The GOP Debate Was Feisty. Who Won?

Former President Trump is the 'clear winner,' per Vox
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2023 8:41 AM CDT
The GOP Debate Was Feisty. Who Won?
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy reacts after a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee.   (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Without former President Trump on stage, the eight "underdogs" taking part in the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday in Milwaukee had the opportunity to "differentiate themselves in the field," reports the New York Times. Many seized on the chance and "at certain points, you could see a flash of an old kind of pre-Trump Republican Party debate, deliberating over government spending, illegal immigration, and foreign policy," per Vox. Still, "the debate had the feel of an undercard," per CNN. Indeed, many pundits see the former president and frontrunner as the clear winner of the night. Views on four key candidates:

  • Ron DeSantis: A strong early candidate who has lately floundered, the Florida governor had "the most to prove and the most to lose" and in the end "seemed like the apparent leader," having touted his successes while largely evading attacks from his rivals, per the Times. However, "his monotonous responses didn't inspire much of a response from the audience either," per Vox. According to the Washington Post, DeSantis needed to make a splash, but didn't and "ceded center stage to [Vivek] Ramaswamy for most of the night."

  • Vivek Ramaswamy: Much criticism was directed at the political newbie who's risen to third place in recent polls, but he was "unfazed," per the Post. He actually seemed "to enjoy being attacked as much as he appeared to relish going after experienced candidates over their records," per the Times. He was highly visible and spoke often, which made him a "big winner" in the eyes of Republican lobbyist David Urban. But his "Trump-lite grenade-slinging schtick grew tedious" and "he started to get booed with more frequency after he declared that climate change was a 'hoax,'" per Vox. (The candidate's exact words, per the New York Times: "The climate change agenda is a hoax. ... The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change."
  • Nikki Haley: The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the UN "stood out ... as a voice of reason," particularly when she challenged Ramaswamy's lack of foreign policy experience, per the Times. She spoke up on abortion, stressing the effect political decisions have on women, which made her deserving of "a second look," according to former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. She was also "first to criticize Trump by name" and "one of the few candidates to acknowledge that climate change is real," per CNN. She "presented the most compelling vision of an alternative Republican politics, at least for a general election," per the Economist.

  • Trump: "It could scarcely have turned out better for [Trump]," per the Post. The big risk in not participating was being unable to defend himself against attacks. But the candidates largely ignored him and Ramaswamy frequently defended him. The biggest shots came when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie claimed Trump's conduct was "beneath the office of the president" and Haley criticized nearly $8 trillion of federal spending during his presidency. Still, "no candidate emerged as a clear alternative," making Trump "the clear winner," per Vox.
  • Others: In attacking Trump and sparring with Trump's defender Ramaswamy, Christie ran afoul of the crowd of 4,000, who drowned him out with boos, per CNN. Neither former Vice President Mike Pence nor South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott "really showed much," per the Post. Scott "was largely a spectator," while "Pence tried to make the case that he is the tried-and-true conservative in the race, but he seemed to be making a case to a Republican Party that doesn't really exist anymore."
(More Republican debate stories.)

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