‘Not My Concern” Narrows the GOP Field

Who won the Republican blow-out interview lalapalooza with Tucker Carlson in Iowa Friday night? Besides Tucker himself—who was on the Q side of this extended Q & A—the participants were South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Let me say straight off that the biggest beneficiary was probably Tucker himself. He is a master interviewer, outgoing and friendly in manner, informed about the issues, unrelenting in his questioning. Some of his hosts at the Family Leadership Summit, which with Blaze Media sponsored the event, were so impressed with his performance that they suggested to the audience that Tucker himself should run for president. It’s an idea that has been in circulation for a while and it got a notable “trending” uptick as the evening unfolded. Tucker himself has dismissed the idea in no uncertain terms, but it is worth noting how widespread his support is among the politically mature.

But even though Tucker emerged as one of the stars of the evening, the show was not about him but about that clutch of GOP hopefuls. Who among that gang of six won?

It’s probably easier to start with the loser, chief among whom was Mike Pence, who might just as well have used the occasion to perform an act of self-immolation. The key moment came in an exchange about foreign policy, in particular U.S. policy with respect to the war in Ukraine. Pence said he was distressed that we had yet to send Ukraine the promised Abrams tanks or train Ukrainian pilots to fly F16s.

“You are distressed,” said Tucker, “that the Ukrainians don’t have enough American tanks. Every city in the United States has become much worse in the last three years. . . .and yet your concern is that the Ukrainians . . . don’t have enough tanks? Where’s the concern in the United States in that?”

“Well, that’s not my concern. Tucker, I’ve heard that routine from you before, but that’s not my concern.”

“Not my concern.”

Bang. “Not my concern.”

The internet lit up over that one, with some people saying that Pence had just committed suicide and others wondering what he was saying. To what did “that’s not my concern” apply?

Mollie Hemingway was probably correct that Pence was flummoxed and that it is “fair to say he intended to say something about how we can fight forever wars with unclear ties to national interest at the same time we begin to fight American decline.” Unfortunately for Pence, as Hemingway went on to observe, “many GOP voters would say he’s wrong on that as well.”

Indeed, conservative commentary seemed to veer from, at the generous end of the spectrum, unhappy ah-ha comments like this: “Oh see what Pence MEANT to say is that America can both fight/fund endless wars abroad that have only a tenuous connection to the national interest, and ALSO accomplish a series of empty platitudes from the GOP platform circa 2012. I get it now.” At the further end of that spectrum were clipped dismissals like the one contained in unfamily-friendly memes like this.

There was, at the margins, a little backsliding and floundering, but I think the consensus was that Pence did himself significant damage. The “not my concern” slip might be corrected, explained away, as was Obama’s “57 states” comment. But that suffocating sense that the former Vice President is a priggish, platitude-emitting machine will be hard to overcome.

What else happened? Well, Tim Scott strutted on stage with a grinning hallelujah wave but said . . . not much. Nikki Haley was much better than I thought she would be but, at the end of the day, agreed that Joe Biden 1) had actually got 81 million votes (he didn’t) and 2) even though there were “irregularities” in the 2020 election, Biden was legitimately elected.

In other words, she is part of the problem.

One of the best responses was from Vivek Ramaswamy, the young ferociously articulate candidate who, I think, will not be president this time, but who truly gets it. Asked about the origin of January 6, 2021, the little contretemps at the Capitol in 2021, he said, “Well it was probably because of censorship.”

Tell people they cannot speak, he said, and they will scream. Tell them they cannot scream, and they will start taking things apart.

There you have it. I love Vivek. Maybe he will be president someday. Not this time, I think, but maybe soon (how about a Trump Vivek ticket? I am just saying).

Who else was there? . . .  Well there was (let me check my notes) old Asa Hutchinson, whose grandchildren and great grandchildren are very fond of him, but whose chance of being president are essentially zero.

A lot of people lamented the fact that Donald Trump was not present. After all, he is, at this early date, far and away the favorite on the GOP. I know, I know, Scott Walker (remember him?) was in that position in 2016.

Things are different now, I suspect, but the amazing thing is that Trump was not absent from this Q & A.

No, he decided to come via ventriloquist, namely, R. DeSantis, Governor of Florida, who walking back several of his recent expostulations, decided to do a Trump impersonation.

The border. America First. China. Energy. DeSantis hit all the Trumpian signposts, and why not? Trump is the most successful president in living memory. Why not trot out his talking points?

The bottom line? Nikki did well. She gets the runner up consolation prize. Vivek gets the crown for the best performance. He is one smart chap, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he were President one day (but not in 2024).

Ron DeSantis gets the award for best impersonation. Really, he almost sounded like the man who, for better or worse, will be the Republican nominee, i.e., Donald Trump.

And here’s a minority opinion, which I would like to surround with a watercress of hesitation. I suspect that the next occupant of the White House is likely to be the last occupant of the White House, i.e., the one who hung his hat there from January 2017 until January 2021.

I might be wrong, of course, Lots of clever people tell me I am. And I have to admit that I was wrong once before, many years ago, when I said X but thought I was mistaken.

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