Last Republican debate before Iowa caucuses comes with a special comedy bonus

On Jan. 10, CNN will host the last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses. Where the first Republican debate of the season featured eight people on the stage, including such luminaries as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, this time CNN will need to provide just two podiums. Only Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley qualified to take the stage. Since Trump has refused to appear at any event where he wasn’t at the top of the bill, viewers can look forward to 90 minutes of DeSantis and Haley trading punches with all the sharpness of pingpong balls and the impact of feather pillows.

While this event might not be scintillating, it does come with a Very Special Bonus. Actually, it comes with two. First, Fox News is ceasing any pretense for the evening and handing over its airwaves to Trump for a “town hall debate” that’s scheduled opposite the actual presidential debate and includes only Trump. For the half-dozen Republicans who were thinking of watching DeSantis and Haley poke at each other while trying to determine whether any mention of Trump would lessen their chances at being his vice president pick, this is likely to be the more attractive event.

But wait! That’s not all. Vivek Ramaswamy went on social media Tuesday morning to declare he was too cool for CNN’s school. Rather than attend CNN’s “fake debate,” says Ramaswamy, he’s going to take to the air on Fox, no wait … Newsmax … hold on, that’s not it. Is it … OAN? Nope. Ramaswamy will be joining fake news superspreader Tim Pool on his “Timcast” podcast. Not because Ramaswamy didn’t qualify for the CNN debate, but because he didn’t want to be part of their stuffy old debate in the first place. So there.

Ramaswamy’s “You can’t fire me because I quit” moment is only one example in what’s been a gem of a week for the guy Republicans insisted won that first debate and who Trump declared the winner of round four. The serial entrepreneur and con man was a media darling back in the halcyon days of last August, when every article on the lineup of Republican candidates treated him as the shiny new heir to MAGA land and the stand-in for Trump on the debate stage.

Before he declared himself too good for the debate that wouldn’t have him in the first place, Ramaswamy closed out the year by insisting that TV ads are for “chumps” and don’t make any difference in the campaign. This critical analysis of modern media and politics was in no way connected to the fact that Ramaswamy seems to have stopped buying ads after burning through $4.6 million to land himself at 5% in the polls. That’s less than half of his standing after the first debate.

Ramaswamy isn’t doing any better in other states. Maybe that’s because the market for candidates who seemingly exist only to praise Trump is pretty satisfied with … Trump himself.

In order to qualify for this round of debate, CNN required candidates to receive at least 10% from Republican voters in three separate national and/or Iowa polls. Ramaswamy was nowhere close to meeting these requirements and knew he wasn’t going to be asked onto the stage when he made his show of dismissing the debate. That Ramaswamy will be making his appearance with a man who joined Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and James O’Keefe on the list of those most responsible for spreading misinformation about Jan. 6 seems entirely appropriate, since the first item on Ramaswamy’s list of pretend reasons for not participating centers on CNN correctly calling his Jan. 6 statements “conspiracy theories.”

So, on the evening of Jan. 10, potential Republican caucusgoers in Iowa will have their choice of:

  • Listening to Trump use Nazi language as he calls people “vermin” and talks about immigrants “poisoning the blood of our country” (language that seems to really excite many Iowa Republicans).

  • Listening to DeSantis and Haley fight about how they are not running for vice president when they absolutely are.

  • Listening to Ramaswamy talk around Pool while peddling a song that “says fuck you to woke industries” and his documentary that proves the Pentagon is covering up alien visitors.

That’s an evening so jam-packed with fun that I think I can safely say … we won’t be liveblogging any of the above.

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