2nd Republican Debate Highlights The Party's Extremism
Sifting through the chaos and lies, we saw an increasingly radicalized GOP with extreme proposals that deserve scrutiny.
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Seven Republican presidential candidates took to the debate stage on Wednesday night in California. Most of the debate could be transcribed as [indiscernible yelling from multiple candidates simultaneously]. But sifting through the chaos and lies, we saw an increasingly radicalized Republican Party who made extreme policy proposals that deserve scrutiny.
I know some believe there isn’t much value to covering or watching these debates, given Trump’s lead and lack of attendance, but I think it’s worthwhile. It’s important to cover because it’s necessary to spotlight the extreme stances of the modern Republican Party. Rather than focus on the horse race, in this piece, we’re going to look at the actual substance of what the candidates proposed.
Most of what we heard on that stage was arson masquerading as coherent policy. It was yet another installment in the Extremism Olympics we saw in the first debate, which I covered in The Independent. These policies are the potential 2024 GOP platform and are worth analyzing.
Before we look at the policy proposals, I want to give you some context on where the race stands.
The Candidates And Where They Stand In The Race
Donald Trump, who holds a 40-point lead at 54% in the FiveThirtyEight national polling averages, skipped the debate to speak to non-union auto workers. None of the candidates last night did anything to dig into his support or make the case why they should be his alternative.
The chances he blows this 40% primary lead are slim. Unless his criminal cases drastically change the Republican base’s mind and the party consolidates around one alternative in the next couple of months, this is Trump’s nomination to lose. It’s a feeble race to 2nd place.
Here are the candidates who participated in Wednesday night’s debate, along with where they’re polling: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (13.8%), former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley (6.3%), biotech businessman Vivek Ramaswamy (6.3%), former Vice President Mike Pence (4.6%), former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (2.9%), Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina (2.7%), and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (0.9%).
When you total all the candidate’s support, you get 37.5%, still a full 16.5 points less than Donald Trump.
The Extreme Positions Of The Candidates
The candidates proposed truly radical policies that showcase the rampant extremism permeating throughout the GOP. They called for shutting down the Department of Education, ending the “administrative state,” ending birthright citizenship, ignoring climate change, anti-trans stances, and more. Donald Trump, who wasn’t in attendance, supports most of these. So, let’s dive in.
At one point during the debate, Nikki Haley told Vivek Ramaswamy, “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say…” You might feel that way after reading some of these stances, so bear with me.
Shutting Down The Department of Education
In Wednesday’s debate, Pence called for shutting down the federal Department of Education. It’s a stance Pence has held for months and echoes a call Vivek Ramaswamy made in the first debate. DeSantis and Burgum have endorsed this idea. They’re not alone in this thinking. Donald Trump himself has called for this same approach.
The Department of Education issues federal funding, helps administer financial aid, and sets standards for education. If this was eliminated, in practice, some of these duties could just shift to other agencies. But it could still be a damaging move that would only further empower state and local governments and school boards to erode education.
We could see states feeling emboldened to escalate their assaults on education as we know it. In the debate, DeSantis defended his state’s recent banning of books, removal of any books with LGBTQ characters in schools, and erosion of American history education. One new standard set by Florida dictates that students will be taught how Black people allegedly benefitted from slavery.
DeSantis said: “Florida represents the revival of American education.” If any of these candidates are elected, we’d likely see Florida-style education be advocated at the federal level.
Ending The “Administrative State”
Vivek Ramaswamy has gone beyond calling for the closing of the Education Department. He now calls for shutting down the FBI and the IRS as well. Donald Trump has also called for defunding the FBI and DOJ. This is likely motivated by his 91 criminal charges across 4 state and federal indictments.
This broader call for greater destruction of the federal government has been dubbed dismantling the “administrative state,” according to Ramaswamy. It’s a message Ramaswamy has repeatedly pushed on X (formerly Twitter), advocating: “We shouldn’t be talking about how to avoid a fake government shutdown. We should be talking about how to *achieve a real one.*” He means that literally. He believes the federal government should be largely dismantled.
The number of government services that millions of Americans rely on would disappear if this stance were to become a reality. It would cause massive dysfunction. It would also be nearly impossible to execute. No serious candidate would propose this.
Ending Birthright Citizenship
The call to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants is one Donald Trump has pushed for years. Ramaswamy echoed this in the debate last night, and DeSantis has supported this as well. Tim Scott seemed sympathetic to this proposal, claiming that the Constitution established this for slaves, not undocumented immigrants.
This proposal is blatantly unconstitutional. Full stop. The 14th Amendment protects “all persons” born in the United States. Section 1 is pretty clear:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Aside from its unlawful nature, how would you even implement it? Does this apply to asylum seekers too? This is an impractical proposal that exploits xenophobia.
There was a consensus on the debate stage that climate regulations were not worth pursuing. Vivek Ramaswamy has proudly and falsely stated that climate change is a hoax. Burgum outright said, “It’s not about climate change that we need to be worried about. It’s about the Biden climate policies that are actually the existential threat to America’s future.”
In this debate, Pence attacked Biden for seeking to end the use of fossil fuels and promised to “unleash American energy.” During his presidency, Donald Trump rolled back over 100 climate regulations, and in his 2024 campaign, he has continued to downplay the threat of climate change. On the other hand, President Biden signed into law the largest climate investment of any president in American history.
It’s clear that if a Republican is elected in 2024, any progress we’ve made in combatting climate change will be undone.
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has become incredibly prevalent among the GOP and right-wing media. The demonization of trans people, in particular, has gone to the forefront of their agenda. In Wednesday’s debate, Vivek Ramaswamy didn’t mince words: “I have to be very clear about this transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder.”
Pence went as far as to announce a ban on care for transgender children: “We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents, and we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery anywhere in the country.”
What they would advocate if they got power in 2024 is self-explanatory.
Sending Troops To Mexico
Multiple candidates supported the idea of sending troops into Mexico to deal with the cartels. From Ramaswamy to Haley, this proposal was supported. Ramaswamy has compared Mexico to a neighbor’s dog that bites you, and you then would have the right to shoot that dog. He didn’t frame it as a choice on Mexico’s end but more of an unsolicited invasion.
Donald Trump has also supported invading Mexico. I'm not sure how many Americans would be supportive of this idea.
Why Are They Being So Extreme?
Following decades of increasing radicalization in the Republican Party, Donald Trump took things to the next level when he came to political prominence in 2015. Trump decided that the quiet extremism of the Southern Strategy days was not sufficient, and it was time for overt, loud, extreme postures.
Over the course of the Trump presidency, which I documented every day of here, the Republican Party became increasingly radical and authoritarian in its tendencies. What we’re seeing in the GOP primary is a Trump clone war over who will be the heir to Trumpism. But they’re likely going to have to wait until 2028 because the nomination is looking like It’s Donald Trump’s once again.
It’s clear that even if one of these higher polling alternatives were to get the nomination, they would be no better than Donald Trump. It’s a sad reflection of the current state of the Republican Party and worth covering.
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