we're going to get out of our typical format for today's newsletter, as we did for the first debate. Instead, we'll highlight each candidate — from least to most popular in polling positions — and briefly recap their highs and lows from the night. Then we're going to share some views from the right and left, and then my take.

Doug Burgum.

0.9% in the polls

Burgum, the 67-year-old governor of North Dakota, once again played a minor role in the debate, but he attempted to assert his position on a number of issues early on, particularly the auto workers’ strike, energy policy, and childcare costs. He repeatedly turned to his record as governor and experience in the technology sector when asked how he would address various national issues, and often alluded to a belief in states’ rights as the foundation of his political views. He largely avoided combative back-and-forth exchanges with other candidates on the stage, though he was more prone to interrupting than he had been during the first debate. 

The notables:

  • On the United Auto Workers strike, Burgum pointed to the Biden administration’s subsidies for electric vehicles as a driving cause, saying that workers are striking because of Biden’s “interference with capital markets.” He criticized the administration for subsidizing the production of electric vehicles, calling it misuse of taxpayer money. On rising healthcare costs, he returned to his comments on electric vehicles, arguing the federal government has decided to pick winners and losers in the industry to the detriment of consumers.
  • When asked about competition between the U.S. and China in agriculture production, Burgum said the two countries are in a “cold war” but Biden won’t admit it, adding that the president’s weak foreign policy stances are making the country less safe.
  • In virtually every answer he gave, Burgum returned to his record as governor, touting the state’s outcomes in areas like education, crime, and energy costs as a model for the rest of the country to follow. He also positioned the state as ahead of the curve on national issues. “In North Dakota, we knew that the cliff was coming,” he said about rising childcare costs. “And so guess what, we planned.”
  • Despite his attempts to assert himself on the stage, Burgum frequently needed to interject to comment on many of these topics, and the moderators eventually began cutting him off before he could complete his answer. 

Tim Scott.

2.7% in the polls

Scott, the 57-year-old South Carolina senator, presented mostly party-line positions on securing the southern border, promoting tax cuts, and reining in federal spending. He also leaned into his sense of personal optimism, trumpeting his own story as proof of the American dream and his belief that, despite past racial discrimination, “America is not a racist country.” However, in a change of direction from the first debate, Scott was unafraid to spar with the other candidates, calling out Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley.

The notables:

  • At the beginning of the debate, Scott came out focused on criticizing Joe Biden. “Every county is now a border county,” he said, arguing that Biden should have gone to the border instead of participating in the UAW strike. Later, Scott blamed high childcare costs on Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
  • In response to Ramaswamy’s statement at the last debate that the other candidates were “bought and paid for,” Scott turned to Ramaswamy and criticized him for being “in business with the Chinese Communist Party.” He dug in further to Ramaswamy’s attempt to brush off his claims, continuing to interrupt and antagonize him as Ramaswamy tried to defend his record.
  • On foreign policy, Scott defended supporting Ukraine by emphasizing that 90% of our aid is offered through a NATO-backed loan, and said that “our national vital interest is in degrading the Russian military.” He also touted his service on the Senate Armed Services committee and legislation he’s written to freeze Mexican cartel accounts and seize their assets.
  • After being prompted to explain to former South Carolina Governor Haley why he should be president over her, he delivered his answer to Haley, saying he would rein in spending, stimulate manufacturing job growth, and “unleash” our energy resources. He revisited this exchange in an awkward moment later, criticizing Haley for having curtains that were too expensive in her U.N. ambassador residence.
  • At times, Scott seemed to struggle to interject himself. Though his microphone appeared to be temporarily cut off, he could be heard sarcastically asking the moderators if they were having trouble seeing him raise his hand to respond.

Chris Christie.

2.9% in the polls

Christie, the 60-year-old former governor of New Jersey, continued to position himself as the candidate most willing to criticize Donald Trump directly. Christie’s speaking time again outpaced his poll numbers, and he capitalized on openings to go after President Trump. Otherwise, Christie also gave answers that reflected the general party line on issues like the border, saying he’d sign an executive order to send the National Guard to secure it, and on artificial intelligence, saying that the government does not need to stand in the way of innovation.

The notables: 

  • To start off his debate performance, Christie hammered both the Biden and Trump administration for adding to the national debt, saying that Trump added $7 trillion and that “the Biden administration put another five trillion on, and counting.” Christie also criticized both Biden and Trump for hiding, saying that Joe Biden is “hiding in his basement” and that Donald Trump is ducking debates and accountability so much that people will start calling him “Donald Duck.”
  • Christie was boastful of his record in a “blue state,” bragging that his office set arrest records when he was U.S. Attorney in New Jersey and that he was reelected governor with 61% of the vote and over 70% of independent voters.
  • Once again, Christie led the way in going after Trump, attacking the former president for calling Putin a “brilliant and a great leader” even though he murdered people in Russia, was murdering innocent civilians in Ukraine, and was kidnapping 20 thousand Ukrainian children. When each candidate refused to write down the name of a candidate they would “vote off the island” in the primary, Christie was willing to tell the moderators that he would “vote Donald Trump off the island.”
  • Displaying a generally casual and off-the-cuff speaking style, Christie had moments on stage that played well. He received some cheers and laughs when he chided that Mexico may have paid for Trump’s border wall if they had known he would only construct 52 miles of it and for telling Vivek Ramaswamy to “put his hand down for a second” while he was speaking. 
  • One low moment for Christie came when he awkwardly accused Joe Biden of “sleeping with” someone in the teacher’s union, an apparent reference to his wife, Jill Biden, who is a career educator. Also, after being asked to write the name of a competitor they’d vote off, Christie appeared to start to write a name before shaking his head ‘no’ when the other candidates refused to play along.

Mike Pence.

4.6% in the polls

Pence, the 64-year-old former vice president and governor of Indiana, had a more subdued night compared to his (relatively) fiery performance in the first debate, during which he spoke the most of any candidate. In the second debate, he described himself as the only person on the stage with the depth of experience across multiple branches of government to understand how to successfully lead the country and touted the record of the Trump administration on issues like energy and the economy. He juxtaposed his resume with others’ on the stage, once again singling out Vivek Ramaswamy as too inexperienced to be president. On specific policy questions, though, he regularly changed the topic without giving an answer or pivoted to earlier questions that he preferred to discuss. 

The notables:

  • Pence came with a number of prepared one-liners, including one comment that President Biden “doesn’t belong on a picket line, he belongs on the unemployment line,” a reference to Biden’s visit to the UAW strike. He took frequent shots at the Biden administration’s economic policies, arguing that they were leading the country in the wrong direction in every way.
  • In a strange moment, Pence responded to a question about repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by circling back to an earlier question (posed to another candidate) about mass shootings in the U.S. Pence said the solution he would prioritize as president would be expediting the death penalty for mass shooters as a measure of deterrence and seemed to imply that DeSantis was not doing enough on this issue in his state, saying, “It is unconscionable that the Parkland shooter, Ron, is actually going to spend the rest of his life behind bars in Florida.”
  • He was also asked two pointed questions about how he would protect the LGBT community from violent attacks and why Latino voters seem distrustful of the GOP. He responded to both questions by saying that he wanted to “continue to build bridges to every community in this country,” while also noting the economic gains made by Latinos during the Trump administration. He quickly moved on, pivoting to parental rights and education. 
  • After Ramaswamy suggested that U.S. military support for Ukraine is causing Russia to deepen its ties with China, Pence went on the attack, interjecting to say that if the U.S. were to stop supporting Ukraine and permit a Russian victory, it would be a “green light” to China to invade Taiwan.

Nikki Haley.

6.3% in the polls

Haley, the 51-year-old former ambassador to the United Nations, appeared to be the most confrontational of the candidates on stage, picking fights with Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, and especially Vivek Ramaswamy. Haley also railed against both Biden and Trump, saying that Biden’s statements “waved the green flag” for migrants to come to the United States’ southern border and that Trump was wrong in how he chose to stand up to China. Haley also notably criticized runaway healthcare costs and failing public education, arguing the orthodox conservative position that parental rights and school choice are necessary fixes.

The notables:

  • Seemingly showing a genuine dislike for Ramaswamy, Haley once again went out of her way to confront him. “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber,” Haley told Ramaswamy in response to his answer about creating a TikTok account, adding “we can’t trust you.” She also claimed that Ramasamy had only abandoned his business pursuits in China right before deciding to run for president.
  • In response to a question on energy policy, Haley said that “energy security is national security” and attacked DeSantis for banning fracking and offshore drilling in Florida. When the governor defended the decisions as a constitutional amendment that the voters decided, Haley doubled down, arguing (rightly) that DeSantis made the decision before the vote.
  • On China, Haley said that Trump was wrong to focus on trade, instead emphasizing that we should confront China on buying U.S. farmland, killing Americans through the manufacture of fentanyl, stealing $6 billion in intellectual property, putting a base in Cuba, and manufacturing our surveillance drones. 
  • The moderators pitted the two South Carolinians against one another, asking Scott to explain to Haley why he deserved to be “promoted” to president before her. Haley initially got the last word in the exchange, saying that Scott increased spending and the national debt for 12 years in Congress. When Scott rekindled the debate, she was unfazed, saying “bring it, Tim” before getting drawn into an awkward and heated back-and-forth over the cost of curtains in her U.N. ambassador residence.

Vivek Ramaswamy.

6.3% in the polls

Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old entrepreneur, was attacked the most of any candidate by a significant margin, mirroring the dynamics of the first debate. He often found himself in the middle of heated exchanges with Haley, Scott, and Pence, in which multiple candidates spoke over each other in an attempt to have the last word. Ramaswamy spoke the second-most of the group, though his time in the spotlight tended to come in bursts. While others leveled criticism at Trump (or avoided talking about him at all), Ramaswamy continued to praise the former president, though he also made a concerted effort to differentiate his campaign from Trump’s.

The notables:

  • Ramaswamy expressed “sympathy” for auto workers on strike, describing them as hard workers who were struggling to make ends meet because of bad policies coming from the White House. He also reiterated his stance on using the military to secure the U.S.-Mexico border and fight the cartels, while jumping at opportunities to define his position on social issues (saying, for example, that “transgenderism is a mental health disorder”).
  • As in the first debate, Ramaswamy’s answers frequently built on the notion of restoring values like hard work, shared purpose, and love of country as the bedrock of American society. He said that most of the country holds these values, but a “fringe minority in the Democratic Party” have steered us away from them.
  • The attacks came early and often from all sides, with Haley as Ramaswamy’s main antagonist. A new line of criticism centered on his recent decision to join TikTok. Haley slammed Ramaswamy for using the platform and suggested he was a hypocrite for campaigning on the platform while claiming social media was causing a youth mental health crisis. Ramaswamy responded that he was the only Republican candidate “reaching the next generation of young Americans where they are” and called on his fellow candidates to focus on policy issues rather than personal attacks. 
  • While Ramaswamy maintained his cheery demeanor for most of the night, he did seem genuinely frustrated at points by repeated interruptions during his responses, leading to one humorous slip that quickly blew up on social media. 

Ron DeSantis.

13.8% in the polls

After a slow start to the debate in which he was overshadowed by other candidates, DeSantis seized on a number of opportunities in the second hour to drive the discussion on topics like China, economic policy, and education. The 45-year-old governor of Florida came under attack more than he had in the first debate but mostly shrugged off any barbs that came his way, pivoting to his record as governor to back up his conservative credentials. He also criticized Trump by name multiple times after avoiding any reference to the former president in the first debate, particularly on the issue of abortion.

The notables:

  • DeSantis made border security one of the key issues of the night, remarking on several occasions that on his first day in office as president, “we’re going to declare it a national emergency.” He also said he would finish Trump’s border wall and reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy. 
  • Nikki Haley accused DeSantis of banning fracking in Florida during a discussion on U.S. energy production, and the two engaged in an extended back-and-forth where DeSantis called Haley’s claims “not true” (they were true) and alluded to a plan for U.S. energy independence that he would enact as president. 
  • When pressed on the question of why Florida has some of the highest insurance costs of any state, DeSantis sidestepped the question, alluding to a “population boom” and pointing to the state’s low unemployment as evidence that residents were doing well. He also made a comment about how Florida would make economic opportunities available to everyone but would not provide an expansive safety net, “like California, and have massive numbers of people on government programs, without work requirements.”
  • When candidates were asked to write down someone on the stage that they would “vote off” the campaign trail for the Republican nomination in a Survivor-style exercise, DeSantis quickly interjected and said the question was a distraction and “disrespectful” to the candidates. It was one of his strongest soundbites of the night, and he capitalized on the moment to make his closing statement to voters, which other candidates were not able to do before the debate ended. DeSantis had similarly shut down a question from moderators in the first debate about whether the candidates believed in human-caused climate change

What the left is saying.

  • The left sees the debate as inconsequential in the grand scheme of the Republican primary.
  • Some took aim at the candidates’ answers to economic questions, arguing they revealed their phony populism with a flawed understanding of issues like the auto workers’ strike.
  • Others say none of the candidates did anything to challenge Trump’s dominant position in the race. 

In MSNBC, Zeeshan Aleem wrote about how the debate “exposed the phony populism of the right.”

When discussing the UAW strike, “each candidate pivoted from the strike to unrelated issues, all of which inevitably rested on the idea that everything was President Joe Biden’s fault. Not a single one of them criticized the chief culprits — the corporations exploiting their workers. And not a single one of them acknowledged the role that union power could play in helping workers achieve their goals of higher pay, better working conditions and stronger job security. The consecutive whiffs illustrated the phony populism of the right. It’s a lot of hand-waving about workers — and then a series of diversions from the real sources and the real solutions to their problems, which in turn serves to preserve the economic status quo.”

“The Republican impulse to try to nail Biden for high inflation is an attempt to exploit the public’s reasonable concern about the rise in prices of goods in recent years. But it’s not a serious attempt to assess why auto workers' wages are so low compared to where they could and should be. Neither was Trump’s address in Michigan on Wednesday night, ostensibly to autoworkers but given at a nonunion factory with statements like ‘I don’t think you’re picketing for the right thing,’” Aleem said. “If Republicans were sincere about supporting workers, they’d support union power and call out corporate greed. Their answers revealed that they’re not.”

In the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty said the “pointless” debate “underscores Trump’s dominance.”

“It’s probably time to acknowledge that presidential debates are pointless when the front-runner repeatedly refuses to show up. If any of the rest of the Republican field is going to achieve a breakout and rise as a credible primary challenger to Donald Trump, the kids’ table is not where it’s going to happen. There were at least a few engaging subplots in the first GOP debate last month in Milwaukee — notably, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s poise and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s obnoxiousness. But the second one Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library amounted to little more than a blur.”

Trump’s absence “left the seven candidates on the stage here talking over each other and repeating shopworn lines from their stump speeches. For most of the night, there was little by way of substantive engagement with each other or — more important — any explanation of why any of them would be a better alternative than the former president,” Tumulty added. “At some point, somebody among Trump’s primary opponents may find a way to show that kind of boldness” that Reagan did in his own debate performances. “But it’s hard to see how that can happen on a debate stage Trump isn’t standing on, which is all you need to know about why the former president wasn’t there.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mostly unimpressed by the debate as a whole, though they don’t think any of the candidates had a bad night.
  • Some wonder why the group seemed reluctant to go after Trump despite his massive lead in the polls.
  • Others criticized the moderators’ questions but otherwise think the debate amounted to nothing.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the candidates let Trump “off the hook.” 

The debate participants “put on a good show that gave voters an insight into how they think and what they believe. But their main oversight continues to be that with rare exceptions they are giving Mr. Trump a pass. The candidates are all fighting to become the alternative to Mr. Trump, who is leading in the polls by 30 or more points over his nearest challenger,” the board wrote. “ And no one is going to become a credible alternative fighting about curtains at the United Nations. Sooner or later the candidates have to persuade voters that they would be better as the Republican nominee than Mr. Trump, with a better chance of winning and then governing for four years more effectively than the chaotic former President.”

“No doubt the candidates are wary of offending MAGA voters. But it’s possible to challenge Mr. Trump’s record without sounding like the left-wing scolds at CNN or MSNBC. One obvious way is to describe his losing election record since 2016. Another is to draw policy distinctions. Taking on Mr. Trump might also be the best way to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate the fighting spirit that GOP voters say they want in a nominee. Perhaps the moderators at the next debate will pose the question of Mr. Trump more assertively to the candidates. He’s the elephant not in the room, and it is no service to voters to ignore him until a week before the Iowa caucuses in January.”

In The Hill, Derek Hunter said “everyone lost the second debate — especially the audience.”

“Everyone was forgettable, except for the moderators, who were horrible. Stuart Varney of Fox Business asked a question that would have been right at home on MSNBC, all about CEO pay versus UAW line worker pay. Then there was a question about the federal government and child care — not food or gas prices, but child care. Here’s a hint: people who want the government to pay for the care of their kids are not likely to be voting in a Republican primary. Then came the ‘gun violence’ question and the utterly bogus slavery question about Florida education from the Univision anchor. That one might as well have been planted by the DNC,” Hunter said. 

“Ultimately, as any ‘debate’ with that many people participating would be, it was a mess. The GOP really needs to set the bar higher to eliminate candidates whose campaigns are more vanity projects than anything else. Four should be the number, and only one moderator. Most of the answers on the issues, when they got around to talking about issues voters care about, were solid from all the candidates – they really don’t disagree much. There was some sniping, especially at the end, but it came off as petty and personal, which didn’t really leave any marks on anyone,” Hunter wrote. “And that was the story of this debate. It just happened. It was nothing special.”

My take.

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.

  • It’s hard to feel like any of this matters when Trump is winning by so much.
  • This was the night Ron DeSantis needed a few weeks ago.
  • At this point, it’s time for about half this field to drop out.

You know it's trouble for the candidates on stage when all the talk after a debate is about things other than what they said or did.

In the case of last night, the media was buzzing about the ad Joe Biden ran during a commercial break on Fox News, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in the spin room, Trump's quip at the event in Michigan that there weren't any vice presidents on the stage, and Dana Perino's question (shot down by the candidates) in which she tried to get everyone to write down one candidate to "vote off the island." But there was very little buzz about any of the candidates doing anything to legitimately position themselves as contenders.

Here's a reality check: Donald Trump is now polling at 54%, two percentage points higher than when he skipped the first debate in August. The seven candidates on stage combined muster just 37% support from Republican voters, which is still 16% lower than Trump. Nobody has ever lost a primary after holding a lead like Trump has. It seems extraordinarily unlikely to me that will change now.

Still, the debate happened. And it was a mess. The candidates spent most of the night talking (or yelling) over each other, and the moderators repeatedly had to threaten to cut off microphones and remind the speakers they were wasting time by interrupting. There was a bizarre mood on stage where everyone oscillated from complimenting each other (there was lots of talk about how much respect they had for everyone else on stage) to bitter attacks and personal barbs. 

Similar to the first debate, all the candidates had their knives out for Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley talked the most about real policy, Chris Christie spent the night hammering Trump, Doug Burgum mostly disappeared, Mike Pence tried to distance himself from Trump while celebrating all of the Trump-era accomplishments, and Tim Scott shared his typical uplifting view of America.

Perhaps the only notable difference was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who last night seemed to seize the opportunity in a way he hadn't during the first debate. DeSantis got to talk a lot about his conservative policy achievements in Florida, highlighting his action on Covid-19 and parental rights as well as his ability to actually win elections and appeal to different cohorts of voters (like independents and Hispanics). To me, it looked a lot like the kind of night he could have used in August, when far more people were watching and the race still seemed like a contest.

He also did something he avoided in the first debate: He actually attacked Trump, the leading candidate. "Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight," he told the audience. Afterward, he challenged Trump to a one-on-one debate moderated by Sean Hannity, a media-savvy move that positioned himself as Trump’s main competitor and has the off chance (albeit very small) of drawing Trump out of hiding. It was the stuff he should have done months ago but didn't, and I suspect it's too late to make much of a difference now.

I thought Haley was strong again too. I've said this before and last night reaffirmed it: If Republicans want to win a general election against Biden, I think she's the obvious choice. Not for nothing, but I actually posited this idea to a few Democratic activists and campaign workers I met at a conference in Los Angeles this week and got unified agreement. Wisely or not, Democrats are hoping Trump wins the primary, and I honestly don’t know why his competition doesn’t talk more about that reality. Haley has the experience and the message. She's more moderate than the other candidates on social issues, but also more realistic and knowledgeable on foreign policy. She polls better than Trump against Biden and can truly hold her own on the policy debates.

Her biggest flaw is that she can be a tad boring, which matters in what is by definition a popularity contest. That is probably why she came out so aggressively last night. At one point she told Ramaswamy “every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber,” which is not a particularly appealing line of attack to me, but is the punchy kind of cheap politics that can fire up voters and make her seem like a fighter.

Speaking of Ramaswamy, I still think he is mostly selling snake oil, and it continues to strike me that all of his policy solutions seem half-baked if you think about them for more than a brief moment. Nearly all of his positions boil down to "abolish this government agency," which is both totally unrealistic and completely unproductive. Cutting the federal workforce is one thing, but to promise voters that firing thousands of people from their jobs will make everything will run better is to sell a fantasy.

The list of federal agencies Ramaswamy has promised to abolish now includes the Department of Education; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI. It shouldn't be necessary to point out that abolishing agencies overseeing public schools, terrorism and law enforcement, regulating guns and tobacco, and collecting taxes isn't going to make the government function better; but he's a relative nobody who has now risen to third in the polls, so maybe I'm the thick one. As Noah Smith put it: Ramaswamy's ideas just make no sense. Take the IRS one alone:

"Getting rid of the IRS would of course lead to a complete collapse of U.S. tax revenue," Smith wrote. "In addition to making Social Security and Medicare recipients incredibly mad and causing the GOP to lose power for a generation, this would also collapse defense spending and leave the U.S. without a functional military." 

Anyway, it's hard to know how much any of this matters, since Trump seems destined (barring a prison sentence) to end up as the nominee. It's still hard to believe after everything that happened during his administration and the string of losses Republicans have endured under his stewardship that the primary seems preordained four months before anyone has cast a vote. But the polling says that pretty clearly, and historically it has been pretty reliable. At this point, I think it's time for Burgum, Christie, Scott, and Pence to bow out. This is effectively a four-person race: Trump, DeSantis, Haley, and Ramaswamy. If we narrowed the pool, which I hope we do, maybe things would get more interesting. But nobody seems keen on budging yet.


Our country has plenty of problems that need to be solved, and very few people who seem to be putting a dent in them. I sat down with a man on a mission to improve elections — and someone who seems to actually be making a difference. Nick Troiano is a civic entrepreneur and the Executive Director of Unite America, an organization trying to bridge the partisan divide with electoral reform. He believes nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting can solve some of our biggest issues, and he made his case to me in a recent interview. In tomorrow’s subscribers-only Friday edition, we’ll be publishing a transcription of that conversation.

New YouTube video.

Does the Senate dress code really matter? What about a member of Congress being rowdy in a local theater? In our most recent video, I break down some arguments about decorum in Congress — and what we should and shouldn’t expect from the people representing us. Check it out here:


  • 12 minutes, 27 seconds. Ron DeSantis’s total speaking time during the debate, the most of any candidate and over two minutes more than he spoke in the first debate. 
  • 9 minutes, 50 seconds. Mike Pence’s total speaking time during the debate, third-to-last out of the seven candidates and nearly three minutes less than he spoke in the first debate. 
  • 5 minutes, 50 seconds. The amount of time border security was discussed during the debate, the most of any issue. 
  • 4 minutes, 46 seconds. The amount of time government spending was discussed during the debate, the second-most of any issue. 
  • 24. The number of times Joe Biden was attacked during the debate. 
  • 13. The number of times Donald Trump was attacked during the debate. 
  • 9. The number of times Vivek Ramaswamy was attacked during the debate, the most of any candidate on stage. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the Energy Independence and Security Act.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the new geolocation game.
  • Sold his soul: 562 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking what Rupert Murdoch's legacy is, with 34% saying it is "overwhelmingly negative." 29% said it is "both positive and negative," 22% said it is "mostly negative," 12% said it is "mostly positive," and 4% said it is "overwhelmingly positive." "I agree that the initial effort to provide a conservative viewpoint was good, but he sold his soul to the devil," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: A university in Ireland plans to offer a degree in social media influencing.
  • Take the poll. Who do you think won the second Republican primary debate? Let us know!

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NASA astronaut Frank Rubio returned to Earth early yesterday, ending a nearly year-long stay aboard the International Space Station that broke the record for longest trip to space. During his mission, Rubio spent many hours conducting scientific study ranging from plant research to physical sciences. He completed approximately 5,936 Earth orbits on a journey of more than 157 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 328 trips to the Moon and back. Following his landing in a remote area in Kazakhstan, Rubio and other crew members will return to Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where he will board a NASA plane bound for Houston. “Frank’s record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone; it’s a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “He embodies the true pioneer spirit that will pave the way for future exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.” Rubio's voyage of 371 days is now the longest single spaceflight by an American astronaut in NASA history. Nasa has the story.

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