Crosstalk and candidates attacking fellow candidates was one of the big takeaways from the second GOP debate Wednesday night, but another lesson America learned is that the 2024 challengers on stage apparently have terrible senses of humor.
The zingers were not zinging, but many in the audience were, indeed, cringing.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie typified the kitschy tone of the evening, issuing a stern warning to the campaign’s frontrunner that came off less stern and more mortifying.
In a direct-to-camera ploy, Christie challenged Donald Trump to show up at the next debate.
“Donald, I know you’re watching,” Christie said. “You can’t help yourself.”
Christie said Trump was afraid of joining his fellow candidates on stage and defending his record. “You keep doing that, nobody up here’s gonna keep calling you Donald Trump; we’re gonna call you Donald Duck,” Christie said.
But Christie was far from the worst offender.
It’s entirely possible former Vice President Mike Pence’s debate prep included reading a joke book—or, at least, he cooked up a list of prepared lines that went on to fall flat.
In one of the weirder moments of the campaign, Pence actually made a joke about having sex with his wife, Karen Pence, after Christie made a crack about President Joe Biden “sleeping with a member of the teacher’s union.” (Biden’s wife, First Lady Jill Biden, has been a teacher for more than 30 years.)
“By way of full disclosure,” Pence said, “my wife isn’t a member of the teachers union, but I’ve got to admit, I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years. Full disclosure.”
Chuckles were few, awkward silences were abound.
Pence kept going, using his signature stop and start speaking cadence to deliver dud after dud.
“Look, I do disagree with something Tim Scott just said. Joe Biden does not belong on a picket line. He belongs on the unemployment line,” Pence said at one point.
The clearly prepared remark drew the equivalent of a golf clap for a tap-in par.
Burgum, for his part, tried to talk over the moderators to bring up off-agenda topics such as rare earth minerals required for electric vehicles and childcare. Toward the end of the night, moderator Dana Perino threatened to cut off his mic.
There was, however, one candidate who managed to land an effective burn.
Ramaswamy tried to cut Haley off, but she was having none of it, finally getting a true rise out of the crowd.
When Ramaswamy tried to lecture the candidates on not supporting Ukraine against Russia, Haley was having none of it.
“Every time I hear you,” Haley said to Ramaswamy, “I feel a little bit dumber.”
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