Disbelief flashed across Vivek Ramaswamy’s face. The Republican presidential candidates, minus the front-runner, were 42 minutes into their first debate when former Vice President Mike Pence took issue with the young businessman’s claim that America was gripped by a national identity crisis.
“We’re not looking for a new national identity,” said Mr. Pence, 64. “The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hard-working people the world has ever known.”
“It is not morning in America,” Mr. Ramaswamy, 38, shot back in his rapid-fire Harvard debating style. “We live in a dark moment. And we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold, cultural civil war.”
Extolling Ronald Reagan used to be the safest of safe spaces for an ambitious Republican. Yet here was an upstart candidate, with no record of public service, standing at center stage in a G.O.P. debate and invoking Mr. Reagan’s famous 1984 “morning in America” theme not as an applause line, but to mock one of the party’s staunchest conservatives — an original product of the Reagan revolution — as out of touch with America’s true condition.