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Vivek Ramaswamy makes his point clear in last night’s debate. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

GOP ‘Little Leaguers’ in the Last Chance Saloon

Candidates emptied their playbooks in the final Republican debate before Iowa and New Hampshire.

Given that Donald Trump’s lead in the polls is bigger today than it was six months ago—he’s ahead of his closest rival, Ron DeSantis, by almost 50 points—you could be forgiven for missing the Republican presidential debate last night. 

But for anyone watching the tussle in Tuscaloosa, one thing was clear: Trump’s 2024 challengers are running out of time—and they know it. In this last primary debate before voting gets underway in Iowa and New Hampshire next month, the candidates seemed to be thinking, Ah, what the heck? as they emptied their playbooks. 

The four candidates who made the cut—Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie—were less guarded, their swings a bit more carefree, their insults even more relentless. 

Ramaswamy turned himself into a meme when he held up a piece of paper bearing the scrawled message: “NIKKI = CORRUPT.”

Christie predicted that Donald Trump won’t be able to vote come November 5 because he’ll be a convicted felon. And he even found time to plug his new book, which will be out next year! 

DeSantis said his favorite president was. . . Calvin Coolidge. “Silent Cal knew the proper role of the federal government,” said the Florida governor, throwing some juicy red meat to the MAGA base. 

And Haley barely bothered to hide her contempt for Ramaswamy. “It’s not worth my time to respond to him,” she said, after he accused her of playing “identity politics.” 

Trump wasn’t there, of course. He skipped this debate—which was ably moderated by Megyn Kelly, Eliana Johnson, and Elizabeth Vargas—just as he has all the others, and this time he didn’t even organize his own counterprogramming. Instead, he attended a private fundraiser, and his campaign issued a statement describing tonight’s proceedings as a “JV team of RINO globalist candidates” standing “on their little league debate stage.” 

Trump has used the JV debate insult before. And it has stuck because it is true. Back in June, the question before the first debate was whether any of these contests would become more than a sideshow. Six months later, the answer remains: no. 

Also on our radar. . . 

→ Mr. President, the interns are mad: More than 40 White House interns have written a letter to the president and vice president in which they state: “We heed the voices of the American people and call on the Administration to demand a permanent ceasefire.” 

“We are not the decision makers of today, but we aspire to be the leaders of tomorrow,” write the anonymous authors of the letter with modesty and understatement, “and we will never forget how the pleas of the American people have been heard and thus far, ignored.” 

It’s the latest, and probably the silliest, instance of trouble in the Biden administration over its Israel policy. It’s also another example of a maddening new phenomenon: the anonymous public letter. Hey, interns, you can’t be “we, the undersigned” if you aren’t willing to actually sign your names. 

→ Biden’s “grim” numbers: Veteran Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and James Carville recently conducted a survey of 2,500 voters in battleground states and competitive districts. “This is grim,” said Greenberg in a message to New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall. His most shocking finding was that “collectively, voters in the Democratic base of ‘Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, LGBTQ+ community, Gen Z, millennials, unmarried and college women give Trump higher approval ratings than Biden.’ ” You don’t need to be a veteran Democratic pollster to know that this is bad. Very, very bad. 

→ Everyone is above average! Nearly 80 percent of all the grades given to undergraduates at Yale last year were in the A range. The average undergraduate GPA at Yale rose from a 3.42 in academic year 1998–99 to a 3.6 in 2013–14 to a 3.7 in 2022–23. The gentleman’s C of yore crept up to a gentleman’s B to. . . well, fine, we might as well make it a gentleman’s A while we’re at it. 

→ Taylor Swift, the one thing we can all agree on: Time has named Taylor Swift its person of the year. She beat out serious opposition in “finalists” Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Barbie. (A formidable trio!) And once again proved that she, and she alone, is capable of uniting America

→ McGregor ’25? Is MMA brawler Conor McGregor considering a run for the Irish presidency? In a post on X, McGregor took the measure of the “potential competition if I run” and made the case for himself as “young, active, passionate, fresh skin in the game. . . . It would not be me in power as President, people of Ireland. It would be me and you.” From UFC bad boy to Irish President. Surely too crazy, right? Right?  

Oliver Wiseman is an editor and writer for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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