The Potemkin Debate

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during the second Republican presidential primary debate hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on September 27, 2023. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Republican debates increasingly feel like a Potemkin village built to impress conservatives who might otherwise be prepared to leave the party.

Do you despair that there’s no room for you on the American right as it becomes more Orbánist and less Reaganite? Well, here’s Nikki Haley to prove you wrong. And Mike Pence. And Tim Scott! And Chris Christie!

Even the most hopeless no-hoper, Doug Whatsisname, sounded like an old-school Republican on Wednesday night.

The right’s huge populist, postliberal bloc was reduced to two representatives onstage, neither of whom is terribly likable or speaks for them with real authority. Vivek Ramaswamy took the opportunity to try to rebrand as a humble novice who respects his opponents after his arrogance at the first debate alienated everyone

But it didn’t go well. “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber,” Nikki Haley told him at one point, an enjoyable burn that obscures the fact that Ramaswamy is far more in tune with the zeitgeist of the American right than Haley is.

This content is available exclusively to Dispatch members
Try a membership for full access to every newsletter and all of The Dispatch. Support quality, fact-based journalism.
Already a paid member? Sign In
Comments (246)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More