Do you want the sizzle or the steak?
Restaurateurs, I learned almost 50 years ago when writing for Nation’s Restaurant News, have been counseled that a profitable way to camouflage less than ideal food offerings is to enhance their dramatic presentations. In other words, sell the sizzle, not necessarily the steak.
If you watched the Republican presidential candidate debate, as I forced myself to do Wednesday night, you were presented a choice of candidates selling populist sizzle with few meaty realities. Oh, you also observed stale beef at the center of the stage in the form of Ron DeSantis who looked like a junior member of a debate team going up against Daniel Webster (sorry, couldn’t resist inserting a reference to the great orator of pre Civil War America, a time many Republican conservatives would like to reimpose on our country).
Vivek Ramaswamy played his Donald Trump clone (or was that clown) card, spouting populist angst that only the most avid MAGAmite would swallow, including closing down half the government, ending aid to Ukraine and Israel while authorizing seek and destroy missions inside Mexico against drug cartels. Vivek drew the most attacks because he was nasty like Trump and, as an outsider from career politicians surrounding him, represented the most current Trumpian incarnation, which Mike Pence skewered for his lack of governmental experience. Of course, that inexperience didn’t stop Pence from embracing Trump back in 2016, even after the Access Hollywood tape revealed the true inner Trump morality.
Pence spent most of his time portraying himself as a religious true believer, but his signature moment was recounting his unequivocal allegiance to the Constitution and not Trump when he certified election results on January 6.
Pence even got Chris Christie to praise his actions that day. Christie seemed the most relaxed of the candidates, and the most disappointed, that Trump was not present to confront. Vivek was an underwhelming substitute for his ire.
If Pence cloaked himself in religion, Senator Tim Scott invoked the tropism of a Black man owing his success to being raised by a strong mother figure.
Standing on one leg, so to speak, after suffering an Achilles tendon injury playing basketball earlier in the day, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum seemed like a good vice presidential choice with heartland values that would offset his lack of national experience.
Nikki Haley stood out not only as the only female but also as a voice of reason in proposing a less extreme approach to abortion restrictions. The former ambassador to the United Nations also attacked Vivek for his rama-ding-dong foreign relations positions.
Asa Hutchinson, with too many jobs on his resume to include here, though he did manage to mention them whenever he talked, was a voice of calm and reason, though not necessarily truth in advertising. He praised his eight years as governor of Arkansas which ended earlier this year. But based on US News & World Report’s analysis, Arkansas ranked 45th out of 50 states in overall excellence, including 49th for crime and corrections, 43rd for education, 47th for health care and 40th for infrastructure (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/arkansas).
So much for the candidates. Fox News, on the other hand, picked two patient and professional moderators in Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. They asked intelligent questions and pointed out when candidates, particularly DeSantis, delivered stump speech responses without answering their specific questions.