Thrills and Spills: Who Triumphed in this Epic GOP Showdown?

Former President Donald Trump stole the show at the opening 2024 Republican primary debate, even though he wasn’t physically present on the center stage. With a 40 percentage point lead over the nearest competitor, Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s absence didn’t diminish his dominance in the race. The other eight qualifying candidates, including DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former Vice President Mike Pence, jockeyed for attention and attempted to undermine each other in an effort to boost their support and fundraising.

Among the winners of the debate was former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who showcased her foreign policy credentials and took on Ramaswamy over his remarks regarding Ukraine and Israel. Haley differentiated herself by addressing Trump’s role in increasing the national debt and discussing her nuanced stance on abortion. Republican strategist Cesar Conda praised Haley’s performance as “smart, substantive, and compelling.”

Ramaswamy, on the other hand, faced criticism for contradicting himself and making controversial comments about the federal government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He also drew comparisons to former President Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment by claiming that everyone onstage was “bought and paid for.” GOP strategists Alex Conant and Cesar Conda agreed that Ramaswamy failed to reinforce his strengths in the debate.

Former Vice President Mike Pence managed to avoid embarrassment and stood out with his assertive posture, countering the perception of him as meek and mild. Questions about his role in certifying the 2020 Electoral College results gave him an opportunity to defend his actions. Additionally, Governor Doug Burgum’s mishap of falling during a pickup basketball game actually increased his name recognition and garnered a warm welcome from the audience.

However, despite the performances of the other candidates, the ultimate winner of the debate was Donald Trump himself. His absence from the stage was overshadowed by the fact that most of the candidates defended him and failed to present themselves as a strong alternative. Trump’s campaign spokesman, Chris LaCivita, expressed confidence in Trump’s continued support and labeled the event as an audition to be a part of Trump’s team in his second term. Republican strategists Doug Heye and Alex Conant echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that Trump’s absence prevented any candidate from breaking through.

Among the losers of the debate was Governor Ron DeSantis, who faced high expectations but failed to deliver a breakout moment. His opponents largely ignored him, and he recycled much of his stump speech onstage. Governor Chris Christie’s promise to take down Trump during a debate fell flat since the former president was not present. Governor Asa Hutchinson and the debate moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, struggled to make an impact and were overshadowed by the other candidates and the audience’s interest in the Trump-related questions.

Written by Staff Reports

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