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Focus on the signal, not the noise,” is a phrase that might as well have been coined by Steve Bannon given how frequently he and his acolytes make use of it. At this stage in the game, it should be the mantra of the MAGA movement writ large; for the hour is already late, there is a mountain of work left to do to haul President Trump over the finish line: navigating a corrupt, weaponized justice system; dealing with rigged election procedures; combatting both soft and overt censorship by mainstream networks and social media – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Which is why – given the enormity of the collective hole we have dug ourselves in – the idea of a normal politics-as-usual primary season was ridiculous from the start. The 2020 presidential election was undeniably the most unfair election in modern history – it necessarily produced an illegitimate outcome. That Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Chris Christie (and the rest) are behaving as if all of that does not matter, or that somehow the problems that got us in this dire situation as a country would miraculously vanish if Trump were removed from the picture is the ultimate indictment of their credentials. The other candidates are not serious contenders for the presidency for the simple purpose that they do not seriously care about America’s interests: if they realized the gravity of the crisis, they would have immediately stepped aside and thrown whatever miniscule political capital they harness upon the 45th President, knowing that he alone has a shot at achieving the near-insurmountable feat of winning the presidency.

In short, the primary process – personified above all by Ron DeSantis and his pitiful excuse for a campaign – is a colossal distraction and timewaster from where our focus needs to be. Poll after poll has Trump with leads of 30, 40, 50+ points above his nearest competitor. Even in the absolutely most competitive primary states, like Iowa, Trump’s lead is well over the 20-point mark, the largest such lead for that state’s Republican caucus in over two decades. Trump won this battle before the first shot was ever fired because grassroots voters can viscerally intuit just how high the stakes are this time around; that for America, 2024 is truly the make-or-break moment.

The candidates who did appear on the debate stage in Milwaukee last evening presented an image of betrayal to the American people. That the first debate was on Fox News, the network responsible for prematurely and recklessly calling Arizona for Biden in 2020, added a poetic touch to the general feeling of impotence surrounding the whole spectacle.

Perhaps even more poetic was who Trump instead chose to spend the evening with: Tucker Carlson, the most famous talk show host in America before he was sent to the slaughterhouse earlier this year by the powers-that-be at Fox in a sacrificial offering to the woke deities. Both Trump and Carlson are unified in being corporate media pariahs – maybe the only person more detested by the Murdoch’s than Donald Trump is Tucker Carlson; the fact that the two combined their influences against their shared enemy in Fox, which is now bloodletting viewership seemingly by the day now, is a powerful signal to the forces in this country that otherwise hope to shut down Donald Trump, and the populist furor both he and Carlson represent, for good. 

Those who tuned into Wednesday night’s debate received a depressing look into the GOP’s past – and what lies in its future without Trump: timid, boring, and ineffectual “leaders.” The frontrunner’s absence was keenly felt in the lack of energy, vigor, and vision on the stage. Vivek Ramaswamy was the only spark of life. The candidates smothered viewers with platitudes about new leadership, stopping Putin, liberal tax and spend policies, and how bad Biden is – something all Republicans already agree on. It could have been a debate from 2012. Fox beclowned itself with a segment on climate change, and dedicated just a few minutes to the issue of the day: the persecution of the opposition leader, Donald Trump.

On that question, the only candidate to defend Trump was Ramaswamy. DeSantis and Tim Scott dodged with abstractions about “the weaponization of justice,” all without mentioning public enemy number one. DeSantis refused to say whether Mike Pence was correct to certify Biden’s bogus victory. Instead, DeSantis said Biden loves that Republicans are still talking about January 6th, and it’s time to move on. The political prisoners languishing in the D.C. gulag would like a word.

On Ukraine, Vivek was, again, the only candidate to unequivocally state that America must not prioritize the European backwater over its own people. DeSantis continued to muddy waters on this key foreign policy issue. Across the board, the bogus tough guy persona fell apart, and DeSantis showed himself to be serpentine, weak and equivocating. When the issue of supporting Trump as the nominee came up, DeSantis scanned the stage and then half-heartedly raised his hand, only after seeing Ramaswamy had done so.

DeSantis, after weeks and weeks of crashing and burning, desperately needed to make a recovery. But he was an afterthought. No one bothered attacking him. He didn’t attack anyone either, only briefly jabbing at Trump on COVID, although he was too timid to use Trump’s name. He grabbed a hold of the words “American decline” and never let go.

Pence and Scott took turns gushing with hokey optimism about an America that no longer exists. The insincerity and fundamental lack of seriousness of the whole spectacle was overpowering – between Nikki Haley’s girlboss routine, Tim Scott’s Martin Luther King impression, and DeSantis’ fake bravado.

We’ve heard a lot about “Trumpism after Trump.” The GOP without Trump looks a lot like the GOP before him. Coming on the very same day that Rudy Giuliani had his mugshot taken, and just a day before Trump is expected to endure the same humiliation with his arraignment in Georgia, the debate could not have been a more out of touch spectacle.

Meanwhile, Trump’s decision to ditch the debate and Fox News for Tucker Carlson on X (formerly known as Twitter) proved to be an act of political genius. As of this publication, Tucker Carlson’s interview garnered more than 100 million views within hours of being posted. This already ranks the Trump interview as the most watched television interview in history, breaking the record set by Carlson and Andrew Tate from earlier this summer.

This fact alone shows Trump’s pulse is on the cultural trajectory of this country in ways that cannot be replicated by the other candidates. Indeed, despite the unfortunate news of this latest arraignment, Trump’s poll numbers are higher than ever: his margins over his nearest opponents now are upwards of 50 percentage points or higher, making his famous prophecy from earlier this month – that he would only need “one more indictment” to win the 2024 election true. Indeed, even the legacy media seems to be coming around to this conclusion: both CNN and Time Magazine ran pieces over the last week gearing their readers for the possibility – perhaps inevitability – of another Trump administration.

Trump is the protagonist of this evil chapter of American history. His inconsequential challengers, lacking the talent to become forces in history themselves, fancy themselves above the “drama” of history, when the truth is they are pursuing a station destiny has closed off to them. They play off their inertness and aversion to “drama” as a virtue. But Trump’s war with the Deep State, which now threatens to destroy the very foundations of the republic, is inextricably woven with the nation and its fate. It is the main event, as even his enemies must acknowledge. Should the worst-case scenario happen and his mugshot be taken, hardly anyone will remember the sideshow in Milwaukee.