Opinion | The Republican Debate Proved That Trump Has What It Takes

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

Like far too many of you, I watched the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, during which all of the most popular contenders in the field tried to stand out and establish themselves as a serious alternative for the Republican presidential nomination.

An alternative to whom? Donald Trump, who wasn’t on stage for the debate. And yet, despite his absence, there was no way that any of the candidates could escape his presence. The former president loomed over the proceedings, not the least because he is, so far, the uncontested leader in the race for the nomination. His nearest competitor, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, still trails him by nearly 40 points.

There’s also the fact that the candidates had no choice but to answer questions about Trump, who has been indicted on state and federal charges related to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The pretense of the debate was that the candidates could talk about themselves and the future of the Republican Party without the former president, but that was simply impossible.

But the issue wasn’t just that Trump was unavoidable; it was that none of the other candidates had much to say for themselves. Even the most dynamic of the contenders, Vivek Ramaswamy, was doing little more than his own spin on Trump’s persona. As I argued in our post-debate recap, none of the candidates had any of the charisma or presence or vision that might mark them as something more than just another governor or legislator.

Far from giving the other Republicans a chance to shine, Trump’s absence underscored the extent to which he is the only Republican of national stature with the political chops to appeal to Republican voters as well as a considerable chunk of the American electorate.

It is obviously true that a major reason for Trump’s dominance in the Republican primaries is the fact that at no point since the 2020 election have Republican officeholders and other figures tried to set him aside as the leader of the party. But we can’t underestimate the extent to which Trump has it what it takes — and most of his competitors simply don’t.

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Photo of the Week

I was up in the Adirondacks for the first time this summer and obviously spent a lot of time walking around and photographing lakes. This is a picture of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, which was very picturesque.

Now Eating: Masala Black-Eyed Peas

Among the things I hope to accomplish with this newsletter is getting people to eat more beans and field peas, both of which are versatile and affordable staple foods. This recipe, from NYT Cooking, for black-eyed peas in an Indian style, is very easy and very filling. I would serve with flatbreads, a green vegetable and a carrot raita. But by itself with steamed rice would be just as good and just as filling.


3 tablespoons ghee or neutral oil

1 medium yellow or red onion, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons ginger paste or freshly grated ginger

1 ½ teaspoons garlic paste or freshly grated garlic

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

¾ teaspoon Kashmiri or other mild red chile powder

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

3 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped or 1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 cups of cooked black-eyed peas, frozen or from dried

3 fresh green Thai or serrano chiles, chopped

2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about half a lemon)

½ teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


Heat ghee or oil in a medium-sized pot for 30 seconds on medium-low. Add onion, ginger and garlic, and cook on high heat, stirring frequently, until onions are transparent, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in cumin seeds, chile powder and turmeric. Add tomatoes and salt. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the oil separates, 5 to 7 minutes. (If you want your finished dish to be less saucy, cook the tomatoes a little longer.)

Stir in black-eyed peas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Top with green chiles, lemon juice, garam masala and cilantro, if you like.

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie

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