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Master of Puppets

Vivek Ramaswamy is a lousy presidential candidate but he's feeding the base what it wants to hear.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy points during a commercial break in the NewsNation Republican primary debate on December 6, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

We should be careful about taking Vivek Ramaswamy too seriously as a presidential candidate. 

Yes, there’s his, ahem, live streaming, his wankster vibes, and his fondness for dubious company, like in his campaign swing with former Iowa Rep. Steve King, who, after years of trying, finally found the bottom for acceptable rhetoric for a member of the House of Representatives.

But while you can laugh at the longshot if you want, we should also acknowledge his dextrous manipulation of a certain segment of the electorate. He may not be effective as a candidate for president, but he has certainly made a strong connection with the GOP electorate. In one poll this fall, Ramaswamy only managed 4 percent support among Republican presidential voters nationally, but was viewed favorably by 36 percent of the party overall and by about half of all self-described MAGA supporters.   

That was before he won more hearts on that side of the GOP for his prop-comedy routine targeting former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the most recent GOP debate. These folks may like Ramaswamy because he’s helping Trump by attacking his rivals, but also because Ramaswamy knows what grinds their gears. That, chiefly, is the belief that a) everything is terrible and b) shadowy forces are making it that way.

At a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, this week, Ramaswamy explained what is really going on with the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden’s alleged financial ties to the corrupt dealings of his son, Hunter

“Why is the media only talking about it now? Think about it,” said Ramaswamy, using a favorite construction of both cranks and know-it-alls. “They’re moving their puppet aside to get a new puppet in action. That’s really what’s going on.”

Now, you might say, “Isn’t the reason the media was talking about it this week that the Republican-controlled House was voting on the measure?” Ha! That’s exactly what the puppet masters want you to think.  

“But, Chris,” you might say, with furrowed brow, “aren’t House Republicans doing this to cause the media to talk about the claims?” Now who’s the puppet!?

While the QAnon-adjacent community is busy exploring just how deep the Deep State runs, the aspirationally mainstream parts of the GOP are trying their usual two-step dance on such matters.

They know most Americans don’t favor impeachment and that the odds are good that in the end, the Keystone Cops in the House will screw things up in such a way that the impeachment works to Biden’s advantage in the general election. Impeachments probably helped, or at least certainly didn’t hurt, Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. That makes sense because attacks that appear nakedly partisan cause the other side to close ranks and suggest to persuadable voters that even the legitimate criticisms are part of an orchestrated smear campaign.  

Lingering doubts about a candidate are probably more damaging than those that have been hashed out ad nauseam in the House.    

But try telling that to the folks nodding along with Ramaswamy in Cedar Rapids. They’re well past inquiring about impeachment. They’re probably even past the genuine article and on to drafting charges of treason. 

Maybe House investigators with the help of the newly activated Justice Department will come across evidence that the president is in the pocket of the Chinese Communist Party. Or, maybe they won’t. Whatever they find, the Ramaswamyian wing of the GOP will be convinced that it all goes much, much deeper and is worse than the puppet masters want you to believe. 

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.8%
Average disapproval: 56.4%
Net score: –16.6 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 2.0 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.8 points

[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-53% disapprove; NBC News: 40% approve-57% disapprove; Gallup: 37% approve-59% disapprove; Fox News: 40% approve-59% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


The Athletic: “Perhaps [no college bowl game] has so effectively married product with commerce — such that the celebration becomes the encore to the game’s crescendo — quite like the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. Other bowls have replaced the clichéd Gatorade shower with a sponsored product, such as Cheez-Its engulfing winning coaches in Orlando, Fla. But in Charlotte, the bowl and its sponsor have changed the dynamic around its postseason event and reimagined the bowl landscape along with it. … After nearly a year of planning, the mayo bath was full-go, and both universities were made aware of the creamy celebration. … Doubling down on the notoriety, this year the bowl will conduct a mayo combine to select the cooler handlers dumping the goods on either West Virginia coach Neal Brown or Mack Brown, whose Tar Heels are back. Contestant drills include catching footballs with hands covered in mayonnaise and running a 40-yard dash while carrying the cooler.” 

Washington Post: “The Post-Monmouth poll finds 63 percent of potential Republican primary voters in Michigan support former president Trump for the party’s nomination, compared with 13 percent who support former U.N. ambassador Haley and 13 percent who back DeSantis. … A 71 percent majority say Trump would be their first or second choice for the nomination. … One factor behind Trump’s stronger standing in Michigan is broader acceptance of his false claims of voter fraud in 2020. Almost 2 in 3 (64 percent) Michigan Republican voters say Biden won the 2020 election only because of voter fraud. … Michigan’s Feb. 27 primary is one of the last contests before Super Tuesday.”

Sununu endorses Haley, Christie campaign on life support: Politico: “New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has bestowed his coveted presidential endorsement on Nikki Haley. … Sununu gave a lot of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters who don’t want Donald Trump back in the White House a sign as to which Republican he believes has the best chance against the former president. … Veteran GOP operative Jim Merrill put it best: Sununu’s endorsement could matter more nationally than within New Hampshire. … Sununu’s endorsement could be particularly damaging to Christie, who is staking his campaign almost entirely on New Hampshire and who, like Haley, garners a lot of interest from moderate Republicans and independents.”


NBC News: “In key 2024 battleground states, some GOP Senate hopefuls have subtly begun to place more emphasis on situations in which abortion should be legal, while others have made clear they oppose a federal ban on the procedure. … During her unsuccessful 2022 run for governor in Arizona, Kari Lake said she supported an 1864 law banning almost all abortions. … She now offers a more nuanced position: opposing a federal ban and acknowledging that her own views regarding state policy conflict with some voters’ preferences. … [Nevada’s Sam Brown] declined, as recently as July, to weigh in on whether he would support a national abortion ban. Responding to requests to clarify his position, however, Brown said that he opposed a prospective federal abortion ban. … Former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who is one of several Republicans running for an open Senate seat, has suggested he would not support any federal abortion restrictions if elected.” 

Poll: Moreno narrowly leads Ohio field amid ad blitz: Politico: “The latest poll … found Bernie Moreno with 23 percent of the vote, compared to [Secretary of State] Frank LaRose with 19 percent and state Sen. Matt Dolan with 18 percent. … Moreno has been on TV airing ads over the past month to boost his name ID and his surveys indicate the strategy may be working. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is remaining neutral in the March primary in Ohio, home to one of the most consequential 2024 Senate races. … Since [March], Moreno has spent more than $2 million on TV. … His spot features footage of former President Donald Trump praising Moreno. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has endorsed Moreno.” 

Dems pine for Clarke as NRSC backs Hovde in Wisconsin: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is unconcerned with national Republicans’ decision to throw their support behind Madison banking mogul Eric Hovde in the upcoming GOP Senate primary in Wisconsin. … Clarke’s comments came just days after the NRSC Chairman Steve Daines told the Journal Sentinel that Hovde will formally enter the Senate race ‘in the not-too-distant future’ and with the backing of Senate Republicans’ main campaign arm. … Daines has dismissed a potential Clarke candidacy, telling the Journal Sentinel in September that Republicans are ‘looking for candidates who can win primaries and general elections.’ Democrats, meanwhile, would like to see the controversial former sheriff jump into the race.” 


New York Times: “New York’s highest court ordered the state to redraw its congressional map on Tuesday, delivering a ruling that offers Democrats a new weapon to wrest control of the House from Republicans in 2024. … New York Democrats are widely expected to use the opening to try to shift two to six Republican-held swing districts that President Biden won, from Long Island to Syracuse. … Tuesday’s decision could also offset recent Republican redistricting gains in North Carolina… Democrats are not necessarily expected to try to return to the kind of aggressive gerrymander that the court shot down in 2022. … Either way, Republicans clearly have more to lose. They were already defending six districts Mr. Biden won across the state, including those represented by the first-term congressmen Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota on Long Island, Mike Lawler in the Lower Hudson Valley, Marc Molinaro in the Catskills and Brandon Williams around Syracuse.”


Abortion referendum nears signature threshold in Florida—NBC News

In Arizona, too, abortion remains front and center—Wall Street Journal

Moderate John Whitmire trounces Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in Houston Mayoral—Houston Chronicle

North Carolina Dem Wiley Nickel to forgo House reelection, eyes 2026 Senate run—Raleigh News & Observer


“You see it’s not just the magic of the season that helps Santa deliver presents worldwide, it’s also the fortifying nutrients of whole milk.”—Virginia GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx touts the health benefits of drinking milk during a speech on the House floor Wednesday. 

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the correspondence-deprived Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Dean Winters in ‘30 Rock.’ (Photo courtesy of Broadway Video/NBC Universal)
Dean Winters in ‘30 Rock.’ (Photo courtesy of Broadway Video/NBC Universal)

A tough draw for this week’s Cutline Contest participants. First, the picture itself is an inside joke, since only fans of 30 Rock have the knowledge to exploit all the angles. Second, it’s just some dude standing there talking to a lady, not one of the many visual gags associated with character Dennis Duffy. But our winner managed to thread both of those eyelets and still bring it back to politics, making the connection between Duffy and the white working-class voters to whom his counterpart, Donald Trump, were drawn as well as the patronizing attitude shown toward these voters by cultural elites like Liz Lemon. Bravo!

“What do you mean ‘I’m clinging bitterly?’”—Chris Debaillon, Rosenberg, Texas

Winner, John Cheever Division:

“Grandma got run over by a reindeer,’ he explained.”—David Porter, Tampa, Florida

Winner, Sabor de Soledad Division: 

“If you give me your credit card, I will get you the most beautiful things …”—Doug Leo, Scottsdale, Arizona

Winner, Dun-Dun Division:

“You’re really going to miss me.  I’ll be in four episodes of Law and Order.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Disco Inferno Division:

“I know how you feel about the collar-over-lapel look, but we all have to be true to ourselves, and this is just me.”—Michael Smith, Georgetown, Kentucky

Winner, Muse to Abuse Division:

“Watching 30 Rock on January 5th, 2021, President Trump takes inspiration from Dennis’ advice: ‘You can’t kick me out, I got squatters rights!’”—Katie Moore, Wilson, Wyoming

Winner, Flattery Will Get You Everywhere Division:
“Stick with me, Lemon. I’ve gotten us to Stirewalt on Politics. I’m now the Cutline King. Not bad for a kid from Ireland.”—Richard Basuk, New York, New York

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


New York Post: “The reputed city Mafioso who infamously posed for the camera shirtless in a swimming pool while on the lam said Tuesday he has no regrets about the photo — even though it helped put him in prison. Alleged Colombo crime-family mobster Ralph DiMatteo, 68, was sentenced to three years behind bars. … When asked after sentencing if he had any second thoughts about posing for the camera, DiMatteo scoffed. ‘Why? It was a great picture,’ deadpanned DiMatteo — who flaunts his burly, hairy chest in the snap. … DiMatteo’s cover was blown after his son posted the pool photo to Twitter, where the alleged mobster appears shirtless and half-submerged in a swimming pool with a gold crucifix hanging from his neck. He surrendered a day later. … [His lawyer] said DiMatteo will ‘hopefully be aging out’ from his alleged crime family business.” 

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.