Do you believe in coincidences? I used to. But like Macbeth I have just “supped full with horror.” That is, I have been flipping back and forth between the glitzy but pointless Republican debate in Miami and Donald Trump’s rally in nearby Hialeah, Florida.
And here’s Exhibit One in my brief against coincidences: my office reading group is just now, as I write, reading Dante’s Inferno. Yes, could there be any more apposite reading?
I am going to take a page here from that priest W. H. Auden talked about who advised the people who came to him for confession to “be brief, be blunt, and be gone.” An admirable imperative which I intend to obey.
It was pleasantly (mostly) surreal flicking back and forth between the tidy, well-laundered and well-pressed debate and the raucous free-for-all that was the Trump rally. The 10- or 15,000 strong crowd there was prepped and pumped up by Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Jr. and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who endorsed her old boss tonight. “USA, USA, USA” — the crowd was young, enthusiastic, unruly.
Over in Miami, it was a different scene. I doubt there was 1,000 people there. Like a middle chapter in an Agatha Christie mystery, the crew on stage had been whittled down. Once there were eight. Now there were five: Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott and Chris “Michelin Man” Christie.
People keep saying that DeSantis is the man to watch, while also acknowledging that Haley is surging. Maybe. Yesterday’s boy wonder Vivek was all the rage for twenty-seven minutes a few months ago. Then someone noticed his glibness and smooth-as-a-suppository oleaginousness. For the last couple of months he has been relegated to the also-ran team. But tonight he came on like a house on fire. He had several great moments. The first was when he castigated RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel for her horrible performance and offered to give her his time to publicly resign. Delicious. He also suggested that better moderators would have been Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk. Unfortunately, McDaniel did not resign.
The second shining moment came when Vivek attacked Nikki Haley for… well, for several things. The remark that will get the most play came when he criticized Haley’s neocon fondness for involving America in foreign wars. She was, said Vivek, like “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels” — adding that there two actually two such people on stage (hello, Ron!). For her part, Haley tried to recover from the remark by noting that her heels were actually five inches. Not sure that worked.
Anyone wanting to know which event mattered more — the official debate, or Trump’s free-for-all down the road — need only avail himself of an applause-meter of the sort that they used to use on Queen for a Day. By that measure, Trump won in a landslide. His thousands of fans generated enough energy to illuminate a small city.
Over on the official debate stage, though, it was carping, “you-said-this-ten-years-ago,” “but-you-said-said” nonsense. Ron DeSantis was unhappy to be there — and who can blame him? Nikki Haley thinks the green-T-shirted clown in Ukraine is a hero — but does it really matter?
Vivek won the night at Conservative Inc. HQ, but none of the five there is going to nab the Republican nomination. That palm will go to Donald Trump. He confirmed it tonight, not by any policy announcements but by the mood and energy he generated.
Like it or not, politics is a matter of rhetoric, what Aristotle called the art of persuasion. Most people are swayed by intangibles: by moods, sentiments, feelings. Those things are ambassadors and reflections of policies, but they come to the table in more visceral ways. Donald Trump understands and can capitalize on this. His opponents are lost talking about what program or incentive they would support as president. They were in a room, on a stage. Donald Trump was outdoors performing like a rock star.