This is in no way all-encompassing and is a shorthand of what was said during the debate. As a Brit, I’m aware of how this does not directly affect me and I may not understand the issues perfectly, but I wanted to show how the debate looked to an outsider.
- Ron DeSantis – Florida Governor. Beloved by many conservatives but an enemy of the Trump campaign. Seen as capable and having solid credentials, but also seen as awkward.
- Mike Pence – Former Vice President. A traditional conservative, Pence has both the benefit and issue of being in the Trump administration. Liked by traditionalists but loathed by the new right, Pence is both serious and experienced.
- Vivek Ramaswamy – Businessman. The odd one out in the campaign, Ramaswamy lacks the political experience of his rivals. Seen by some as a trojan horse for the Trump campaign, he’s nevertheless got everyone talking.
- Nikki Haley – Former UN Ambassador. The lone woman, Haley has the benefit of foreign policy and domestic experience. She’s nevertheless got a lukewarm reception among many, despite her tough words.
- Tim Scott – South Carolina Senator. Despite being a solid Republican legislator, Scott has a long way to go before being seen as a potential winner. Still, he’s seen as likeable.
- Asa Hutchinson – Former Arkansas Governor. Another candidate with low visibility, Hutchinson is seen as a placeholder candidate. He’s still got conservative credentials.
- Chris Christie – Former New Jersey Governor. A veteran candidate of the 2016 campaign and former Trump ally, Christie is a tough talking guy. He’s got a surprising amount of sympathisers but a background he needs to hide away.
- Doug Burgum – North Dakota Governor. The least likely candidate. Another solid conservative but no chance.
Rich Men North of Richmond (The Economy)
That damn song again.
- DeSantis: The country is in decline – reverse American decline. Reverse Bidenomics. Middle class Americans need help. Congress sucks. Energy production and gas prices. Has a go at lockdowns. Praises Florida’s records.
- Christie: Agrees with DeSantis, as would everyone. Work to sell these ideas and put ourselves in this position by winning Congress. I have experience. Conservative Republican in blue NJ, had the state against him. Touts his experience. Truth and accountability.
- Scott: Voted against spending packages as Senator. Lost spending power for families. Send money back to states. Cut taxes. Touts his economic record. Justifies spending during COVID.
- Ramaswamy: I’m not a politician – family came with no money. Talks about his faith his God, but is Hindu. We need an outsider. Attacks “professional politicians.” Frack, nuclear, etc. – anything to help energy. War on federal administrative state. Do you want Revolution?
- Haley: Doesn’t care about politicians. Attacks Republicans for passing spending acts. Stop spending and borrowing and earmarks. Attacks Trump, Pence, Scott and DeSantis for spending. Accountant in the White House.
- Pence: Proud of the Trump administration. Military, economy and energy, as well as SCOTUS. He’s the best prepared. Most tested and qualified and proven. Did well in Indiana. First person to talk about long term national debt like social security. Will restore fiscal responsibility. Called Ramaswamy a “rookie.”
- Burgum: Uses the humble “from town of 300.” Jokes about his injury. Goes immediately for energy and the Biden administration. Stop buying from China.
- Hutchinson: Pro-life Governor from a conservative state. Touts his record as Governor. That’s what the country needs. Pledges to cut 10% of non-military federal employees.
It was a clash of experience vs. new ideas in this section. Those who have governed, such as Pence and Hutchinson, touted their own records and promised they’d repeat that. Contrast this with Ramaswamy, who immediately talked about the fact that he’s not a politician. Haley, the one with the degree in accounting, was the one who attacked Republicans for not reigning in spending. Lots of ideas, but is it enough?
Moderator asks if anyone on the stage believes in man-made climate change. No one raises their hand.
- DeSantis: Attacks Biden and his relaxation during the Hawaii wildfires. Calls the media out for its bias.
- Ramaswamy: Says he’s the only person on stage not bought and paid for. Calls climate change a hoax. Says more people are dying due to bad climate change policies than climate change.
- Christie: Has had enough. Says Ramaswamy sounds like ChatGPT. Says Ramaswamy is copying Obama.
- Haley: Quotes Margaret Thatcher – “if you want something said ask a man, if you want something done ask a woman.” Cares about clean air and water. Says climate change is real but China and India should be told. Disagrees with green subsidies. Electric vehicle batteries are often made in China.
- Scott: Debate about issues that affect lives and childish arguing won’t help. Single person household. American can do for anyone what it has done for me. Bring jobs from China.
Christie’s line about Ramaswamy sounding like ChatGPT was a highlight for many. Apart from that, the candidates mainly blamed China and said that it was not doing enough. Haley was more sympathetic to the issue, Ramaswamy was not.
- Haley: Husband was adopted and they had fertility issues with both kids. Stop demonising the issue. Personal for every woman and man. Federal ban will be incredibly hard to get. Find consensus. Ban late-term abortions, encourage adoption, doctors and nurses shouldn’t be forced, available contraception. Shouldn’t put women in jail or the death penalty for abortion. Humanise it. No Republicans can ban abortion. Be realistic about how we do it. Ask what Biden and Harris think.
- DeSantis: Got to do what you think is right – proud to sign the Heartbeat Bill. Democrats are trying to allow abortion right up to birth. Anecdote about the survivor of multiple abortions. Hold them accountable. Will support the cause of life.
- Pence: Not new to this cause. Talks about Jesus and The Bible. Quotes the book. Championed pro-life for years. Consensus is the opposite of leadership. It’s not a state only issue but a moral one. Abortion is wrong as soon as the baby can feel pain. 15 weeks is fine – 70% support it.
- Burgum: Not in favour of a federal ban. Pro-life Governor of a pro-life state. Uses the 10th amendment, saying it’s not a federal issue – has a pocket Constitution. Feds are stepping into people’s lives. Follow the Constitution. Signed a six week ban. Understands differences between states.
- Hutchinson: Attacks Biden policy as extreme. Fine for the federal government to do it. Arkansas has the most pro-life record. Signed 30 pro-life pieces of legislation. Going to continue. Be compassionate. Enhance adoption services and maternal care. Did that in Arkansas.
- Scott: Can’t let California, New York and Illinois etc have abortion on demand up until birth. Minimum 15 week limit. 100% pro life record. Fight for life. Quotes the Declaration of Independence.
Probably the most contentious issue, but there was a surprising amount of eloquence. Haley was the most realistic about support for federal bans. Pence’s line about 15 week limits is interesting considering how deeply pro-life he is. Adoption was discussed. Burgum and DeSantis differed on federal policy.
Crime and Homelessness
- Pence: Blames Democrats for wanting to defund police. Major cities are not doing well – blaming liberal prosecutors. Strong support for law enforcement and strong leadership in DC. Close federal department of education. Bring cities back. We don’t have a problem with purpose. We need government as good as our people.
- Christie: Run a state’s attorney’s office in NJ. Prosecutors are refusing to do their job and to arrest violent criminals. US Attorneys should take over in cities. Plenty of room in prisons. Criminals should understand that laws apply to them all – attacks Hunter Biden. He’d ensure that Hunter Biden would be imprisoned.
- Ramaswamy: Do we have the spine to do anything? We need to protect cops and help mental health. Should bring back mental health institutes – not just medication, but faith based too. The reason we have this problem is because there is no purpose. Tonal reset from the top. Mental health is leading to violent crime. We live in a dark moment. Internal civil war.
- DeSantis: 50 year-low crime in Florida. Hollowed-out cities are because of decline. Has a go at Soros and says that the inmates are running the asylum. Removed failed prosecutors and would do the same as President.
- Burgum: What about the crime wave in small towns? Everybody helps each other there- transparency and accountability. We must use these values.
- Hutchinson: Former head of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). We must stop drugs with education, counselling and border security. No one likes to see smash and grab. Mentions Trump’s indictment as a lack of respect for the justice system. Starts at the top.
Lots of blame pinned on prosecutors in blue states and cities. Ramaswamy talked about mental health- but failed to mention how the mentally ill are more likely to be victims than criminals. Support from the very top was advocated for.
- Christie: We’ve got to stop normalising this conduct. Whether or not you think the charges are wrong or right, we must understand these charges are below the office of the president. Supports the boos. Attacks Ramaswamy, to boos. I’ve stood up for law and order. Trump has disrespected the Constitution. Pence did the right thing and stood for the Constitution. He deserves thanks. Praises him.
- Ramaswamy: Trump was the best president of the 21st century. Defends him. Says Christie’s campaign is based on revenge – gets loud applause. Attacks MSNBC. State is using the police force. I would pardon Trump and am the only one on stage who said he would.
- Scott: Pence did the right thing by certifying the results of 2020 – to applause. Says the DoJ has been weaponised. Will fire Merrick Garland. 17% of Republicans have confidence in the DoJ. Parents are being attacked for going to school board meetings. SWAT teams turning up at pro-life homes. Uses it against conservatives and conservative causes.
- DeSantis: End the weaponisation of the DoJ. Let’s end the January 6th talk and focus on 20th Jan 2025. Focus on other issues. Focus on the mission above all else. We’ve got to look forward. Pence did his duty. Why are we focusing on this? It’s to the benefit of Democrats.
- Pence: I supported the Constitution. Everyone else on stage should agree. Wait to see if Trump is convicted before talking about pardons. Let’s not look at Jan 6th. Look back at his own inauguration. Talks faith.
- Hutchinson: Trump is morally disqualified because of Jan 6th – to boos. This could disqualify him. He’s not going to support Trump. Consistent with RNC rules.
- Haley: Pence did the right thing and should receive credit. She trusts the American people on Trump but we need a new generational conservative. Three-quarters don’t want a Biden and Trump rematch.
- Burgum: Pence is right. We should be talking about China and other things, not Trump.
Oh boy. It’s clear the audience supported Trump, especially when they booed Christie. Some candidates were more extreme on either side- Hutchinson and Christie were clearly against Trump, whereas Ramaswamy was massively supportive. DeSantis, Pence and Burgum talked about moving on. Ramaswamy was the most in favour of a pardon.
Moderators ask who would not support an increase in aid to Ukraine. Ramaswamy raises his hand.
- Ramaswamy: He calls it disastrous that the US is giving so much to a far away country. We should be focusing on our own southern border. Professional politicians will make a pilgrimage to Kiev and to their Pope Zelenskyy. We must make America strong first. The USSR doesn’t exist anymore. Our biggest threat is China and we’re pushing Russia into China’s arms. Gets booed for getting more time to respond. Compares it to Vietnam and Iraq as a no-win war. Lead the Abraham Accord 2.0. Loves Israeli border and crime policy. Calls Israel a friend.
- Christie: He went to Ukraine to see himself. Talks about abducted Ukrainian children being indoctrinated. Women and children being raped. Putin is not a good man, yet Trump praised him. Autocratic killing. We will be next if we don’t stand up.
- Pence: We should be leader of the free world – can help our country and others. Reagan doctrine. It’s a giveaway to Putin and they’ll go over to a NATO country. Calls him a dictator and a murderer. We should stand up to him. Peace through strength.
- Haley: President must have moral clarity. Pro-American country invaded by a thug. Less than 3.5% of the defence budget has been given to Ukraine. A win for Russia is a win for China. Ramaswamy wants to give Ukraine to Putin and take aid from Israel. It’s now how we treat our friends. Lets loose on Ramaswamy. Tells him he has no foreign policy experience and it shows. Receives applause and cheers. America needs Israel. It’s not a territorial dispute.
- DeSantis: America should come first. Will declare a national emergency- would sent troops of the southern border instead of Ukraine. Kill cartels and drug producers.
Candidates were mostly in favour of helping Ukraine, the audience mainly opposed judging by reactions. Haley came out swinging against Ramaswamy and spoke forcefully about Ukraine and Israel. Both Ramaswamy and DeSantis urged caution and wished to spend more on America.
China and the Border
- Burgum: USA has become China’s gas station. We send officials but don’t bring up energy. No meetings or press releases but harpoon missiles. We need anti-ship missiles on Taiwan to protect it. Afghanistan showed Biden’s weakness. We need more support for border control, not the IRS. Mass casualties in the drug war.
- Scott: Spend more on the border and fire IRS agents. Talks about fentanyl. 200 on the National Security Watch List have been caught at the border. Make the border wall complete.
- Hutchinson: I would allow lethal force to protect the border. Military had to be used for intelligence gathering purposes. We met with Mexican President Vicente Fox when I was in the Bush administration. Bring in Mexico as a partner through economic pressure. The military had to be limited in its use. We protected the border after 9/11.
- DeSantis: Would send Special Forces to Mexico to destroy the cartels – to applause. A President must use all means to protect the American people. Treat them as foreign terrorist organisations.
- Pence: He’s best prepared for this issue. He was there negotiating funding for the wall during the government shutdown. I will engage Mexico the exact same way and partner with the Mexican military.
- Christie: Stop more immigration. We must enforce immigration law. People who come here illegally should not be rewarded, those who are doing it legally are waiting. We haven’t dealt with the illegal immigrants who are here. Can’t take our eye off China’s fentanyl issue. Make that priority one in our conversations with China. Would send people back.
The candidates toed the party line on the southern border. No surprises.
- DeSantis: Kids shouldn’t have been out of school for so long out of COVID. We should be focusing on solid academics, Florida got rid of Critical Race and gender theory. We must teach kids what it means to be American.
- Ramaswamy: Shut down Department of Education. Civil rights issue of our time. Put money into the hands of parents. Get rid of local teaching unions. Every kid should have to pass citizenship test to graduate. Every kid should have parents who care about their education. Problem with fatherless. Nuclear family is best. Single mothers are being paid not to have men.
- Burgum: North Dakota made a priority of protecting women in sports. Education differs by state. Not every teacher and school district is indoctrinating kids. Doesn’t lecture at schools. We need innovation. Innovation not regulation. Get rid of the Department of Education. Praised teachers.
- Haley: We want our kids to have a better life than we did. Get our kids reading. Parents need more say. Put vocational classes back in high schools. Yes, we need innovation. I am going to fight for girls- strong girls become strong women. No biological men in locker rooms.
Burgum was the most sympathetic to teachers, starting that not all of them were indoctrinating kids and praised the profession. DeSantis and Ramaswamy both attacked teaching unions. Haley talked about trans kids in school.
Should presidents have to pass a physical and mental test in order to serve?
- Pence: Might be good to have everyone in DC do it. No. American people should make that decision. We don’t need a president who is too young or old- to boos.
- Ramaswamy: Believes in the people of the country. We need someone of a different generation- Ramaswamy is 38. I’ve done things differently.
- Hutchinson: Talks about education again.
Is there a role for a president regarding decline in faith?
- Scott: Country founded on Judeo-Christian values. Be what we expect others to be. Talks about teaching unions. Scott continued the education talk.
Should there be mandatory military service for all Americans?
- DeSantis: It should be voluntary. I volunteered after 9/11. It taught me a lot. It’s about focusing on the mission above all else. Everyone gets it done together. Reverse decline. DeSantis, a veteran, talked about how much being a soldier meant to him and taught him.
If you were President, would you level with people about what the government knows about UFOs?
- Christie: Makes a joke about being asked about this because he’s from New Jersey. The job is to level with people about everything. We must stand for truth. We must be role models for children and grandchildren. Whether it’s UFOs or education. Education is a bigger threat.
- Burgum: Understands why America is hurting. Biden’s inflation is hurting us. Father died when he was a freshman, and the mother of three had to go back to work. Cities are less safe because of fentanyl. Energy is a problem. He’ll get the economy sprinting and sort out the border. See this great country with an unlimited future.
- Hutchinson: Our nation is in trouble. Our country is in trouble because of leadership. No need for Biden or Trump. Bring bold ideas. A President’s number one priority is to bring out the best in people. Praises Reagan. Law and border security.
- Scott: Disillusioned young man, single mother in a poor household. American Dream is alive and healthy. You should work if you’re able. Pay back a loan. Asks for caucuses in Iowa.
- Christie: Everybody on this stage wants to be President but this will only happen if we beat Biden. I’m the only one who’s beaten a Dem incumbent, in a blue state. Last Dem who was beaten was Carter, by blue state Reagan. I’ll do what I did as governor.
- Haley: Mentions her husband’s year long deployment in America, all done in the name of protecting America. We should protect America from here like they’re doing from abroad. Transparency in the classroom, law and order, Border etc. We have a country to save.
- Pence: Biden has weakened America abroad. Runaway spending, assault on values etc. We need new, proven leadership. Has faith God is not done with government. Renew our faith in each other and God.
- Ramaswamy: Born in 1985, taught to celebrate diversity. We are same as Americans, bound by our same ideals. Revive our ideals, such as God, reverse racism, parents determine education, three branches of government etc. That won us the Revolution and will win us 2024.
- DeSantis: This is our time for choosing. Blue collar kid who worked to make ends meet. American Dream has slipped away from many. Veteran and father. Made promises and delivered in Florida. I will not let you down.
The usual bingo words were used – values, America, diversity, border, law and order, American Dream, etc. There was a lot of passion but not much substance. Supporters and detractors will surely find good and bad in each.
- DeSantis: The highest in polling had probably the most to lose. Was toughest on border policy and education, and most likely to tout his record.
- Pence: Clearly disliked Ramaswamy and did not hide it. Went down the humble guy route but wasn’t afraid to jump in.
- Ramaswamy: The most energetic but clearly the most disliked by his fellow candidates. Arguably had the most “Trump” views and was most favourable to the former President. I can imagine he’s the most controversial.
- Haley: Went the hardest of foreign policy and probably has the most credentials on it. She needs to get her polling numbers up though.
- Scott: Mr. Nice Guy, but didn’t have any new ideas. Focused more on values than policy.
- Hutchinson: Most critical of Trump, along with Christie. Doesn’t have much of a chance but tried.
- Christie: Definitely the most revved up, and his ChatGPT line was admittedly a zinger. Still, the audience wasn’t too impressed with him.
- Burgum: The sane guy at the meeting and arguably the most moderate. Still, didn’t make much of a splash.