The first Republican presidential debate turned out to be a wild show, with the eight candidates engaging in furious verbal scuffles.
Despite worries that Donald Trump, the ultimate showman, wouldn’t be there, the event had plenty of passion. The previous president may have been the center of attention during the 2016 primary debates, but the group of eight candidates who gathered in Wisconsin showed they could still excite voters without him.
While some individuals were able to stand out from the crowd, others appeared to vanish into the background.
Here, we give a summary of those who prevailed and those who suffered reverses.
The Winner: Vivek Ramaswamy
Ramaswamy, a newcomer to politics and a non-voter in the presidential contests from 2004 to 2020, unquestionably took charge of the Republican discourse.
He frequently appeared as the lone contestant on stage, savoring the moment while flashing a big grin and a silver tongue. Exceeding expectations may have contributed to some of his ease by letting him essentially play with house money while taking center stage.
He skillfully deflected criticism from rival candidates, claiming that Mr. Christie was trying out for a position on the liberal MSNBC network and that Ms. Haley was angling for positions in the defense industry due to her positions in Ukraine.
During a speech on climate change, he claimed, “I’m the only person on this stage not beholden to special interests,” drawing shocked reactions from his opponents.
Republican Debate & Ramaswamy
Ramaswamy frequently presented himself as an outsider in a group of firmly established political insiders. His views, which go well beyond the typical Republican mainstream, include calling for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia, using force to secure the US-Mexico border, and prohibiting US firms from doing business with China. Yet, as Trump’s 2016 campaign demonstrated, even seemingly absurd and unrealistic policy ideas can successfully garner attention. Ramaswamy might not have the political clout to oppose Trump’s nomination bid, and he might not even want to. However, his performance in the debate ensures that he will continue to have an impact on the race over the coming months.
Michael Pence Pence is an accomplished politician who has served as a congressman, governor, and vice president. He still exhibits some competitiveness.
Although his presidential campaign has encountered difficulties—he has been criticized by Trump fans and scrutinized closely by Trump detractors—his experience on the debate stage helped him on this particular Wednesday night.
Ramaswamy’s lack of experience caught his attention, and he quickly began an offensive, saying, “Now isn’t the time for on-the-job training.”
He fervently argued in favor of federal abortion limits that were founded on religious principles. This position might not play well in the upcoming general election, but it might help Trump win over conservative evangelical Republicans. In crucial states like Iowa and South Carolina, which are crucial in deciding the party’s nominee, their influence might tilt the balance.
Michael Pence: The Seasoned Politician
When the conversation turned to Trump later in the debate, Pence offered the closing address, emphasizing his commitment to the Constitution on January 6, 2021, when he refused Trump’s appeal to invalidate the election results. Even some rivals expressed their support. While the underlying obstacles to Pence’s candidature remain, he proved why many conservative Republicans once saw him as a presidential candidate for at least one night.
Nikki Haley: Defying Expectations
Nikki Haley says Haley, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, constantly defies expectations. She has a spotless electoral record, having won even when facing off against established Republican candidates for South Carolina governor. During the proceedings on Wednesday night, she stood out by immediately criticizing both Trump and the Republican Party as a whole.
Regarding the significant US budget imbalance, she remarked, “Republicans are accountable for this as well.” “They must stop the wasteful borrowing and spending.”
She called Trump the “most unpopular politician in America,” addressed the previous president, and warned that this view could hurt the Republican Party’s electoral chances in the general election.
Haley also demonstrated her readiness to get into a fight. She argued with Ramaswamy on the continuation of US assistance to Ukraine, a position she backs. She disagreed with Pence on the issue of abortion, calling his support for a federal ban on the procedure politically harmful and unworkable.
Even if she doesn’t win the current race, the 51-year-old’s performance in the debate places her for potential future presidential runs in election cycles where a former president isn’t the dominant figure.
A Loser: Ron DeSantis
Earlier this year, it seemed as though Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump might face off in a debate for the Republican candidature. The Florida governor’s popularity in the polls, nevertheless, has declined since then.
This discussion may have pulled the rest of the Republican field up to speed, if not ahead of him if they hadn’t already caught up to him.
His performance wasn’t exactly terrible, but he made some good points, particularly when he emphasized his military service and argued for more forceful government action to deal with the drug issue.
Nevertheless, he stayed out of the debate’s critical turning points. He was outmaneuvered by Mr. Ramaswamy, and other candidates like Mr. Pence and Ms. Haley disqualified him on issues like abortion and US aid to Ukraine. DeSantis appeared to be in trouble when the topic of Mr. Trump’s recent legal troubles came up. This performance fell short of what would be required to gain Mr. Trump’s support. The person who was previously heralded as the future of the Republican Party turned out to be unimportant in this case.
Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson: The Disappearing Candidates
The former governor of Arkansas and final qualifier for the Milwaukee debate, Asa Hutchinson, just about made it. In the meantime, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum won a spot on the podium with a novel strategy: rewarding $1 contributions to his campaign with $20 gift cards.
Both candidates needed to make a strong case for why they should be allowed to participate, but they mostly disappeared into the background.
Comparing Mr. Hutchinson’s condemnation of Mr. Trump to Mr. Christie’s sharper rebukes, Mr. Hutchinson’s remarks seemed mild. Folksy small-state conservatism like that of Mr. Burgum fell flat.
Both of these candidates failed to meet the requirements on this Wednesday night to garner the kind of support necessary for a credible return to the debate stage because the eligibility requirements for the upcoming primary debate in California are more strict.