On Wednesday night the Republican Party held its second presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, it left voters wanting to hear more about the cultural issues tearing America apart.
The Gipper left office 34 years ago, and in the time since, most conservatives think that progressives have been winning the culture war in a Reaganesque landslide.
So it was surprising that cultural issues didn’t come to the fore in the two-hour sparring session between the candidates looking to get to a one on one match with Donald Trump who is so far ahead he didn’t bother to attend.
The culture war is the wheelhouse of the man who sat center stage.
In his widely praised inauguration address 10 months ago, Ron DeSantis declared that “Florida is where woke goes to die,” but the issue has not propelled him into a close race with Trump.
We heard little about that on stage under Reagan’s Air Force One in his museum. What a dreadful mistake; this is supposed to be the governor’s reason to run. This is supposed to be what has so many conservatives up in arms.
The debate oddly spent two hours avoiding such issues.
When social issues did come up, Nikki Haley was asked about school choice, she said something pretty basic and true: “we have to make sure our kids can read,” absolutely. And school choice is clearly the best answer.
When Chris Christie was asked if black and brown students have to be given deference through affirmative action programs, he said no, he blamed the teachers union’s “stranglehold” over the White House.
DeSantis was challenged by a moderator about reports that the black history curriculum he supports erases slavery, he shot it down with aplomb, and even though Senator Tim Scott vaguely challenged him, DeSanatis spoke clearly to most Americans.
“First of all, that’s a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris,” he accurately stated, “We’re not going to be doing that. Second of all, that was written by descendants of slaves. These are great black history scholars. So, we need to stop playing these games.”
Mike Pence hit all the right notes, but sounded like a 1980s soft rock saxophone in the face of this modern and very synthesized social debate.
On the issue of transgenderism, Vivek Ramaswamy made a powerful statement, “Transgenderism is a mental disorder.” That is the kind of courage conservatives have been waiting for on this issue.
Did these candidates do enough to announce themselves as the culture warriors who can outshine Donald Trump?
No, absolutely not. Nobody separated themselves from Trump on the cultural issues driving American votes.
Americans feel like they are losing their country, nothing in this B team debate could give them any security that their country can be preserved.
Maybe the next debate will clarify things. But right now it looks like Trump can’t lose. Nothing that happened on Wednesday night challenged that notion.
Sadly, the most basic concerns of conservatives, the abandoning of our central values, played no role in the second place debate.
This was a shallow display when we needed real leadership. There’s a lesson there.
This culture stuff matters to voters. Trump gets that. So far, nobody else does.
Nothing in this debate will convince anyone that any of these candidates can achieve what Trump offers. And that’s the question. Can Trump deliver? Can DeSantis? We all get to decide.
That decision starts with talking about our cultural issues openly and honestly.
David Marcus is a columnist living in West Virginia and the author of “Charade: The COVID Lies That Crushed A Nation.”