First GOP Presidential Debate

By Jason Collins

Takeaways From The First Republican Presidential Debate 

The first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 campaign season kicked off Wednesday night with eight Republican candidates fighting for, what seems at the moment, second place. The event started with the anticipated debate on the Jan.6 scandal, abortion laws, and Donald Trump’s legal woes and then dissolved into an out-of-this-world discussion on UFOs.   

If you didn’t watch the debate, we did, and here are the key takeaways you should know. 

The Candidates 

The debate, which Fox News hosted, saw eight Republicans feuding for second place behind prohibitive frontrunner Donald Trump during the two-hour showdown.  

The candidates were: 

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina
  • Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

Trump: The Elephant Not in The Room  

The leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, had announced earlier this week that he would not be attending the debate, citing that Americans have heard what he has to say and know his stance on current politics. With a large lead in the polls, the latest numbers showed that Trump had an impressive 46-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest rival, on Sunday. 

It is no surprise that even though Trump wasn’t there at the debate, he was the elephant not in the room, according to FOX News host Bret Baier and his name was on many lips. Bret Baier asked the candidates on stage to raise their hands if they would still support Trump if he were convicted. Trump is facing a fourth indictment from Fulton County, Georgia, and is set to be arraigned Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

Six of the eight candidates had raised their hands, while both Christie and Hutchinson kept theirs down. They would not support Trump if he is convicted. Many viewers noted that Pence was the last to raise his hand. Perhaps the slow hesitance resulted from old age, gauging how the others on stage would vote, or Pence was thinking about his run-in with Trump over the Jan.6 events. 

Both Hutchinson and Christie were vocal in their dislike for Trump. Christie, being the most bombastic of the two said; “Someone has got to stop normalizing this conduct. Whether or not you believe the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States.” 

This was met with a symphony of boos from the audience to which Christie responded, “Booing is allowed, but it doesn’t change the truth.” Clearly, the GOP base that made up the audience isn’t interested in what Christie is selling. What followed was an intense row between Ramaswamy, who defended Trump, and Christie facing more booing. Christie’s last words before the audience drowned him out were, “You make me laugh.”  

The Jan.6 Debacle 

Along with the question of supporting Trump, the topic of the Jan.6 committee and Pence’s controversial decision not to overturn the 2020 election results was discussed. Moderators of the debate turned their attention to DeSantis, who had been rather subdued throughout the evening. They asked him whether Pence was right to reject Trump’s pressure to overturn the 2020 election results. 

DeSantis tried to evade the question, so Pence demanded he answer the question, to which DeSantis cautiously said, “Mike did his duty. I’ve got no beef with him.” Christie mocked DeSantis’s response, calling it “Pre-canned,” and gave his opinion. He said, “Mike Pence stood for the Constitution, and he deserves not grudging credit — he deserves our thanks as Americans for putting his oath of office and the Constitution of the United States before personal, political, and unfair pressure.” 

Despite this, DeSantis spoke confidently throughout the debate and was one of the candidates who did well alongside Vivek Ramaswamy. DeSantis’s most powerful moment during the debate was when he brought up the fact that he was the only person on the stage who had removed crooked Democratic prosecutors who received funding from billionaire George Soros. He told the audience confidently, “As president, we are going to go after all of these people because they are hurting our quality of life.” 

Shots Fired at Ramaswamy 

Vivek Ramaswamy, one of the candidates who spoke the most during the debate, was also the target of many attacks. Ramaswamy is a relative newcomer to politics and before becoming a candidate was a billionaire businessman who made his money from his company Roivant Sciences. In 2023, he announced he would be running for president and his campaign has been generating momentum as, like Trump in 2015, he’s saying the things traditional politicians won’t say. This led to virulent attacks from both Pence and Christie. 

Pence turned on Ramaswamy early on in the debates when he responded to Ramaswamy’s comment on the country’s economy. Pence said, “I was the first person in this race to say that we’ve got to deal with the long-term national debt issues. You’ve got people on this stage that won’t even talk about issues like Social Security and Medicare. Vivek, you recently said a president can’t do everything. Well, I’ve got news for you, Vivek. I’ve been in the hallway. I’ve been in the West Wing. The president of the United States has to confront every crisis facing America.” 

To which Ramaswamy kept up his grin when Pence fired his final shot, “Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie. We don’t need to bring in people without experience.” 

Christie also had his go at Ramaswamy multiple times. In response to Ramaswamy’s answer about climate change, Christie proclaimed,

I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT. 

Ramaswamy found himself the target yet again after he and DeSantis did not support the idea that more aid should be sent to Ukraine. This drew criticism from Haley as she fired back, “He is choosing a murderer over a pro-American country. He will make America less safe. Under your watch, you will make America less safe.”

Ramaswamy was pretty vocal in his displeasure about the increased aid being sent to Kyiv and made it clear that those resources should be used domestically. Specifically for the current border crisis, Ramaswamy responded to increased aid for Ukraine during the debate saying, “This is disastrous. We are protecting against an invasion across somebody else’s border when we should use those same military resources to prevent the invasion across our southern border here in the United States of America.” Out of the eight candidates, only Ramaswamy and DeSantis were against sending more aid to Ukraine. 

Federal Abortion Ban Debate 

The eight candidates were allowed to debate whether a federal law should ban abortion. For the ban to be passed in the House and Senate, 60 votes are needed, which they don’t currently have. 

Out of all the candidates, Haley was most vocal and made it clear that she was “unapologetically pro-life.” The debate results were mixed, with some candidates, like Burgum, saying that abortion bans should be made at a state level, not federal. 

Christie’s Take on UFOs 

As the debate drew to a close, the audience heard from Christie one last time as host Martha MacCallum asked him if he believed in the recent surge in UFO encounters. Christie smiled and said, “I get the UFO question? Come on, man!” referring to the fact that he hails from New Jersey. 

The question had less to do with actual aliens and more about the government keeping information from the American public, which MacCallum pointed out. Christie replied, “The job of the president of the United States is to level with the American people about everything. The job of the president of the United States is to stand for truth.” 

While Christie thought the question was a joke, ABC News reported that at least 68% of Americans feel that the government is withholding information about UFOs. 

Debate winner, Trump?

The presidential debate is an opportunity for candidates to showcase to potential voters which of them have the skills, guts, and ideas to challenge Trump. It was an opportunity to gain as much support from non-Trump voters as possible. Instead, voters had to sift through two hours of insults, mud-slinging, and interruptions with no clear winner. The candidates will have a chance to try again in the second debate on Sept. 27 in Simi Valley, California. Meanwhile, Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson was released on the same night outshining the other candidates and receiving 40 million within the first 20 minutes of being released. Tucker and Trump have now reached over 200 million views. Clearly, the eight challengers who took the stage in the first Republican presidential debate have their work cut out for them if they are going to catch Trump.