Republican presidential candidates spar in first 2024 presidential debate

Published by Matthew Glover, Date: August 31, 2023
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Clockwise: Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, Asa Hutchinson, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Mike Pence Jacquelyn Martin/AP; Octavio Jones/Getty Images; Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg; Mark Makela/Getty Images; Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images; Dan Keock/Reuters; Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The crowd at the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee cheered and booed the candidates as many expressed conservative values that many saw as anything but traditional.

Moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum repeatedly silenced the audience and candidates when one easily riled another. The eight candidates used their time in the spotlight and out of Donald Trump’s shadow to debate abortion, crime, border security, Ukraine aid, education, Trump and most of all, each other.

Members of The Rocket watched the debate to break down the candidates and the hot-button issues addressed in their campaigns.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur and political newcomer who did not vote in an election until 2020, took blows from former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie relating to his inexperience and revolution rhetoric. Ramaswamy, often compared to a younger Trump, supports a mandatory civics test for citizens under 25 to vote but draws the line at a presidential fitness test. After calling his opponents “bought and paid for,” he said the climate change agenda is a hoax and a “wet blanket on the economy,” instead favoring drilling, fracking, coal and nuclear power.

Two candidates support a national abortion ban

Pence is the most unapologetically pro-life candidate in the lineup. The former vice president proudly expressed his Christian faith on stage and said abortion is a moral issue and therefore should not be left to the states. If uncontested, he would ban abortion when the fetus may feel pain. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott agreed abortion cannot be left to the states because life is an unalienable right. He is in favor of a 15-week national ban.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum upheld his small-town, small-government values and said the 10th Amendment, which delegates to the states all powers not listed in the constitution, prohibits the federal government from enacting a ban. Even though Burgum does not support a national ban, North Dakota banned abortions after six weeks in April.

Haley agreed a national ban was unrealistic due to the number of Senate votes needed to pass. Instead, Haley called to stop demonizing the personal topic and advocated for enhancing adoption services and access to contraception.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is second in the polls, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not answer the question. Hutchinson said abortion will be a continued debate and called to enhance adoption services.

Six candidates would support Trump as nominee even if he is criminally convicted

Ramaswamy’s hand immediately shot up while others hesitated and looked around before raising theirs. He has repeatedly praised Trump as the greatest president of the 21st century and vowed to pardon him on his first day in office.

Christie and Hutchinson defected from the panel drawing boos from the crowd. Christie, who had to wait for moderators to silence the crowd before he could speak, took issue with Trump’s idea to suspend the constitution after losing the 2020 election.

Hutchinson argued Trump may be morally disqualified from running again after the Jan. 6 insurrection under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment which says candidates cannot assume public office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or “had given aid or comfort to enemies” of the United States. A disqualification would also be consistent with Republican National Committee rules, he said.

Haley did not say if she would support Trump as the nominee but does not think he can win due to his reputation. Pence said Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence and will get fair judgment if Pence is elected president.

DeSantis, along with Christie and Ramaswamy, expressed his frustration with the “weaponization of federal agencies,” and like many of his fellow candidates, wants to look ahead to a future without Trump. Christie, the only candidate who has previously beaten a Democratic incumbent, believes criminal charges directed at political opponents are too normalized and should be beneath the office of the president.

Half the candidates endorsed invading Mexico to use lethal military action against cartels

DeSantis vowed to send troops to Mexico and instruct them to use lethal force against foreign terrorists on his first day as president. Haley, Pence, Ramaswamy and Scott agreed on fighting cartels with or without aid from the Mexican government.

The candidates disagreed on whether the southern border or a potential Russia/China alliance is the greatest threat to the United States. Hutchinson would compete with China via education and technology by ensuring computer science classes are offered at every secondary school.

Pence was the only candidate who insisted the United States could resolve all issues foreign and domestic including the Ukraine war.

Half the candidates vowed to disband the Department of Education

DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Burgum and Pence all rejected the DOE and favor giving its almost $80 billion budget to American families and expanding school choice for parents. Christie and Scott instead criticized teachers’ unions accusing them of indoctrination and “locking students into failing schools,” Scott said. DeSantis was the only candidate to bring up critical race theory and gender ideology, but all candidates denounced transgender athletes in women’s sports.

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