Republished with permission from Steve Schmidt
It is hard to sort through the surreality and absurdity of the FOX-hosted MAGA/GOP debate for the “also rans” that linger 40 points behind front runner Donald Trump, who faces 91 felony charges across four different jurisdictions, thus far. Absurdities piled up on top of one another, while hypocrisy, grandiosity, delusion and performative posturing could have been confused by a casual observer as being the necessary qualifications to run for president as a Republican.
Sixty-two years ago, a 43-year-old man rose and swore the 35-word oath that made him the 35th president of the United States. He was a decorated naval officer and combat veteran, who had served as a US senator for eight years and a congressman for six. He was thoughtful, observant, introspective and skeptical. His inaugural address ranks among the greatest in American history, and included these prescient words that I couldn’t stop thinking about last night as a 38-year-old demagogue and fame-seeking millennial took control of the debate from a feckless lineup of collaborators, appeasers, and FOX propagandists, with a fusillade of weapons-grade nuttery, rice paper-thin ignorance, and mind-bending naïveté wrapped together by ad hominem character attacks.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge–and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
They most certainly did. Deep inside.
There were some astonishing and illuminating moments from the FOX-fest, such as when Mike Pence and Ron DeSantis looked left and right before deciding whether to put their hands up and pledge to support Trump for president whether he is convicted, imprisoned, or anything else—no matter what, forever and ever.
Both men came into the debate filled with the conviction that shouting and inconsistencies are the key to projecting strength to an audience of extremists. Clearly when it comes to thinking on his feet and mirroring others, DeSantis was stuck in the pudding compared to Pence, who had much more experience. Let’s watch him do the same thing with water during a White House meeting with Trump before the former president and current criminal defendant tried to hang him:
‘Tis the season for revisionist history, and Mike Pence has made clear that Mike Pence is a hero for telling the man who incited an insurrection that killed and maimed, that he couldn’t help him overturn the election. He tried and thought about it, but when he called Dan Quayle, he told Pence that he was nuts and quite the hero. Watching Mike Pence perform his squinty-eyed, pious Reagan imitation right down to his canned and cheesy line that he is a “Christian, conservative and a Republican—in that order” has always been aneurysm-inducing for people with common sense and character.
Mike Pence is a former cigarette spokesperson and lobbyist, who used donor money to live off during his first losing congressional race. He is a fraud, an extremist, and profoundly full of shit. After everything, when the question came about whether he’ll be behind the man who burned down what he said matters most, he made clear what he values—and it isn’t America. I guess there has always been a reason for Mike Pence why American wasn’t on his list. Mike Pence was Donald Trump’s partner and accomplice in all things—except one at the end. Remember though, but for Pence, we never would have gotten there.
Nikki Haley is the exact same person. There were moments in the debate where she appeared honest, cogent, strong, competent and principled. Of course none of those things are true, as has been ably demonstrated over the last seven years. She proved it when her hand shot up during the Trump forever auction. No matter what, she will be with Trump, whom she spent the debate excoriating by proxy through her castigations of Ramaswamy as an unprepared gadfly for aping Trump’s positions 100% as his “mini me.” It makes no sense.
The abortion section of the debate was deeply chilling, and should terrify American women who don’t want their Republican member of Congress joining them in their bedroom, MD’s or pastor’s office. Though Mike Pence’s political career is at an end “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not. Can someone call casting please? What a commander he’d make. Chilling though he was, and as extreme as everyone else was, the DeSantis comments were memorable, right? I’m not the only person in America who heard him talk about a friend who survived multiple abortions, and was born in a pan, right? Please tell me I’m not alone in knowing that’s made up. The reason why I’m asking is because it’s important, given there is no such thing as up-to-the-moment of birth elective abortions that Republicans keep talking about. It isn’t real, and it’s never challenged.
The failure of the Democratic Party to wrestle this issue into reality is appalling. Nevertheless, Nikki Haley was correct with regards to her worry about the political backlash that is coming to the nuttiness. There will likely be a women’s tsunami at the polls, unless America’s women are ready to sign up for transportation backwards in time about 60 years. I suspect it’s an offer they will enthusiastically refuse.
Lastly, there was the rushed and nervous discussion around the Trump coup that was handled by FOX and the candidates, except Christie and Hutchison, as a live incendiary device on a timer. There are no words to describe the trivialization of the greatest act of treachery and political misconduct in American history by the very same news anchor—Bret Baier—who kicked off the madness with his worries about delivering the news that the orange führer had lost the election to his manipulated, incited and radicalized audience.
What a small, petty affair last night was.
Oh, and Asa Hutchison appears to be a normal, responsible, serious person. He’s clearly in the wrong party to have a chance.
Yesterday, I said the “debate would be a travesty and a farce.” Looking back, I was way too optimistic. What a joke.
Steve Schmidt is a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. He served as a political strategist for George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign. Schmidt is a founder of The Lincoln Project, a group founded to campaign against former President Trump. It became the most financially successful Super-PAC in American history, raising almost $100 million to campaign against Trump's failed 2020 re-election bid. He left the group in 2021.