The atmosphere surrounding the first GOP primary debate was nothing short of electric. As people flocked to the debate venue, a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation filled the air. It was as if the entire nation held its breath, eagerly waiting to witness history in the making. The stage was set for a clash of political titans, with eight Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination. This was a moment that would undoubtedly shape the course of the 2024 presidential election. Or was it ?
One name seemed to dominate both the conversation and the conspicuous absence from the stage – Donald Trump. The controversial former president’s decision not to participate cast a shadow over the proceedings, creating an unusual sense of tension among the candidates. Without the larger-than-life figure of Trump to spar with, the candidates were forced to navigate uncharted waters. They had to find their own voice and establish their own presence, all while acknowledging the elephant not in the room.
The absence of Trump also meant that his policies and legacy loomed large over the debate. Every candidate felt the need to address the Trump factor, either by aligning themselves with his policies or distancing themselves from his controversial decisions. This led to a fascinating dynamic where the other candidates found themselves discussing Trump more than they might have anticipated. It was a delicate balancing act, with each candidate attempting to appeal to the large base of Trump supporters while also appealing to a broader audience. The impact of Trump’s absence reverberated throughout the debate, shaping the overall tone and direction of the discussion.
Among the diverse array of candidates who took the stage only three managed to present themselves as actually having a fighting chance to win the nomination. Each brought their own unique perspective, background, and policy positions to the table.
First, we have Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a first term Republican who ran on the platform of lower taxes, smaller government, and economic growth. He believes that cutting taxes and reducing regulations will spur job creation for all Floridians. To that end, he has proposed a series of tax cuts and incentives to spur small business growth. But it’s also been said that his policies could lead to budget deficits down the line. In addition, De Santis supports school choice and expanded access to charter schools and has also advocated for an increased investment in vocational training for high-schoolers. He is also strongly committed to the environment, and he insists that any new infrastructure projects should include measures to preserve natural resources. Finally, Gov. De Santis has faced criticism for his handling of COVID-19 in the state, particularly his decision to reopen businesses too quickly as well as his refusal to implement a statewide mask mandate. It remains to be seen how this will affect his popularity. Despite the criticisms, Gov. De Santis has proven to be an effective leader for Florida and is likely to remain popular with residents in the coming years. All things considered Gov. DeSantis remains the main contender to Donald Trump for the Republican nomination but has not yet succeeded in convincing a broad audience of his worthiness. His performance at the debate was questionable, even considered weak by some voices. It surely did not help that his strategy was leaked to the press before the event or that he appeared on stage as a juicy target for his rivals.
Next up is former vice-president Mike Pence. Like Trump, Pence was a staunch conservative and vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, but he was more diplomatic in his approach to politics. During his time in office, he worked to defund Planned Parenthood and women’s health care centres and supported the country’s “religious freedom laws,” which give legal protection to those who oppose LGBT rights. He also strongly opposed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and pushed for the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have allowed employers to cite religious beliefs in denying services that conflict with those beliefs. The main controversy surrounding this particular candidate was that of his refusal to take part in overturning the 2020 Presidential Election results. This has lead to him being labeled a traitor by a majority of Trump enthusiasts and he is unlikely to be able to mend fences with his former boss anytime soon. Even if a candidate was to win the nomination, without the support of Trump’s huge base of voters, it would be highly unlikely that he would stand a chance at winning the election. This fact alone makes Mr. Pence an unlikely future candidate for the presidency.
The evening’s surprise came from the outsider, Vivek Ramaswamy. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and investor who has built a platform on improving access to healthcare, economic opportunity, education reform and civil rights but also his opposition to supporting funding for the war in Ukraine and his pledge to make the U.S. Government more lean. Mr. Ramaswamy speaks of a future where Americans have access to the best healthcare, highest education standards, and most diverse civil rights. He is determined to make sure these are available for all citizens regardless of their background or zip code. He discussed his initiative on creating new jobs through public-private partnerships, reforming America’s educational system so that everyone has an equal chance at success, and increasing access to medical care. In addition, Vivek has taken a firm stance against government spending, particularly in the military sector. He promised to cut funds for war in Ukraine and bring overall federal spending down by up to 75%. This move would free more money for other important programs such as education and healthcare. He also proposed investing in new technologies and green energy sources to create jobs and cut back on pollution. Mr. Ramaswamy has also pushed for the reform of America’s criminal justice system, with a particular focus on eliminating racial profiling by police officers. He wants to ensure that all citizens have access to legal representation regardless of their economic situation. To this end, he is advocating for an independent oversight board to review police practices and ensure compliance with constitutional rights. He has also called for increased civilian oversight of the prison system, including ensuring that inmates are treated humanely and given access to better educational and rehabilitation programs. His plans include introducing reforms such as expanded voting rights for felons who have served their sentences, reducing mandatory minimum sentences, incentivising rehabilitation instead of incarceration, and ending private prisons. He believes that all citizens should have equal access to justice, and these reforms are his way of achieving this goal. He is committed to creating a fairer criminal justice system for everyone involved in it, from victims and police officers to suspects and inmates.
During the Debate Mr. Ramaswamy created a wave of sympathy for himself by fiercely defending Donald Trump, going so far as calling him “the best president of the 21st century” and has framed himself as a younger and more dynamic version of the former president, a strategy that seems to be paying off so far. It would probably be safe to say that he is the winner of the First GOP Primaries debate, even though by a small margin. However, some of his more radical views will probably be difficult to manage further down on the campaign trail and his lack of experience could prove to be a problem. Despite these issues, Mr. Ramaswamy has made quite an impression on the voting public and has shaped himself as a man of strong convictions and one who is not afraid to voice his opinion. He has also called his policy agenda “America First 2.0”. If all of this sounds all to familiar it is probably not by accident.
Five other potential candidates took the stage during the debate, yet none of them managed to convince any significant percentage of the audience that they may have a fighting chance at winning the nomination. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie kept the line of his apparently losing strategy of taking constant swings at Donald Trump and got “booed” several times. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, although feisty, lacked the charisma to score substantial points with the audience. The rest of the candidates, Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson were bland and could just as well have not been there.
The first GOP primary debate was only the beginning of what promises to be a thrilling and unpredictable journey towards the 2024 presidential election. President Joe Biden has already made it clear that he is the man to beat, but his opponents are not giving up without a fight.
Although the first GOP debate was a fiery one it stills appears that Former United States President Donald Trump, a controversial figure throughout his four-year term, is the most likely future presidential candidate as of yet. Recent polls show him with a more than 20 points lead in front of his closest contender Gov. Ron DeSantis and with an energetic outsider, Vivek Ramaswamy, closing in and fighting hard. It is of course too early to predict a winner but we can definitely say that this primary will be anything but boring.