The first Republican presidential debate was anything but lackluster, with the absence of Donald Trump not dampening the fervor of the eight qualified candidates. As they engaged in heated exchanges, some candidates emerged as standouts while others struggled to make their mark. Here's a breakdown of the winners and losers from the debate.
Vivek Ramaswamy: A political newcomer who has never held public office, Ramaswamy dominated the debate with his charismatic presence and quick wit. He positioned himself as an outsider against the political establishment, effectively countering swipes from fellow candidates. Ramaswamy's unconventional views on issues like Ukraine and China garnered attention and reminded observers that attention-grabbing policies can be effective.
Mike Pence: Despite his presidential campaign facing challenges, Pence's debate experience shone through. He confidently attacked Ramaswamy's inexperience and advocated for nationwide abortion limits, appealing to evangelical Republicans. His refusal to support overturning the election results on January 6, 2021, garnered support and showcased his commitment to constitutional principles.
Nikki Haley: Known for surprising skeptics, Haley offered sharp criticism of both Trump and the Republican Party, particularly on the issue of spending. Her assertive performance, including clashes with Ramaswamy and Pence, positioned her well for future presidential bids in non-Trump-dominated elections.
Middle of the Pack:
Tim Scott and Chris Christie: Chris Christie's feisty and combative style was on full display as he targeted Trump and Ramaswamy. Tim Scott's reserved demeanor kept him above the fray, potentially bolstering his credentials for a vice-presidential role under Trump.
Ron DeSantis: Once considered a strong contender, DeSantis has lost ground in the polls. While his performance wasn't terrible, he failed to make a strong impact on key issues and was overshadowed by other candidates like Ramaswamy, Pence, and Haley.
Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum: Hutchinson and Burgum, despite qualifying for the debate, struggled to stand out. Hutchinson's criticisms of Trump appeared lackluster compared to Christie's, while Burgum's small-state conservatism failed to make a lasting impression.
Overall, the debate showcased a diverse range of candidates with varying levels of success. As the race continues, these performances will undoubtedly influence the trajectory of the Republican primary.