The first Republican presidential debate was lively. Eight candidates joined in passionate discussions.
Some thought it might be boring without the entertaining Donald Trump. But that wasn’t true. Even without him, the eight rivals in Wisconsin showed they could make the debate exciting.
However, a few candidates stood out, while some did not perform as well.
Let’s see who did well and who didn’t:
- Vivek Ramaswamy
This man who never tried for a public job – and didn’t even vote for a president from 2004 to 2020 – really did well in this Republican debate.
He smiled a lot and talked fast. It often seemed like he was the only one on the stage having a good time. Maybe it’s because he’s new to politics, and he’s doing better than people thought. He doesn’t have much to lose, so he’s in a good position.
He easily defended himself when others criticized him. He said that Mr. Christie seemed like he was trying out for a job on a news channel that leans left, and that Ms. Haley seemed like she wanted to work for companies that make things for the military, with the way she talked about Ukraine.
When they talked about climate change, he said, “I’m the only one here who’s not controlled by someone else because of money.” This made the others very mad.
Over and over again, Mr. Ramaswamy showed that he’s not part of the group of established politicians. Many of his ideas are different from what most politicians think. For example, he said Ukraine should give some land to Russia, and he wants the military to guard the US-Mexico border.
He also said American companies shouldn’t do business with China. These ideas are not common, even in the Republican Party. But like Mr. Trump showed in 2016, even crazy and not very practical ideas can get people’s attention.
Moreover, Mr. Ramaswamy might not have enough support to compete with Mr. Trump for the nomination, and maybe he doesn’t even want to. But his performance in the debate means he will still be important in this race in the coming months.
- Nikki Haley
The past US ambassador to the UN has a history of surprising those who don’t expect much from her. She’s always won when running for a job, even when she was competing against more well-known Republicans for the South Carolina governor position.
During Wednesday night’s debate, she stood out by starting early with strong criticism of both Mr. Trump and the whole Republican Party.
She said, “Republicans are also responsible for this” when talking about the big US budget deficit. She said they should stop spending and borrowing money.
Moreover, when they talked about the former president, she called Mr. Trump the “most disliked politician in America.” She warned that the Republican Party will have problems in the general election because of him.
She also showed she’s ready to fight. She argued with Mr. Ramaswamy about giving Ukraine more help, which she thinks is important. She disagreed with Mr. Pence about abortion, saying his idea to ban abortion all over the country is not realistic and will hurt the party’s image.
Even if she doesn’t become a leader in this group now, her debate performance could help her be ready for future times when she wants to run for president, especially in years when a former president isn’t the main focus.
- Mike Pence
The experienced politician, who has been a congressman, a governor, and a vice-president, still has some fight in him.
Even though his campaign to become president has been struggling – disliked by Trump supporters and not trusted by Trump critics – his experience from being in debates helped him during Wednesday night’s event.
He started strong by criticizing Mr. Ramaswamy’s lack of experience, saying, “Right now is not the time to learn on the job.”
Furthermore, he passionately talked about limiting abortions based on religious beliefs. This might not be popular in the general election next year. But it could make evangelical Republicans like him more, and they have a big say in states like Iowa and South Carolina, which are important in choosing the party’s candidate.
When the conversation turned to Mr. Trump later in the debate, Mr. Pence got the final say. He said that on January 6, 2021, he chose the Constitution over Mr. Trump’s demands when he didn’t support overturning the election results. Some of his opponents even spoke in his support.
The problems for Mr. Pence’s campaign are still there, but at least for one night, he showed why many conservative Republicans used to think he could be a good president.
- Chris Christie
Mr. Christie did what most people thought he would do. He criticized Mr. Trump, had some clever lines about Mr. Ramaswamy, and was generally feisty and ready to argue.
People in the audience didn’t like him. They booed when he was introduced, when he talked against Mr. Trump, and when he strongly criticized Mr. Ramaswamy.
He had a standout moment when he said the new guy in politics “sounds like ChatGPT.” But this comparison didn’t make the audience like him more.
- Tim Scott
Tim Scott, on the other hand, acted like a nice guy. He tried to stay out of the big arguments during the most intense parts of the debate.
This might not help him get many votes, but it could make his qualifications shine if he wants to be Mr. Trump’s choice for vice president.
- Ron DeSantis
At the start of the year, it looked like Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump would be the main contenders for the Republican nomination. But since then, the governor of Florida has lost popularity in the polls.
If the other Republican candidates haven’t caught up to him yet, they might have after this debate.
His performance wasn’t terrible – he had some good moments, especially when he talked about his time in the military and his ideas to tackle the opioid crisis.
However, during the important parts of the debate, he didn’t stand out. Mr. Ramaswamy seemed to do better than him. Other candidates, like Mr. Pence and Ms. Haley, took the lead on topics like abortion and helping Ukraine. When they talked about Mr. Trump and his legal troubles, he didn’t seem very sure.
He didn’t do what was needed to catch up to Mr. Trump. The person who was once seen as the future of the Republican Party didn’t really make an impact this time.
- Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum
Asa Hutchinson, a former governor from Arkansas, got into the Milwaukee debate as the last candidate. Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, got on the stage in a unique way – he promised people $20 gift cards if they gave $1 to his campaign.
Both candidates really needed to show they deserved to be there, but they weren’t talked about much.
Mr. Hutchinson’s criticisms of Mr. Trump seemed weak compared to Mr. Christie’s stronger attacks. And Mr. Burgum’s simple and down-to-earth conservative views didn’t really stand out.
The rules to qualify for the next debate in California will be tougher. Neither candidate did enough on Wednesday night to get the kind of support they need to likely be in the next debate.
To sum up, the Republican debate showed how different candidates performed. Some, like Vivek Ramaswamy, stood out by being new and energetic. Others, like Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, used their experience to do well.
Tim Scott and Chris Christie also did their part in their own ways. But some candidates like Ron DeSantis, Asa Hutchinson, and Doug Burgum had a harder time making a big impact. As things go on, these things will decide how well each candidate does in the upcoming elections.
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