I am nowhere near ready to commit my vote on this, but my thinking is changing based on what I have heard and seen so far, and the two candidates most impressive to me are both in single digits in most polls, namely Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. Start with Pence. He can be like watching paint dry, but what is important is what he says, such as this in a recent speech in New Hampshire: “Republican voters face an important choice next year…will we be the party of conservatism, or will we follow the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles?” Bingo! This might be the most important question in the GOP primary, particularly if “national populist” isolationist tendencies drag the party off the world stage of leadership which seems what many in this faction of the GOP want to do, and which would not be good for the free world and America’s interests. As for domestic policy and social issues, he is solid.
Nikki Haley gets my award for the “adult in the room” during the debate, mainly by simply telling the truth about such items as Trump’s adding $8 trillion to our debt and Republicans asking for more than twice as much than Democrats in “earmarks” in the 2024 budget, while courageously noting publicly the inconvenient fact that Donald Trump is the most disliked politician in America. She also joined with Pence in discrediting Vivek Ramaswamy’s goofy comments on support for Ukraine and his posture on defending Taiwan “only until we don’t need its semiconductors”. She is also solid on the cultural issues and made reasoned comments on how the GOP needs to structure a consensus on abortion.
In short, long shots as they are, these two contenders, along with Ramaswamy (despite the goofiness), and maybe Chris Christie seemed to be the only debate participants who came solidly grounded in their core beliefs, while the rest of them are still working out the messaging with their handlers and consultants.