Who Won the Republican Debate?
The debate is over, and no one really emerged as a clear winner. Considering the goal of this debate was to help candidates knock off Trump, not much got accomplished.
DeSantis and Haley spent two hours needling each other, which is what you would expect in a head-to-head contest between two candidates fighting to become Trump’s successor.
DeSantis was sharp and feisty, and while he never took direct aim at Trump, he threw plenty of jabs his way. He accused the former president of piling on federal spending, not being strong enough on China and not taking steps to end illegal immigration.
Nikki Haley also threw some punches at the former president but focused more on defending her policy positions and attacking her primary rivals. Haley appeared to be working to show that her populist bent is a better fit for the Republican Party than DeSantis’ focus on his donor base.
But while Haley and DeSantis both put in solid performances, neither seemed to convince a significant number of Republicans to abandon Trump. For that, they will need to continue delivering headline-making moments in the next debates. And that could mean a long road ahead for both candidates.
Aside from a few fumbles, Haley was the most effective candidate on stage. Throughout the two hours, she defended her policy points with full force. Whether it was biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy attacking her over her time on the board of Boeing, or DeSantis trying to link her to transgender bathroom rights, she held her own. On foreign policy, she also highlighted her differences with other candidates by emphasizing that continued U.S. support of Ukraine would help counter Russia’s aggression.
On the other hand, DeSantis appeared less confident on the debate stage. He was quick to attack Haley on her foreign policy record, pointing out that she encouraged investment from China while she was governor of South Carolina. But he wasn’t as effective at using his limited amount of airtime to his advantage.
The question defining this Republican primary is whether anyone can peel Trump voters away from the former president. While Donald Trump stayed far away from this debate, his rivals — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — fought hard to make their cases for doing so.
Haley, in particular, delivered a strong performance, articulating her policy positions and attacking her primary opponents. At times, she pushed her rivals to answer questions that they dodged, such as whether DeSantis would send U.S. troops to rescue hostages held by Hamas.
Christie also did well, though he faces a vanishingly small chance of winning the nomination. While he is the most vigorously anti-Trump candidate in the field, he still finds himself competing with a party that’s heavily invested in the former president. Ramaswamy, on the other hand, underperformed his expectations with a below-average performance. He may have sounded reasonable, but he didn’t convince voters he could replace Trump as governor.
Upstart Republican Vivek Ramaswamy came into the 2024 GOP primary debate prepared to do what he’s done for the majority of his campaign so far: pluck popular, often misleading rhetoric straight out of right-wing media and internet chatter. Whether arguing that climate change is a hoax or promising to pardon Donald Trump on his first day in office, the 37-year-old businessman was a force on the debate stage.
But as much as he may attract some voters, it seems unlikely he will win the nomination by stoking controversy and engaging in petty attacks on his opponents. He rubbed most of the other candidates the wrong way when he called them liars or used Haley’s daughter’s presence on TikTok to stoke up outrage. And the other candidates — from DeSantis to Christie — seemed less eager to engage in a brawl with him. They may have feared the same kind of backlash that Ramaswamy’s aggressive tactics have earned him over the past few months.