The 2024 GOP primary now officially feels underway, and the eight candidates who took the stage in Milwaukee hope the energy from the first debate builds them much-needed momentum on the campaign trail.
“Our country is in decline, this decline is not inevitable,” declared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis off the top. “It’s a choice. We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline.”
In the debate on Fox News, 38-year-old Vivek Ramaswamy made the case it’s time for a fresh face in Washington.
“If you have a broken down car you don’t turn over the keys to the people who broke it again, you hand it over to a new generation to actually fix the problem,” said Ramaswamy. “That’s why I’m in this race, and we’re just getting warmed up.”
The seasoned politicians, though, came ready to spar with the rising political newcomer who came into the night with a target on his back.
“You will make America less safe, you have no foreign policy experience and it shows,” former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told Ramaswamy.
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” commented Mike Pence. “We don’t need to bring in a rookie.”
“The last person in one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage and said, “What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here” was Barack Obama,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur standing on the stage tonight.”
The candidates also debated whether there should be a federal abortion ban.
“We must have a president of the United States that will fight for a minimum 15-week limit,” said Sen. Tim Scott.
Or if the issue should be left up to the states to decide.
“No Republican president can ban abortions, any more than a Democrat president could ban all those state laws,” said Haley. “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue, when you know we don’t have 60 Senate votes.”
“Seventy percent of the American people support legislation to ban abortion,” pointed out Pence.
“But 70 percent of the Senate does not,” quipped Haley.
The candidates also had a moment to comment on the elephant not in the room – Donald Trump.
“Trump is the most disliked politician in America,” said Haley. “We can’t win an election that way.”
Moderator Bret Baier had to quiet the crowd from booing Christie for claiming Trump broke the law.
“We have to dispense with the person who said that we need to suspend the constitution to put forward his political career,” said Chris Christie. “Mike Pence said no and he deserves credit for it.”
When asked if the candidates would support Trump if he wins the nomination, all but Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson raised their hand, with a mixed signal from Christie.
“Obviously I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony or who is disqualified under our constitution,” said Hutchinson.
Ramaswamy also stood out as the only candidate onstage who doesn’t support sending more money to help Ukraine.
“This is disastrous,” said Ramaswamy. “We are protecting against an invasion against 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.”
Ramaswamy is the only candidate who has committed to pardoning Trump which he pushed Pence to agree to, as well.
“Make a commitment you’ll pardon Trump,” urged Ramaswamy.
“If I’m president of the United States we’ll give fair consideration to any pardon requests,” responded Pence.
Meanwhile, on X formerly known as Twitter, President Trump and Tucker Carlson had millions tune into their competing interview that covered everything from Trump’s thoughts on Jeffery Epstein’s suicide to if America is headed for a civil war.
“So do you think it’s possible that there’s open conflict?” asked Carlson.
“I don’t know, because I don’t know – I can say this,” responded Trump. “There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen. There’s a level of hatred that I’ve never seen, and that’s probably a bad combination.”
The debate afterglow isn’t expected to last too long – with news coverage turning back to the front runner later today as Trump turns himself into Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail for his most recent indictment. He’s expected to be released on $200,000 bond.