September 8, 2023 | OPINION | By Aditya Yadav

Within the gamut of candidates that took center stage at the first 2024 Republican debate, there were, of course, those who stood out, those who fell behind, and those who never shifted in their place. FOX News Moderator Bret Baier aptly brought up the condition that candidates who have any bona fide shot at the presidency must voice an opinion about “the elephant not in the room:” Former President Donald Trump.

And it was this condition that implied any successful argument by any candidate must be given with respect to Trump. In fact, it was this condition that accentuated each candidate’s policies and personal constitutions.

As a Democrat who is not very involved in the technicalities of politics, watching the GOP primary was as entertaining as it was irritating. The lack of seriousness was palpable until candidate Nikki Haley spoke. Here was someone who, among the puerile exchanges and ad hominems, was able to pare away all the superfluous and digressive minutiae and speak right to those who her argument was intended for: people who have only recently become old enough to vote.

This incipient generation who had to sit with their hands in their pockets through the precarious 2016 election is especially disposed to skepticism, with a discerning eye for the inadequacies and fallacies of career politicians. And this, superimposed upon the looming backdrop of Trump, provides something of an absurdist spectacle – and Haley, in my opinion, was the only candidate who provided a sense of credibility.

Here, a taxonomy develops, starting with the holier-than-thou candidates: Trump, and candidate Ron DeSantis. Trump, according to the polls, is head and shoulders above any other Grand Old Party candidate and has decided not to participate at the primary, as if he was larger than the country – as if he should not be sitting at the “kiddie table,” as if he was too big to fail.

The former Guantánamo lawyer, DeSantis, who with smug laconicism kept referencing his accomplishments in Florida as an indicator for what he can do at the national level, was not very effective as he seemed to be listless and priggish. Yes, he achieved his goals in Florida, but replicating this at a national level takes much more effort than his demeanor implied he would give.

The next classification are the candidates that fell behind: former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Christie resembled a punching bag with his underwhelming performance. His effectiveness at the debate was tantamount to that of closing the George Washington Bridge.

Next was Hutchinson, who seemingly dissolved into the background simply due to being geriatric. Pence had animated exchanges with candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and was unable to match in flair and witticism.

The penultimate group encompassed those candidates who never shifted in their place: Tim Scott and Doug Burgum – those who did well, were able to give and take punches (although not at an extraordinary level), and seemed to settle as, if not frontrunners, contenders for the Vice President slot.

The last classification of candidates is the “New Republic,” those who stood out: Ramaswamy and Haley – young, animated, captivating, persuasive. Here you have two candidates of Indian descent who profess about the possibility of liberating America’s latent potential from the cardinal bureaucracy: the Senate, something Haley aptly called “the most privileged nursing home in the country.”

Ramaswamy, with his stringent and transgressive approach, such as outright declaring climate change is a hoax, was able to rile up a base of voters in the same way as Trump. Ramaswamy portrayed himself as an outsider by age, funding, profession and ethnicity – reproducing the parameters that the consummate populist (Trump) ran under.

But in the end, for Ramaswamy, due to his dogmatic approach – especially with his “10 Truths” acting as divine commandments – seemed to vie directly for the VP spot and appeared a frontrunner for it alongside Scott.

Lastly, Haley was able to effectively attack Ramaswamy for what he wants to be: a Trump surrogate. She was able to provide that discerning eye through measured responses, in composure, and in the end being able to mount the most effective arguments against the dogma and gospel that Ramaswamy preached, becoming, in my opinion, the most serious candidate.

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