Analysis | Invade Mexico and five other takeaways from the GOP debate (2023)



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Invade Mexico and five other takeaways from the GOP debate

First, without hesitation, it was entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Then former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and Gov. Doug Burgum. After a quick glance at them, Gov. Ron DeSantis. And finally former vice president Mike Pence.

All but two of the eight Republican presidential contenders on last night’s debate stage raised their hands to pledge to support former president Donald Trump “as your party’s choice” even if he were convicted of crimes. Former governors Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson did not.

The former president faces four indictments, including accusations he tried to illegally overturn President Biden’s victory, a months-long campaign that culminated with hundreds of his supporters ransacking the Capitol and interrupting the peaceful handover of power.


That’s just one of the big moments from the Fox News-hosted debate, which Trump skipped, a demolition derby of a debate that will win over zero people who think voters learn more from in-depth interviews with individual candidates.

Here are five others.

DeSantis sends U.S. troops into Mexico on “Day One”

Would you, co-moderator Martha MacCallum asked DeSantis, support sending American Special Forces over the southern border to take out the cartels that produce fentanyl, a synthetic opioid thought to be the leading cause of death for Americans 18-49.

“Yes,” he replied confidently. “And I will do it on Day One.”

“Would I use force? Would I treat them as foreign terrorist organizations? You’re damn right I would,” he continued.

Without Mexico’s consent, this is an act of war against America’s southern neighbor and biggest trading partner, on whose cooperation the United States relies for thwarting undocumented immigration.


In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, DeSantis made clear he hadn’t misspoken:

“When I talk about using the military to take on the drug cartels, because they’re killing tens of thousands of our citizens, we have every right to do it, I’m going to do it. I’m not just going to get into office and say ‘forget about it,'” he said.

(The Daily 202 had flagged this issue in our debate curtain-raiser.)

Attack Trump? Let me count the ways.

Haley had the night’s first direct criticism of Trump: “Donald Trump added 8 trillion dollars to our debt!”

But the most sustained attacks — predictably — came from Christie, who railed against the former president several times.

“Someone's got to stop normalizing this conduct. OK? Now, whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States,” the former New Jersey governor said, drawing loud boos from the audience.


“This is a great thing about this country,” he said. “Booing is allowed, but it doesn’t change the truth. It doesn’t change the truth.”

Tribal Trump defense

Ramaswamy, about whom we’ll have more to say later in the column, gave the debate its most tribal defense of Trump — in response to Christie.

“If people at home want to see a bunch of people blindly bashing Donald Trump without an iota of vision for this country, they could just change the channel to MSNBC right now. But I’m not running for president of MSNBC,” Ramaswamy said. “I am running for president of the United States.”

Or auditioning for a job in a Trump administration. But there it was: Criticism of Trump, reduced to punditry for The Other Side’s Cable Network.

What DeSantis won’t answer

We’ll let Republican primary voters decide who had a good night or a bad night. But on several occasions the candidate once thought of as Trump’s most serious rival tried to duck a question — or even derail one.


It started with a “show of hands” question: Do you believe human activity causes climate change?

DeSantis jumped in: “Look, we’re not schoolchildren. Let's have the debate.” He kept his hand down, but didn’t directly answer the question.

What would you tell supporters who say a national abortion ban is a political loser?

DeSantis attacked Democrats, didn’t answer the question.

Would you sign a national ban on abortion after six weeks, as you signed in Florida?

“Wisconsin is going to do it different than Texas. I understand Iowa and New Hampshire are going to do different. But I will support the cause of life as governor and as president,” he said.

No direct answer on the six-week ban.

The Vivek Show

Ramaswamy, who sounded like a right-wing TED Talk on double-speed, took almost as much criticism as Biden — Christie derided him as “the same type of amateur” as former president Barack Obama, and said he “sounds like Chat GPT.”


But the entrepreneur spent days before the debate aggressively trying to become The Main Character — suggesting 9/11 was an inside job, falsely denying he said it, floating cuts to aid to Israel, envisioning a day when America doesn’t deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

On Wednesday, he was the only one to say he’d halt aid to Ukraine, said he’d pardon Trump and unsuccessfully prodded a noncommittal Pence to do so, called climate change a “hoax,” clashed with Christie and Haley, and generally seemed to grab for the spotlight.

Whether it worked, we’ll leave to GOP primary voters.


What’s happening now

Trump expected to surrender in Georgia at Fulton County Jail

Former president Donald Trump is expected to surrender and then be released at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta on Thursday in connection with his attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss in Georgia,” Ben Brasch, Amy Gardner, Amy B Wang and Mariana Alfaro report.


Follow The Post’s live coverage of the day here

Putin boosted by Prigozhin’s apparent death; Wagner Group future in doubt

“The presumed death of the high-profile leader of Russia’s Wagner Group has not only thrown the future of the mercenary force deeply in doubt but also strengthened President Vladimir Putin’s hand, after Wagner’s short-lived June rebellion left him looking weak and paralyzed,” Robyn Dixon, Catherine Belton, Mary Ilyushina and Francesca Ebel report.

U.S. to extend China chip export waivers for Taiwan, Korea chipmakers

“The U.S. has decided to extend its one-year exemption allowing South Korean and Taiwanese chipmakers to continue bringing advanced semiconductor technology and related equipment into China,” Nikkei’s Rintaro Tobita reports.

  • “The move is seen as potentially undermining U.S. efforts to curb China's ambitions in the tech sector. But it is also expected to prevent widespread disruption in the global semiconductor supply chain.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Teacher shortages have gotten worse. Here’s how schools are coping.

“Research published Wednesday shows that teacher shortages are worsening in several states, and it was not a pandemic aberration. Instead, it seems to be part of a worrisome trend: Teachers are leaving the classroom at higher rates, and the pool of candidates is not big enough to replace them,” Moriah Balingit reports.


  • Tuan Nguyen, a Kansas State University education professor, last year set out with two colleagues to collect statewide data on teacher shortages. They counted more than 36,500 vacancies in 37 states and Washington, D.C., for the 2021-2022 school year. Wednesday, they published updated data and found that teacher shortages had grown 35 percent among that group, to more than 49,000 vacancies.”

What we know about the crashed Russian plane that listed Prigozhin as passenger

“The list of passengers included Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the chief of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which led a short but dramatic rebellion against the Kremlin this year. It is not confirmed whether Prigozhin was on the plane,” Andrew Jeong, Bryan Pietsch and Adela Suliman report.

  • “Videos circulating on social media showed the remnants of the aircraft ablaze, emitting black smoke. The remains of all 10 people on board the aircraft have been recovered, according to Russian news agency Interfax.”

Post-debate reads

  • Republican rivals clash sharply in combative debate with no Trump
  • Trump dominates the GOP race. In debate, his rivals mostly avoided him.
  • Trump gambles on finding strength in indictments instead of debate
  • Trump suggests in Carlson interview that U.S. could see more political violence

… and beyond

‘Treacherous’ descent: Fed debates how far to push rate hikes

“Yearly inflation has already slid to about 3 percent from more than 9 percent in 2022, boosting hopes that the U.S. will avert a recession. But even though the outlook is brighter than many economists had expected, [Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell] and other Fed policymakers aren’t ready to conclude that prices will continue to cool,” Politico’s Victoria Guida reports.


  • “The descent is often more treacherous than the ascent of a mountain,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG and a regular attendee of the exclusive Fed confab. “It’s littered with potholes, and they don’t want to trip.”

Killing over Pride flag follows far right’s years of criticism of the LGBTQ symbol

The prevalence of the decades-old symbol of unity and equality is arguably part of the reason Friday’s fatal shooting of a California business owner, allegedly for displaying a Pride flag at her shop, was met with overwhelming shock, as well as an outpouring of grief from LGBTQ advocates, politicians and celebrities from across the country,” NBC News’s Matt Lavietes reports.

  • “But in parallel to the Pride flag’s having become commonplace, the symbol — which was introduced at the 1978 Gay Freedom Day march in San Francisco — has been increasingly smeared by conservative media and right-wing online personalities.”

The Biden agenda

White House to name first 10 drugs for Medicare negotiations early

The Biden administration is expected to disclose early next week the first 10 prescription drugs selected for Medicare price negotiations, ahead of a White House event Tuesday to celebrate the milestone, four people involved in the plans told POLITICO,” Politico’s David Lim and Adam Cancryn report.

Biden immigration policy giving temporary legal status to thousands faces court challenge

“A Biden administration policy that has allowed thousands of people from Latin America and the Caribbean to temporarily live and work in the U.S. is headed to court Thursday as a group of Republican-leaning states challenge its legality,NBC News’s Daniella Silva reports.

  • “The humanitarian parole program, announced in January, allows up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to be admitted into the U.S. each month ‘for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit’ on a case-by-case basis, according to the Biden administration. Under the program, migrants are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to two years and must go through an online application process, have a financial sponsor and undergo background and security checks.”

Biden incentives for foreign investment are benefiting factories

“Lucrative new tax breaks and other incentives for advanced manufacturing that President Biden signed into law appear to be reshaping direct foreign investment in the American economy, according to a White House analysis, with a much greater share of spending on new and expanded businesses shifting toward the factory sector,” the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley reports.

  • “Data that include the first months after the enactment of two pieces of that agenda show that a key measure of foreign investment fell slightly from 2021 to 2022, adjusted for inflation.”

Last night’s debate, visualized

“Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is not the front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he emerged as a consistent target of attacks from more experienced politicians during the first Republican debate on Wednesday night,” Nick Mourtoupalas, Hanna Zakharenko and Hannah Dormido report.

Hot on the left

South Carolina’s highest court upholds strict abortion ban

South Carolina’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a new law banning most abortions after roughly six weeks, a move that could once again shake up the nation’s abortion landscape in the Southeast,” Rachel Roubein reports.

  • The 4-1 decision is a reversal from January, when the court issued a 3-2 decision finding a similar law violated the right to privacy in the state constitution. That opinion was written by the state’s sole female justice, who has since retired because of the court’s age limits. The legislature replaced her with a male justice, making South Carolina the only state in the nation to have an all-male state supreme court.”

Hot on the right

Some MAGA fans think a pro-Trump rally outside the Atlanta jail is an FBI setup

“After having basked in conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, some supporters of former President Donald Trump are worried that a rally Trump is promoting outside the Fulton County Jail in Georgia ahead of his expected surrender in the state election interference case is an FBI setup,” NBC News’s Ryan J. Reilly reports.

  • “On both Truth Social and X, the Elon Musk-owned platform formerly known as Twitter, conservative users worried that undercover law enforcement officials and antifa activists were behind the rally, planning to use it as a ‘setup’ to arrest Trump supporters.”

Today in Washington

Biden is in Lake Tahoe. There’s nothing on his public schedule.

In closing

The most-memed photo of the night

DC tourists vs DC residents

— Washingtonian Problems (@WashProbs) August 24, 2023

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.


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