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Hate at the debate should not be tolerated for next year's RNC
Milwaukee is at the center of it all, hosting the Republican Debate and the RNC. Recapping and reflecting on the debate. Guest column by Angela Lang, executive director of BLOC.
Guest column by Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC).
Milwaukee hosted the first Republican Debate this week. It was all over the place. Yet, there were a few things that stood out.
For months, the city had been preparing for that moment. There were security protocols and street closures, but also many activists, organizers, and organizations had been preparing as well.
Ever since it was announced that Milwaukee would be hosting the RNC in 2024, many of us understood the real threats this could bring. This isn't a matter of simply not agreeing with their policies; it is a firm rejection of the white supremacy and bigotry the Republican Party has embraced over the last several years. A party who will likely prop up people like Kyle Rittenhouse during the RNC. A party that allows for dangerous conspiracy theories like the “Big Lie” to run rampant, further dividing our country.
It was disappointing to see some people welcoming this group of thugs with open arms, or giving a platform to hateful people like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. This is not the Republican Party that you could simply disagree with and move on. This Republican Party has become especially extreme, with policies rooted in the oppression of marginalized groups.
For anyone who has lived in Milwaukee for a significant amount of time – especially in the city – this may seem like a bad fit, considering our diversity and values. One thing that was clear from the very opening of the debate is that the GOP understands the importance of Milwaukee and Wisconsin to the broader national landscape.
“Milwaukee continues to be in the spotlight. I always enjoy when people are seeing the city for the first time. But this level of hate that was displayed on the debate stage should not be tolerated for a week during next year’s RNC.” - Angela Lang
On inside of the Fiserv, we saw the gloves come off with candidates attacking each other on stage. Party infighting was front and center.
One of my main takeaways from the debate was just how divided the Republican Party is on so many key issues voters care about. It was evidenced in former governor Nikki Haley’s abortion answer. She called for consensus around the issue and said we need to “stop demonizing” it. Her answer stood out from the others as she wanted to “humanize” the issue – and stood out, too, as the only woman on stage. Now, is this something that progressives can get behind? No, but it is different from the harsh and strict abortions policies that are often debated by Republicans.
Another divide we saw — one I’m sure we all expected — was whether or not to support Donald Trump. When asked flat out by a show of hands who would support Donald Trump as the party’s nominee even if he were convicted in a court of law, six of the eight candidates raised their hands. Some were more hesitant than others, but most of the candidates raised their hands. When that question was asked, all the candidates knew the very next day Trump would be turning himself in and getting a mugshot taken for the charges he faces in his role in attempting to interfere in the 2020 election.
Six of the eight candidates would support a man as their nominee, to lead this country, even though he is under indictment for the 2020 election. I need to pause at the gravity of this.
While some candidates tried to stand out from Trump and offer something new, the majority of them would still fall in line for a terrible candidate who they know is terrible. Former governor Chris Christie notably was one of two to say he would not support Trump as the nominee. He even said at one point that we’ve “got to stop normalizing this conduct.” Christie was consistent the whole night, even coming to former Vice President Mike Pence’s defense that he acted appropriately on Jan. 6. Vivek Ramaswamy and Christie exchanged jabs several times around their opposing views of Trump.
Ramaswamy was seemingly posing as a newer, more refreshed, younger, Trump. His hand was the first to fly up when asked if he would support him as the nominee. Perhaps he’s also running for a potential VP spot.
Honestly, if he was more viable and had a shot at becoming the nominee I would be incredibly concerned. He still is cause for concern with his dangerous rhetoric that clearly riled up the crowd at times. In his closing statement he said things like “God is real. There are two genders. Reverse racism is racism.” He even at one point joked about having fun while he went back and forth with the other candidates. For a second he looked like he was trolling folks and intentionally trying to get under Haley’s skin, along with others. His behavior even prompted Christie to say he “sounds like ChatGPT.” While it got a laugh — and the group chats all lit up with laughter — he had a point.
Christie and Haley tried to paint Ramaswamy as someone who is not a serious candidate, which, in some ways, played to his hand of being an outsider who can shake things up. I don’t see a world where he becomes the nominee, but his stances and strong views may have found a home with some voters. How does that continue to resonate in the future? It’s unclear where he goes after the primary but I doubt it is anywhere quietly.
One of the most notable lackluster performances of the debate was from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been clouded in a shadow of whispers that his campaign is flailing and taht he is, quite frankly, not a good candidate. I’ve seen clips of him having outbursts with press and potential voters; he just doesn’t seem personable. So, I was curious about how he would do at the debate. At one point he said “We will get the job done and I will not let you down!” and then had a forced delayed smile that came off as robotic and was immediately meme worthy.
This really summed up his whole time on that stage. He was aggressively loud like he was at a campaign rally instead of a debate, and that fell flat. He came across as inauthentic and it made me wonder if people like his policies more than him. He had the most to prove, but didn’t come across as particularly relatable or strong. What DeSantis has done in Florida by attacking the LGBTQIA community, specifically trans folks; his war against CRT; and his fight with Disney has made him the poster child for culture wars fights. It doesn’t seem to be translating to broader, more national issues. It will be interesting to see how his campaign pivots and adjusts after the debate.
Oddly, I didn’t see a lot of Milwaukee or Wisconsin specific references in the debate, although there were a couple. The most Milwaukee thing of the debate was when North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum was injured playing basketball before the debate and was treated by the Milwaukee Bucks orthopedic surgeon. And yet even after getting a bit of buzz surrounding his injury, his performance was still largely forgettable.
Milwaukee continues to be in the spotlight. I always enjoy when people are seeing the city for the first time. But this level of hate that was displayed on the debate stage should not be tolerated for a week during next year’s RNC. Milwaukee is my home. We are loving people who welcome folks to our city but the insults and bigotry have no place here.
The debate was just a glimpse of what we should be expecting for next year’s convention. We anticipate bigger protest crowds. Will far right extremists show up and cause trouble or harm to our community that we all love? What we do know for sure is that we are in for a wild ride Milwaukee will be in the center of it all.
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Angela Lang is the executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC). She was born and raised in the heart of Milwaukee. She has an extensive background in community organizing. In the past, Angela served as both an organizer and State Council Director for the Service Employees International Union, working on such campaigns as the Fight for 15. Before joining BLOC, Angela was the Political Director with For Our Future Wisconsin. She is a graduate of Emerge Wisconsin and has had the pleasure of being the featured trainer for Emerge's Diversity Weekend since 2015.
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Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.