Statement | What I saw in this G.O.P. The debate phase was complete and utter moral cowardice (2023)



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Statement | What I saw in this G.O.P. The debate phase was complete and utter moral cowardice (1)
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WithFrank Bruni

Mr. Bruni is a contributing opinion writer who has been with The Times for more than 25 years.

Ron DeSantis blamed Donald Trump for the Covid lockdowns during his presidency. Nikki Haley criticized him for excessive government spending. They did it early in Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, and they did it willingly, as if to show voters how fearless and independent they were. What courage!

What a bunk bed. When they were later asked to raise their hands if they would support Trump as the Republican nominee in 2024, even though he had been convicted of a felony, he shot DeSandis in the hand. Haley too. No hesitation. No doubt. No worries aboutWhich oneof Trump's 91 felony charges may be up for debate. No insistence that they see how strong the evidence turned out. Just believe. That's what Republican voters seem to insist on, so that's what all eight candidates on stage in Milwaukee, except for Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, promised.

The degrees of this allegiance varied greatly. At the swinging end was Mike Pence, whose campaign was the continued development of a spine sorely lacking in most of the Trump administration. In conversation this spine had a great, exciting, strangely painful explosion.

Although Pence displayed the same perverse willingness as De Sandys and Haley to look past Trump's potential rap sheet, he also delivered a monologue that not only established, but reveled in his Jan. 6, 2021, refusal to grant Trump's request not to to certify Joe Biden's electorate. victory.

"He asked me to put him over the Constitution, and I chose the Constitution," Pence said. "And I always will." He sounded and looked serious and grandfatherly. And with the same voice, the same feeling, he implored voters to think long and hard about electing anyone who would elevate political survival above all else. This was a directive to move away from Trump.

But the party is not moving away from Trump, and that was the moral of an event where Trump was physically absent but spiritually present, an oppressive orange specter that manifested itself in the pieces that candidates other than Christie and Hutchinson reassembled. their own political identities - and their reluctance to do the bare minimum and tell their party the full truth about Trump's lies.

Fox News moderators, to their credit, didn't focus on Trump until the second of the debate's two hours, and even then kept discussions about him relatively brief.

But this Trumpy breach underscored the fundamental cowardice and incoherence of candidates who try to beat Trump without beating him too hard, who claim they would make better candidates without using the most relevant and persuasive ammunition against him. Their performance in the debate combined moral cowardice with political negligence to make for a confusing, infuriating, infuriating spectacle.

How can one praise Pence for standing up to Trump on the day of the unrest — an expression of admiration that implicitly acknowledges Trump's treacherous ways — only to dismiss the current prosecution of the former president as a chilling politicization of justice and consider that Trump Is he able to return to the White House? This was the oxymoronic and completely nonsensical attitude of many of the candidates on stage. In this sense they were trump miniatures, cracked mirrors of the master. They put their own political ambitions first.

In fact, Vivek Ramaswamy's hyped-up, over-the-top, comically exuberant turn traveled beyond realistic reckoning and into a whole different, more troubling realm, the Trump fanboy, the trumped-up Trump. I assume this was his audition to be Trump's running mate?

He called Trump "the best president of the 21st century," putting Trump ahead of another Republican commander-in-chief, but that wasn't even his strangest and most slavish act of worship. No, he topped it off when he proudly asked which of his vulnerable opponents had the "guts" — he really used that word — to promise that on Day 1 of their presidency they would pardon Trump for anything that needed a pardon.

They seemed to ignore him, at least then, though they overwhelmed him elsewhere. He rose in the polls and the temper to attack, and he was schooled by Haley on foreign policy, by Pence on our country's ability to handle multiple challenges at once, by Christie on his lack of experience and unwarranted confidence.

For all his 38 years, Ramaswamy, like Trump, is in the larval stage, stretching towards full MAGA wingspan, but not quite there yet. However, his narcissism is fully developed. On social media in the days leading up to the debate itselfposted a videoof himself in "three hours of steady preparation for debate." It showed him playing tennis - shirtless. Call it an unusual split, as well as a subtle reminder that a bigger, rounder, slower putter makes for a friendlier environment on the golf course. I guess Ramaswamy has a Trump dig or two, but it's subconscious backhand.

On Wednesday night, Ramaswamy took his licks and kept banging away, getting his head around as many topics of conversation as he could. And there were plenty of issues as moderators paraded the candidates through abortion, Ukraine, education, immigration, government spending, climate change and more. This trip revealed Haley's desire to be seen as somewhat modest and less vain and hasty than men. Tim Scott's upbringing by a poor, single mother. and Christy's ability to survive a tsunami of booze.

Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson also took lecterns. But I've already forgotten them, and I suspect other viewers and most voters will follow suit.

And Ron DeSantis? Was he bolstering his candidacy or urging her last rites?

He was strong, I'll give him that. He smiled when a smile was needed, pounded the air with his fist and uttered the "stone dead" phrase he has used in the past to describe the fate of drug smugglers crossing the country's southwestern border.

But he had to be drawn into declaring that Pence did the right thing on January 6. He was shouted down about aid to Ukraine, hinting that he would cut it, but then said his real concern was that Western European countries would go up more. (Hey, where have we heard that before?) He was vague as often as he was bold, and there was no way to get ahead of Trump, much less outrun him.

But is DeSantis really trying that hard? Besides Christy, are there any of them? Like their morally rotten party, they are held hostage by a serial accused huckster and seem to be waiting for a twist of fate or act of magic to make everything better.

I share Ramaswamy's hunger for true courage. But I define it differently than he does, and on Wednesday night I was hungry.

What I listen to, read and play


  • Forbidden books. Cancellation of culture. This tumultuous chapter in American life calls for a re-examination of the importance of free speech, and acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made a compelling, persuasive case for it in a lecture at the end of 2022 that recently crossed my radar. You can hear ithertheher. The precision of her words—and her delivery—is mesmerizing.

  • I've been writing, in the context of college today, about the perils of performance culture, a topic found in two new books. "Never Enough," by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, was released Tuesday androste Publishers Weekly.At the beginning of next week, "Ana HomayounClear the finish line: The New Blueprint for Success Beyond Grades and College Admission,” will be released.

  • I came across a plug for singer-songwriter Olivia Dean at the end of June, in aflattering assessmentof her new album, "Messy," by Times critic Jon Pareles, and then again recently in "Summer Ostrich” edition of Slate’s Culture Gabfest. I am greatfull. While a few tracks on "Messy," including the opener, left me cold, the best songs ("The Hardest Part," "No Man," "Ladies Room") are deeply enjoyable — almost sounding like pop-soul pop from decades ago , but with a modern flare.

  • I've become a big fan of the Times' latest daily game,Connections, which challenges you to arrange 16 words correctly into four groups of four. This can be tricky: in one version 'month', 'year', 'decade', 'century' and 'millennium' were all in play, but this isfemmeasure of time. One had to realize that "month" belonged with "jury", "rose" and "egg", which come in twelve. I used to start every morning with only Spelling Bee and Mini Crossword. Then I added Wordle. Now, connections. Stop it, New York Times! I have work to do!

For the love of sentences


In the Atlantic, James ParkerI looked backon the life and art of Edvard Munch: "Like Dostoevsky before him, like Kafka after him, he was one of those somewhat hastily assembled people - the skull plates not stitched, the nerve endings dangling - chosen by the demon of history to carry his message to the world. " (Thanks to Kathleen Mazzocco of Nice, France for the nomination.) From the same article, on "The Scream," Munch's most famous work: "It is a cave painting on the inner wall of the human skull." (Margaret Sinclair, Skokie, Ill.)

Also in The Atlantic, Derek Thompsonwith a needlefallacious recession watchers: "The economic models of the future are perhaps best understood as astrology faintly embellished with calculus equations." (Rick Osmon, El Sobrante, Calif., and Allan Parnell, Hillsborough, N.C.)

And Rebecca Giggshailedin a winged wonder: "The owl was the size of a terrier, but sailed listlessly in the path of a day-old Mylar balloon." (Vicki Maxwell, Oakland, CA) This whole article was, um, a blast, and reminded me of all the great prose that writers focusing on the natural world have produced. I regularly echo the excellent work of Natalie Angier whocovered science for the Timesfor many years and won the Pulitzer Prize forthis collection of articles, including many about animals. Interestingly, Jonathan Franzen recently wrote an essay for The New Yorker titled “The problem with nature writing”, in which he argues that he often misses his mark. His suggestion hit their mark perfectly. "Joy can be as strong as Everclear or as mild as Coors Light, but it's never joy: a boom in the heart, a yes to the world, a yes to being alive in it," he wrote.

Also in The New Yorker, Zach Helfandexplainedfascination with monster trucks versus our worship of size, noting that "people have always liked really big things, especially of the unnecessary variety. Stonehenge, pyramids, colossi, Costco." (Doris McInnes, Greenwood, S.C.)

I Vanity Fair, Susan Caseyis reflectedin the mind of Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate, who dismissed the warnings about the Titan submarine: "In a culture that has adopted the ridiculous mantra 'Do it fast and break things,' that type of arrogance can take a person away. But in the deep seas is the price of admission humility—and it's non-negotiable. The abyss doesn't care if you went to Princeton or if your ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence. If you want to her world,shesets the rules.” (Debbie Landis, Garrison, N.Y.)

I The Boston Globe, Alex Speierlooks likethe credible injuries to Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale in "so many buzzers in one surgery game." (Bill Keveney, Beverly Hills, California)

I Washington Post, Matt ByesporesThe Defendant's Limits: "Asking Donald Trump to pledge allegiance to anything but himself is like asking my dog ​​to write a novel. He might look at you like he understands the concept, but trust me, he does does not." (Reid Cushman, Miami and Ste Kubenka, Austin, Texas.)

I Esquire, Charles P. Piercedeclared: "There is no earthly reason for Disney to drop its lawsuit against Florida just because Ron DeSantis says Florida will win it. A dream is a wish your heart makes, but not in a courtroom." (Chuck Carlin, Leesburg, Va.)

The Times, Rico Gaglianorivetedwest coast capital: "Los Angeles abandons the promise of speed." He noted that it's "a city of five-lane highways where traffic crawls" and "the birthplace of the In-N-Out Burger — its very name heralds quick gratification — where drive-thru lines stretch to infinity. Here is the Maserati in line: willing to drive, forced to idle. Angelenos know the feeling." (Lisa Smith, Pacific Palisades, California, and Robert Weimer, Los Angeles)

Also in the Times, Alexis Soloskiis describedher meeting with actor Taylor Kitsch: "There's a loneliness at his core that makes women want to rescue him and men want to buy him a beer. I'm a mother of young children and the temptation to offer him a snack was sometimes too big." (Peter M. Handler, Chicago)

David Gatesbe reconsidered"Sun House," a new novel by David James Duncan. "Duncan is a serial over-endurance," he wrote, "especially when he tries to banish the unspeakable: Characters constantly find themselves 'avoided,' 'excluded,' 'confused,' 'blurred,' 'struck,' and "they go forward". words." It's true that some words are better left out." (Scott Williams, Salt Lake City)

Kyle Buchananfamousbad movie accents on the grounds that movies are "dream worlds that ask us to believe in things as strange as multiverses, 10-foot-tall blue people, or Mark Wahlberg playing a science teacher." (Mary Melby, Tempe, Ariz.)

Roger Cohendefinedmany strains of nationalism, including today's Russian, as "a promise to change the present in the name of an illusory past to create a future obscure in all respects except its glory." (Alan Tarlow, West Hollywood, CA)

Maureen DowdassessedTrump's connection to his own stolen campaign claims, concluding that "Puz knew his coup push was dishonest." (Linda Mancini, Florence, Italy and Demeter Manning, Olympia, Wash., among many others)

And Brett Stephenswere capturedwith the extensive ground covered by Trump's accusations: “The total number is ninety-one. You could almost take them down and send them like beer bottles against the wall." (Kathy Haynie, Oregon City, Ore., and Frank Ohrt, Houston, among many others)

To nominate favorite pieces of recent writing from the Times or other publications to appear in "For the Love of Sentences," please email meherand include your name and address.

Frank Bruni is a professor of journalism and public policy at Duke University, author of The Beauty of Dusk and Opinion columnist. Writes a weekly e-mail newsletter.Instagram @Frank Bruni Facebook


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