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Republicans vying to be alternative to Trump go after each other in 1st primary debate

The first Republican presidential debate showed deep divisions within the party as the candidates sparred on stage over issues including when and how best to limit abortion nationwide, US support for Ukraine and support for the party’s eventual 2024 nominee.

In a debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the eight candidates took aim at each other, while also targeting US President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and what they see as excessive government spending.

“Our country is in decline,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is a distant second to Trump but ahead of the rest of the field. “We must reverse Bidenomics so middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”

While the economy has shown surprising resilience, defying recession predictions with a strong labor market, polls show many voters, including many who support Biden in 2020, feel the economy has worsened during his first three years in office amid persistent inflation.

With the election more than 14 months away, Trump leads polls among Republican voters despite his four criminal charges.

Instead, the former president skipped the event for an interview with Tucker Carlson. He told Carlson. “Do I sit there for an hour or two, whatever, and get harassed by people who shouldn’t even be running for president? Should I do this on a network that isn’t private? are you friendly with me?

In Trump’s absence, Republican candidates including tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who have made big gains in some state and national polls in recent weeks, have sought to dislodge DeSantis as Trump’s most likely alternative.

“Do you want a gradual reform or a revolution?” asked Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old political neophyte who has shown himself to be Trump’s biggest supporter among the Republican candidates.

2 men both in dark suits and red ties stand behind lecterns and speak
Ramaswamy speaks as DeSantis listens during the debate. Both are trying to increase their support, although both are far behind front-runner Donald Trump. (Mauri Gash/Associated Press)

DeSantis under pressure

The pressure is greatest on DeSantis, who announced his campaign with much fanfare in May but has since struggled to gain traction and is now struggling to maintain his distant second-place status.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum were also on stage.

The crowd booed Christie and Hutchinson as they made their introductions. Both are among the most popular anti-Trump candidates in the Republican field.

Trump is seen on a small laptop screen on a desk with the Republican debate stage in the background
A reporter watches Trump’s online interview with Tucker Carlson in the media center during the debate. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“The elephant is not in the room”

About an hour into the debate, Fox aired live footage from Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, where Trump is set to turn himself in on charges Thursday, to cheers from the audience. The moderators said they would have a “moment about the elephant that’s not in the room” and ask about the cases against Trump.

Those on stage were then asked to raise their hands if they would support Trump if he won the Republican presidential nomination. Six of the candidates raised their hands, Hutchinson kept his hand down, and Christie raised his hand halfway.

“Someone has to stop regulating illegal behavior. “Whether you believe the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States,” said Christie, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest critics. He was immediately booed.

Candidates on stage to join Wednesday’s debate were required to sign a pledge pledging to support the eventual nominee.

A white-haired man gestures from behind the podium
Most of Pence’s fellow candidates expressed their support for his actions on January 6, 2021, when he refused to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. (Mauri Gash/Associated Press)

Pence is getting support

The candidates later said they mostly agreed with Pence’s actions on January 6, 2021. Pence avoided demands from then-President Trump to stop certifying Biden’s election, a decision that prompted some in the crowd of Trump supporters to chant for him to be hanged. day.

Scott’s response was: “Absolutely”: DeSantis did not immediately answer the question, saying: “We have to look ahead,” but under pressure from both Pence and the moderators, he eventually said. “Mike did his duty. Forcing Pence to answer. “I’m relieved.”

Christie jumped to Pence’s defense, saying the then-vice president “doesn’t deserve outrage, he deserves our thanks as Americans.” Haley agreed that Pence “did the right thing” and deserved credit, as did Burgum.

A man in a dark suit and red tie speaks at a podium
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went after Ramaswamy over his claims of being an outsider. (Mauri Gash/Associated Press)

Climate Change and ChatGPT

Christie earlier criticized Ramaswamy during a debate on climate change, accusing him of being like an artificial intelligence chatbot after Ramaswamy called efforts to decarbonize energy a “wet blanket over our economy.”

“I’ve had enough of a guy like ChatGPT standing here tonight,” Christy said. “The last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, “What’s a skinny guy with a weird last name doing up here?” Barack Obama was, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same kind of amateur.”

Ramaswami replied. “Hug me like you did Obama,” beckoned the then-president as he put his hand on Christie’s shoulder during a visit after Superstorm Sandy. “And you’re going to help elect me, just like you did with Obama.”

Hayley jumped in after the heated exchange, standing out as the only woman on stage. “I think this is why Margaret Thatcher said: “If you want to say something, ask a man; if you want to do something, ask a woman,” he said, acknowledging that climate change is real and insisting that it be addressed. The US should pressure China and India to reduce their emissions.

A woman in a light dress speaks with one finger raised
Haley noted that she was the only woman in the industry, quoting Margaret Thatcher as saying: “If you want to say something, ask the man. If you want to do something, ask the woman.” (Mauri Gash/Associated Press)

Debate over abortion rights

All the Republican candidates taking part in the debate say they oppose abortion, but their differences on where to draw the lines became apparent on stage.

Haley said there was a need for “consensus” on abortion, saying he thought it unlikely the federal ban would pass unless 60 senators supported it. Haley, who often cites her own fertility struggles and the fact that her husband is adopted, says the U.S. needs to “humanize the issue and stop demonizing it.”

Pence disputed his position, saying that “consensus is the opposite of leadership” on the issue. Pence is the only major candidate who has said he supports a federal ban on abortion at six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. In an interview with The Associated Press, Pence went further, saying that abortion should be banned even when the pregnancy is not viable.

DeSantis, who signed the six-week abortion ban into law, said “you have to do what you think is right” when asked how he felt about potential criticism that such a narrow restriction could hurt Republican candidates. in the general election.

Trump barks in the distance

The primetime event was unfolding at the moment of reckoning for RPA. Trump is the front-runner in a race that raises serious questions about whether the party will have a very competitive primary.

Still, Trump’s vulnerability in the general election is clear, especially in the wake of four criminal indictments accusing him of stockpiling classified documents, conspiring to subvert the 2020 election and making payments to a porn star and other women.

In his interview with Carlson, he praised the crowd he spoke to on the morning of January 6, 2021, before his supporters stormed the US Capitol, saying, “There was love in that crowd, there was love and unity.”

He also called the four criminal cases before him “nonsense”.

Trump’s standing in the primaries has only grown as the allegations have mounted, leaving the party on track, barring a stunning reshuffle, to field a candidate who will go into the race against Democrat Biden in a potentially weak position.

Most of the candidates have pledged to support Ukraine in its war with Russia, but Ramaswamy was a notable exception.

He suggested that sending such support when the US has not fixed its own problems is “disastrous”.

That drew rebuke from many of his rivals, including former UN ambassador Haley, who said the 38-year-old tech entrepreneur: “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”

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