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Kevin Williamson Moderates the GOP Debate
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Kevin Williamson Moderates the GOP Debate

And the atmosphere is electric.

(Photo illustraton by Victoria Holmes/The Dispatch. Photos from Getty Images.)

Thank you all for being here. It is weird not to have the frontrunner here, of course. But, then, it’s a little weird that the frontrunner is the guy who lost last time around and then tried to overthrow the government.

Which brings us to our first question: Who won the 2020 presidential election?

I’d like to remind you that those electrodes attached to your … are we allowed to say that on television? … are hooked up to our state-of-the-art Acme B.S. Detector. And thanks to our sponsors at Acme B.S. Detectors! On the other side of that circuit is a Duralast Platinum AGM Battery boasting 750 cold-cranking amps—and thanks to our other sponsors at AutoZone! You know the drill: We have Mitch Daniels standing by with the controls in hand, and, if you try to wholesale the kind of bull you normally feed gullible Republican primary voters and fawning Fox News types to our audience, then it is ZAP! right in the ’nads.

Mrs. Haley? Are you leaving? No, I’m not going to call you “governor” when you haven’t been a governor in more than half a decade, and everybody knows you are running for vice president but are going to end up secretary of education at best. All right, good luck. Well, that saves some time. Could someone grab her lavalier before she goes? We don’t want to lose our deposit.

Okay, next question.

The vast majority of federal spending consists of popular entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, national defense, and interest on the debt. We could cut SNAP, means-tested welfare payments, and foreign aid to $0.00 and not even eliminate the annual deficit. So, a multiple-choice question. Should we:

a) Cut spending on national security and popular entitlement programs?

b) Raise taxes?

c) A and B?

d) Run deficits pretty much forever until there’s a fiscal crisis precipitating national, and, in all likelihood, worldwide economic collapse, because you are too cowardly to do anything hard?

I’d like to remind you that we have added a second battery to the array—and thanks once again to AutoZone!—so, if you are thinking about pretending that cutting aid to Ukraine is going to balance the budget, well, you know: your body, your choice.

Hey, did we wire those in parallel or in series?

Gov. DeSantis, you’ve said, in your vague way, that you want to cut federal spending while keeping taxes low. Fair enough. But, you haven’t said what spending you want to cut, and, for the record, I’ll note that you signed into law Florida’s biggest-spending government budgetever. Without using the words “waste,” “fraud,’ or “abuse,” what would you like to see actually cut? And, assuming you’re still able to speak after trying to answer that question, a follow-up: How do you plan to get Congress, which actually writes the tax laws and appropriates the money, to go along with you, given that Democrats control the Senate and may very well control one or both houses of Congress at some point during your hypothetical presidency?

Is he going to be okay? Does it smell just a little weird in here to anybody else?

Mr. Pence, when the administration in which you served attempted to overturn the 2020 election in a coup d’état under color of law, you did your constitutional duty and certified the electors. And for about 48 hours, you were pretty critical of Donald Trump. Well done! By my calculation, that means you conducted yourself honorably for about 0.14 percent of the four years in question with the guy you now call your “former running mate.” Don’t you think there should be a kind of time-out or something? I know you’re an evangelical, but you are also a baptized Catholic. Couldn’t you—shouldn’t you—go to a monastery for like 20 years or something?

I’d like to thank our sponsors at Honda Power Equipment for providing this terrific 7,000-watt 120/240V inverter generator! Let’s get that thing hooked up. Now, who wants to talk about foreign policy? Remember, if you’re blowing smoke, Mitch knows.

Just got real, didn’t it?

Was that … parkour? Did anybody tell Vivek Ramaswamy that that is a second-story window?

No, I’m not going to ask Gov. Burgum if his hair technically qualifies as a mullet. Do I look like a guy who cares much about haircuts? No more questions from the app formerly known as Twitter, damn it.

Well, yeah, Gov. DeSantis, everything would be a lot easier if we had 3 percent real GDP growth year after year after year. Do you know when that last happened consistently? Not in the Trump administration. Not in the Obama administration. Not really in the George W. Bush administration. It goes up and down. I know you know this. If “let there be 3-or-4-percent growth forever” were a policy, somebody would already have enacted it. 

Hit him, Mitch.

All right, you are allowed to consult your notes on this one. Ranked from most persuasive to least persuasive, how would you rate the felony indictments Donald Trump currently is under?

No, Sen. Scott, you may not be excused to go to the bathroom.

Okay, so let me get this straight: If police shoot Walter Scott in the back, it’s Walter Scott’s fault, somehow, and cops have a really hard job. But if a “patriot” is barricaded in his house pointing a rifle at federal agents there to serve a lawful arrest warrant and somebody gets dead, that is … Chris Wray’s fault? Help me understand this one.

You know what? Don’t help me understand that one.

Question: Who appointed Chris Wray? Remind me again?

Hit him, Mitch.

Anybody having any second thoughts about “unleashing American energy”? Because, to be entirely honest, I’m truly, truly enjoying unleashing American energy on you people.

Okay, last question goes to Chris Christie. Why? Because there’s nobody else on stage, that’s why.

Let me read something to you:

“I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States. I’m happy to be on the Trump team, and I look forward to working with him.” That’s you in 2016. On a scale of zero to 10, zero being metaphysical impossibility and 10 being absolute metaphysical certitude, how likely are you to be repeating those words, or saying words to that effect after Trump locks up the GOP nomination this time around?

Remember, this isn’t a second-grade self-esteem exercise: There are wrong answers.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.