Moment of truth coming for Republican presidential candidates

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Following last week’s fourth – and final – 2024 presidential debate sanctioned by the Republican National Committee, increased attention has turned to the continued presence of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and whether it’s time for both to stand aside in the larger interest of solidifying support behind an alternative to former president Donald Trump.

To the dismay and concern of many Republicans, the discussion may be academic, an exercise in what might have been and an examination of how Trump captured the party and created a cult of personality that has remained resolute in the face of criminal indictments and trials.

There is growing resignation the former president’s 30 to 40 point lead un current polls has created an aura of inevitability, that the nomination has been locked down before the first caucuses convene or the first ballots cast.

Time is growing short – the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are little more than a month away – with Trump holding a commanding lead in both.

The window of opportunity for the anti-Trump forces is closing rapidly, propelled by a fervent, unshakeable base of support that renders a decision by the challengers to remain or abandon their quest of no consequence.

Neither former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – both of whom occupy stronger positions than Christie or Ramaswamy – have shown any indication they intend to end their campaigns.

Christie has vowed to remain in the race through the New Hampshire primary, hoping for a respectable third place finish and remaining viable. Ramaswamy intends to stay in the running to joyously wreak havoc, bask in the attention and comfort his ego.

History is instructive here. Christie entered the race in June; Ramaswamy in February. In the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, Ramaswamy is at five percent and Christie at three percent. Trump is at 60 percent. After months of campaigning, both remain statistically tied in single digits and a path to the nomination doesn’t exist.

Haley has risen to a solid second place – albeit some 30 points behind Trump – and tied nationally with DeSantis. She trails DeSantis by three points in Iowa, but leads him by 11 points in New Hampshire and nine points in South Carolina.

Supporters point to her electability in matchup polling, where she outperforms both Trump and DeSantis against President Joe Biden. She also outdistances Trump in appealing to moderate voters.

Christie is an accomplished campaigner, insightful on the issues, devastating in his rhetorical barbs at Trump, and articulate in expressing his vision and philosophy. Unfortunately, his single issue campaign – defeating Trump – has grown stale, appealing to a small slice of the Republican electorate while alienating the majority.

Ramaswamy is an embarrassment, and with each debate has descended ever deeper into irrelevancy. He’s characterized the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol as “an inside job,” suggested that Federal agents were on board the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11, and claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen by “Big Tech.”

Christie seemingly had his fill of Ramaswamy at the most recent debate, calling him “the most obnoxious blowhard in America.”

Should Christie depart and endorse Haley, his action would be impactful. While his unceasing assault on Trump has earned him the enmity of the Trump base, support for Haley would demonstrate a higher principle.

Ramaswamy, like all self-centered fools, will continue to play the role of national embarrassment.

In the absence of significant upward movement by Haley or DeSantis, though, Trump will be the bitter but inevitable pill to swallow for the Republican Party.

Copyright 2023 Carl Golden, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.