Top highlights and winners from the first Republican debate in Milwaukee

07:05 25.08.2023

In Wednesday's Republican debate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy narrowly edged out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the best-performing candidate, according to a poll conducted by Leger exclusively for The Post. The survey, which involved 1,800 participants, revealed that 23% of self-identified GOP voters believed Ramaswamy won the debate, while 21% believed DeSantis emerged victorious. Former Vice President Mike Pence trailed behind in third place with 11% of the respondents favoring him. Leger Executive Vice President Andrew Enns remarked on the interesting dynamic between the early front-runner, DeSantis, and the upstart Ramaswamy, who played the outsider card.

The shadow of former President Donald Trump loomed large over the debate, as 61% of surveyed Republicans expressed a desire to see Trump as the GOP nominee for the 2024 election. This overwhelming support for Trump posed a challenge for other candidates, including DeSantis, who only received 9% of the support. Enns acknowledged that Trump's continued viability as a candidate would make it difficult for anyone to win the nomination.

However, Ramaswamy's strong performance in the debate generated buzz and positive reviews, leading Enns to suggest that the 38-year-old author of "Woke, Inc" could pose a threat to other contenders in the early primaries. This could create significant problems for candidates like Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who are polling in the single digits nationally and had hoped to gain ground on Trump and DeSantis. Enns noted that these experienced candidates may be reflecting on their performance and feeling the pressure to improve.

The survey also revealed that only 7% of GOP voters believed Haley won the debate, while 6% chose Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), 4% favored Christie, 4% thought former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson did the best, and 1% declared North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum the winner. Fourteen percent of Republicans surveyed believed that "no one" was the winner of the debate. However, among Democrats who watched the debate, Haley was perceived as the winner by 19% of respondents, while Scott and Burgum received the lowest support from Democrats, with only 1% choosing them as the winners.

Overall, the debate drew 12.8 million viewers to Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network combined, surpassing the viewership of the previous GOP forum held without Trump. The majority of surveyed GOP voters (63%) agreed with Trump's decision not to participate in the debate, even garnering agreement from 36% of President Biden's supporters. In a head-to-head matchup, the survey showed that if Trump were the Republican nominee in 2024, he would defeat Biden on Election Day with 44% support compared to Biden's 41%. 15% of respondents indicated a preference for someone else.

Looking ahead, the Republican National Committee will hold its second presidential primary debate on September 27 in Simi Valley, California. Before that debate, Enns emphasized the importance for candidates to refine their message, particularly for those who performed poorly in the Milwaukee debate. The candidates will need to find ways to stay competitive as the primaries approach rapidly. The Leger survey, which was weighted according to various demographics, had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

In the first Republican debate of the 2024 race, eight candidates aimed to position themselves as viable alternatives to front-runner Donald Trump. Trump chose not to attend the debate, instead opting for an interview with Tucker Carlson that aired concurrently. The absence of Trump allowed candidates to focus their attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has experienced a decline in popularity in recent polls. According to strategists and aides to rival campaigns, DeSantis is considered a vulnerable candidate, and his opponents plan to take advantage of this opportunity to challenge his status as Trump's top challenger.

Although Trump's absence could have diminished his presence, the debate moderators, Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier from Fox News, indicated their intention to address Trump's four criminal indictments during the debate. The debate took place one day before Trump's planned surrender in connection with his indictment in Georgia. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former Trump adviser turned critic, is expected to launch aggressive attacks against the former president. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Vice President Mike Pence, who distanced himself from Trump following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, may also take shots at Trump.

However, other candidates may avoid criticizing Trump, as they do not want to alienate his base of supporters, whose votes they would need to secure the Republican nomination. Polls have shown that most Republicans view the criminal charges against Trump as politically motivated, making it a difficult topic for his rivals to navigate. The candidates participating in the debate include Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Doug Burgum, among others. In a recent poll, Trump held a wide lead over the rest of the field, with 62% of likely Republican primary voters supporting him.

The debate offered a chance for lesser-known candidates to gain visibility and make their case to a larger audience. A poor debate performance, however, could seriously harm their campaigns. To qualify for the debate, candidates had to meet various criteria, including reaching at least 1% in multiple eligible polls, gathering at least 40,000 donors, and pledging to support the ultimate GOP nominee while refraining from participating in unsanctioned debates.

Nikki Haley was one of the candidates who criticized fellow Republicans over government spending during the debate. She singled out DeSantis, Scott, and Pence for their votes on legislation that increased the national debt. Haley also targeted Trump for adding $8 trillion to the debt during.

/ Friday, August 25, 2023, 7:05 AM /

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