Vivek Ramaswamy might not be able to wrest the nomination away from Donald Trump, but he is giving him a run for his money as the Republican candidate MSNBC most loves to hate.
Earlier this week, we caught Charlie Sykes on Morning Joe calling Vivek "a shallow, shameless, facile demagogue." Perhaps the guests on Katie Phang's MSNBC this morning took that as a can-you-top-this challenge.
Molly Jong-Fast of Vanity Fair kicked things off by calling Vivek "a charismatic charlatan," a smaller-scale Trump clone.
But then, the execrable Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project outdid Jong-Fast in the slur stakes, calling Vivek a "punk."
If Vivek had MSNBC vitriol poured on him, the show showered praise on Nikki Haley.
Of course, it was necessary for both Phang and Jong-Fast to preserve their liberal street cred by prefacing their praise by making clear that they disagree with Haley on the issues and wouldn't vote for her. But that said, they did go on to praise what they saw as her being "sane," and as they put it, for "occupying Earth One." (And not an alternative universe.)
As might be expected on the liberal network, the issue on which Haley was singled out for particular praise was that of abortion. During the debate, Haley told Pence that the candidates need to be honest with voters, and that there is no realistic way in which a national abortion ban could be passed since it lacks the necessary support in the Senate.
The panel was also rough on Ron DeSantis. Phang described him as having put in a "lackluster performance" reminiscent of Jeb Bush's "please clap" moment. Wilson was even more brutal in his assessment. After suggesting that DeSantis is robotic, saying his handlers "should've never put him out on the stage before the software update was complete," Wilson described DeSantis as "fundamentally unlikable, alienating, grating, whining."
And Wilson's slur of Vivek came in the context of him saying, "when a punk like Vivek Ramaswamy can go out there and put him in the shade, it really gives you an idea of how badly invested those megadonors were around Ron DeSantis."
Two more things of note:
- Phang accused both Ramaswamy and Pence of "mansplaining" to Haley. In fact, all they did was disagree with her. Phang was the one who actually insulted Haley, by suggesting that because of her sex, she needs to be treated with kid gloves.
- Jong-Fast ripped Pence on abortion. She mischaracterized Pence as having said that 70% of Americans support a total abortion ban. What he actually said was: "70% of the American people support legislation to ban abortion after a baby is capable of --." He was then interrupted by Haley. But it's fair to assume that, given the chance to complete his statement, Pence would have said "capable of surviving outside the womb." And surely a majority of Americans support banning abortion in those circumstances.
Here's the transcript.
The Katie Phang Show
8:29 am EDT
KATIE PHANG: You've had a few days to digest what happened on Wednesday night. It was pretty riveting, some of it. What's the thing that stands out the most to you?
MOLLY JONG-FAST: Okay, so I would say, the thing that's the scariest is that there is another charismatic charlatan, with the name of Vivek Ramaswamy.
And that is a little bit scary, that there is, that Trumpism can in fact scale. And that there is someone who inherits that mantle. And I thought that was a little bit scary.
But what I thought was a little bit promising was that Nikki Haley sort of occupied Earth One, and she was not completely destroyed for it.
Which, in my, you know, I have a pretty low estimation of this Republican party right now. So I was sort of shocked that they were okay with a more sane Nikki Haley.
. . .
PHANG: Rick, what are your thoughts about the fact that Vivek Ramaswamy is trying to take, like Molly said, take the mantle over from Donald Trump?
RICK WILSON: He's not the candidate of ChatGPT [as Chris Christie described him in the debate.] He's the candidate of, like, 8chan, or 4chan, He's basically playing to this weird sort of tech bro slash incel demo that wants to own the libs. And he's playing to this sort of Charlie Kirk audience.
And look, I get it. In some ways he's young, he wants to try to find a way to get into the VP slot with Trump. I understand it.
But as Molly said, correctly, Trumpism has infected the party so thoroughly that now you're seeing a candidate with no ties to the traditional Republican past on that stage, at all. And as they're trying to go at him, as Nikki Haley and Mike Pence and all the rest of them were trying to go at him, he's got this sort of shield around him of impervious shamelessness that is a very, it's a very concerning prospect.
But it does demonstrate that the Republican party is a post-conservative, post-ideological party that puts showmanship well above any sort of principle.
PHANG: You know, Molly, someone who surprised me was Nikki Haley. I'm not a fan. Let me be very clear.
PHANG: But I was a fan, actually, of some of the stuff she said. Let's take a really quick listen to what she said about a possible federal abortion ban. Take a listen.
NIKKI HALEY: When you're talking about a federal ban, be honest with the American people. We haven't had 45 pro-life senators in over 100 years. So no Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban all those state laws. Don't make women feel like they have to decide on this issue, when you know we don't have 60 Senate votes in the house.
MIKE PENCE: 70% of the American people support legislation to ban abortion after a baby is capable of --
HALEY: But 70% of the Senate does not.
PHANG: I mean, more mansplaining going on at this debate, Molly. But, I heard her! I heard Nikki Haley. And she made, she was practical about the possibility of a federal abortion ban.
JONG-FAST: What was impressive about Nikki Haley, and I agree, you know, I don't agree with anything that she believes in, I would not vote for her --
JONG-FAST: But what was impressive is that she said things that were, like, actually true, versus Mike Pence, who said 70% of Americans want an abortion ban? That's not even close to true. In fact, it's more like the opposite.
So I did think she was occupying Earth One, which for this Republican party is very unusual.
PHANG: Yeah, so Rick, you know who didn't show up, was Ron DeSantis. He got a real Jeb Bush, let's clap, whomp whomp moment, I think, at the debate. He didn't show up! And I think that he got completely outshone by Vivek Ramaswamy.
So, we don't have any new polling yet. But do you expect him, as in DeSantis to drop even lower in the polls after that lackluster performance?
WILSON: They should've never put him out on the stage before the software update was complete. The guy just did not have a grip of what was happening around him.
And look, he's a candidate who's over-prepared, over-schooled, over-managed, but without the natural graces and skills of somebody with the ability to perform could've taken advantage of all of that over-preparation.
The problem for Desantis is that he is fundamentally unlikable, alienating, grating, whining. He comes out of the box. Where Fox by the way, gave him a beautiful opportunity to shine right in the very beginning. And what did he do? He screamed at the camera. He yelled. He was bellowing and bullying. The guy's just not ready for the show.
And when a punk like Vivek Ramaswamy can go out there and, and put him in the shade, it really gives you an idea of how badly invested those megadonors were around Ron DeSantis.