MILWAUKEE — The first Republican primary debate took place in Milwaukee on Wednesday and while Donald Trump was not there, he was still top of mind for the candidates hoping to make a dent in the former president’s lead.
In case you missed it, here are the winners and losers from the first GOP debate of 2024:
By far, the former governor of South Carolina came away looking the best on the night. She earned the biggest cheers of the night when she slammed Vivek Ramaswamy for his views on funding Ukraine and foreign policy.
“You are choosing a murderer [Putin] over a pro-American country. You have no foreign policy experience and it shows,” she said to massive cheers from the crowd.
Her first comments of the night were related to the economy but slammed members of her own party, including those on the stage with her, for supporting adding to the deficit.
“The truth is that Biden didn’t do this to us; our Republicans did this to us when they passed that $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill,” Haley said. She mentioned her opponents’ votes to raise the debt ceiling and added: “Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for this.”
The little-known businessman has risen to third place in most polling and while his rivals attacked him, Ramaswamy adopted a Trump-like style, earning him most of his speaking time and cheers from the clear pro-Trump crowd.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie compared Ramaswamy to “a guy who sounds like Chat GPT.” While former Vice President Mike Pence called him a “rookie” in the political arena.
Still, Ramaswamy stood tall despite the attacks, and defended Trump by saying Christie is “blindly bashing Trump without an iota of vision for this country.”
Trump may not have been on the stage Wednesday but Ramaswamy made sure to fill in as the replace. At least for this night.
While he may have not been on the stage, Trump was by far the biggest winner of the night. The candidates on stage rarely made any attempts to attack him and those that did, like Christie, were booed so loud he couldn’t even finish his sentence.
“Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” he said. “Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States.”
When asked if they would still support Trump if he wins the Republican nomination and gets convicted, everyone on stage raised their hands except Asa Hutchinson and Christie.
While Trump was not in attendance, the Republican party still very clearly belongs to him.
DeSantis entered the debate needing some sort of push to make up a near 40-point hole but he did little to show why he deserves the nomination over Trump, even defending his opponent at times.
He positioned himself as the anti-Covid-lockdown candidate and pro-life candidate. However, nothing he did was memorable in any way and that’s the problem.
He faced an uphill battle but did not really show much in the opening debate. He spoke about him being the true conservative in the race. While that may be true, it is clear that Republican party is long gone.
If anything, Wednesday’s debate was truly chaotic. The candidates had little respect for moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, interrupting them and disregarding the debate rules.
When the topic of supporting Trump came up DeSantis got little speaking time and Pence tried to overtalk, leading to interruptions and little follow-up.