Eight Republican candidates gunning for the presidency convened for the first time for a fiery debate that saw them trade insults, tout their conservative credentials and make their cases as alternatives to frontrunner Donald Trump, who was conspicuous by his absence.
With Trump giving the debate a pass, his top rival Florida governor Ron DeSantis took the chance to gain lost ground and bolster his popularity. Unfortunately for him, Indian-origin entrepreneur and political novice Vivek Ramaswamy came out on top by putting himself smack in the middle of the most heated exchanges.
Ramaswamy (38), who has emerged as a rising star in the GOP polls in recent weeks and is now tied at second place with DeSantis, took heavy fire during the debate.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Ramaswamy’s answers to something cranked out by ChatGPT. He was also called out for his opening remark about being a skinny guy with a hard-to-pronounce name, with Christie pointing out that he swiped the line from former president Barack Obama.
Former Vice President Mike Pence also piled on, calling Ramaswamy a “rookie” and telling him, “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.”
The candidates all expressed concern about the state of the economy, with inflation and rising gas prices being top issues. DeSantis said that the Biden administration’s “failed economic policies” are to blame for the inflation crisis. He called for tax cuts and deregulation to boost the economy.
The candidates also clashed over immigration, with some calling for a ban on illegal immigration, while others said the focus should be on securing the border and creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Pence said that the United States needs to secure its borders and build a wall to stop illegal immigration.
Some of the candidates downplayed the threat of climate change, while others said that it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Pence said that climate change is “real” but that it is not “the existential threat that some people make it out to be.” He said that the United States should focus on developing clean energy technologies, but that it should not do so at the expense of economic growth.
DeSantis said that climate change is “a serious problem” but that the “solutions” proposed by Democrats are “not realistic.” He said that the United States should focus on adapting to climate change, rather than trying to prevent it.
Ramaswamy dismissed climate change as a “hoax”, insisting that, “The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
The candidates also discussed foreign policy, with some calling for a more hawkish approach to China and Russia, while others said the United States should focus on rebuilding its relationships with its allies. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina called for increased military spending, while former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley criticized Trump’s “America First” policies, saying that they have alienated the US’ allies.
Six of the eight candidates promised Wednesday to support former President Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee, even if he is a convicted felon by then on charges in any one of the several indictments he faces. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said they would not.
Trump’s ex-running mate, Mike Pence, refused to say he would pardon the former president if he’s ultimately convicted. DeSantis suggested that the GOP needs to move past Trump’s baggage. “Republicans, we need to look forward,” he said.
The candidates were largely in agreement on the issue of abortion and summarily expressed support for overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide.
Some of the candidates went further, calling for a nationwide ban on abortion. Pence said that he would sign an executive order banning abortion if he were elected president.
The only candidate open to some leeway was Haley, who said she would support abortion exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.