Eight Republican presidential candidates took to the stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday night for the first debate of the 2024 presidential election cycle.
The Republican candidates who participated in the Fox News-hosted debate were North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Fox News hosted the two-hour debate at the Fiserv Forum, which will also host the 2024 Republican National Convention on July 15 to 18 next year.
Former President Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, was noticeably absent from the debate stage, opting instead to participate in a prerecorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Trump’s interview with Carlson was released on X, formerly Twitter, just before the eight Republican rivals took the debate stage.
Here are some of the most noteworthy answers and exchanges from the debate:
“First of all, I’m a very pro-life governor in a pro-life state, and this issue is very important,” Burgum said when asked about abortion.
But the North Dakotan added that despite his personal opposition to abortion, he did not believe in a federal abortion ban. He cited the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as the reason for his opposition to a national ban.
“In the Constitution—in which the states created the federal government, not the other way around—it says there are certain duties allowed to the federal government, delegated to them by the states. The rest are left to the states or to the people,” Burgum said.
He said that “we need to get back to freedom and liberty in this country,” and noted that the federal government often gets involved in state and local issues it has no business in.
When asked about the crime wave that’s been hitting cities since 2020, Burgum noted that there was little talk about a crime wave in small-town America.
“Because in small towns, neighbors help neighbors, people understand each other,” he said. “If a farmer gets sick, everybody comes together and helps him. There’s accountability. There’s transparency.”
Burgum said that America needs someone in the White House with small-town values because “that’s our road back” to getting the country back on track again.
Christie addressed the problems at the southern border. He laid out his plan for addressing the millions of illegal immigrants who have already come to the United States.
“The first thing we need to do is to stop any more from coming. That’s the first thing we need to do,” the former New Jersey governor said.
As for those who have already come here, he said, “We have to have law and order in this country. We have to enforce the law.”
What that means, Christie said, is that the U.S. needs to make sure that the people who come here illegally are not “rewarded for being here illegally.”
He said that there were huge numbers of “wonderful people” from around the world “waiting in line and following the law to try to come here and pursue the American dream.”
Christie also cited China’s role in the flow of deadly fentanyl pouring across the border.
“With China, we can’t take our eyes off the ball,” the New Jerseyan said. “Yes, it’s important that we secure the border, very important. But China is sending these chemicals to the [Mexican] drug cartels for them to create the fentanyl that is killing hundreds of thousands of our citizens.”
He said that the Chinese are “engaging in an act of war against us, killing our citizens.”
“We [had] better make that Priority One in our discussions with China,” he added.
“Our country is in decline,” the Florida governor said. “This decline is not inevitable. It’s a choice. We need to send [President] Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline.”
DeSantis added, “We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”
“We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and you can’t afford groceries, a car, or a new home while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings,” he said. “That is wrong.”
“We also cannot succeed when the Congress spends trillions and trillions of dollars,” the Floridian added.
“Those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation,” he said, echoing singer Oliver Anthony’s viral hit song “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The Fox News hosts had mentioned the song before asking DeSantis about the economy.
“Finally, we need to lower your gas prices,” the governor added. “We’re going to open up all energy production. We will be energy dominant again in this country.”
He emphasized his record on the economy in Florida.
“I showed it could be done in the state of Florida,” he said. “I pledge to you as your president, we will get the job done, and I will not let you down.”
Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment. In a written statement Aug. 10, Biden said the latest consumer price index “shows our economy remains strong.”
Asked if he would support sending U.S. special forces across the border to Mexico to shut down fentanyl labs and stop criminal cartel activity, DeSantis said, “Yes, and I will do it,” without hesitation.
“We have to reestablish the rule of law and we have to defend people,” DeSantis said of the situation along the southern border.
Haley, the only woman on the debate stage, joked as she intervened in an argument between Ramaswamy and Christie on climate change: “This is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said, ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’”
She described herself as unapologetically pro-life, but pushed for Republicans to stop “demonizing” the issue of abortion, calling for Americans to rally around consensus. That remark provoked a rebuke from Pence: “To be honest with you, Nikki, you’re my friend, but consensus is the opposite of leadership … it’s not a states-only issue, it’s a moral issue.”
Pence called for minimum standards on abortion in every state, a ban after 15 weeks of gestation, after the baby is capable of feeling pain. But this would take “unapologetic” leadership that “stands on principle,” he said.
“Be honest with the American people: We haven’t had 45 pro-life senators in over 100 years, so no Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban all those state laws,” Haley fired back. “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue, when you know we don’t have 60 Senate votes.” It takes 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster.
Haley notably sparred with Ramaswamy on foreign policy, insisting that in Ukraine, a “win for Russia is a win for China,” and accusing him of putting down “everybody on this stage.”
“Ukraine is the first line of defense for us,” she said, as Ramaswamy repeatedly interjected to say that her remarks were false. “The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is, he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends. What you do instead is, you have the backs of your friends … we are trying to prevent war.”
“You have no foreign-policy experience, and it shows,” Haley told Ramaswamy, adding for emphasis: “It shows!”
Hutchinson accused Trump of undermining respect for the U.S. justice system, trying to tie the former president to the crime issue.
“One, enforce the law when it comes to crime,” the Arkansan said. “Secondly, this deal with the challenge of fentanyl, and it’s both about stopping the fentanyl coming from Mexico, but it’s also about education of our young people, making sure that we have the tools that are needed for addiction counseling.” He noted that he expanded such counseling in Arkansas.
“No one likes to see an America with smash-and-grab in our inner cities,” Hutchinson added, referring to the recent phenomenon of coordinated mass-mob robberies. “As president of the United States, that will stop.”
“It starts at the top with a respect for our justice system, that our former president who is under indictment has undermined by attacking judges, by attacking prosecutors, by attacking the system, and saying he’s aggrieved,” the former Arkansas governor added.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Hutchinson’s attack.
Pence defended his position on Ukraine, his handling of the transition of power after the 2020 presidential election, and his record as former vice president.
“I want to let the Ukrainians fight and drive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Russians back out into Russia,” he said, while claiming Ramaswamy is seeking a “giveaway” by Ukraine to surrender land to Putin.
“I have a news flash,” Ramaswamy fired back. “The USSR does not exist anymore. It fell back in 1990.”
Pence and Ramaswamy engaged in other heated exchanges during the debate as well.
While Pence touted his record as a political leader, he also called Ramaswamy a “rookie” and said “now is not the time for on-the-job training.”
Ramaswamy did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
When the candidates were asked if they would support Trump if he is again the nominee, Pence did raise his hand after several other candidates did so. Hutchinson was the only candidate to not raise his hand.
Pence spoke clearly of his pro-life views and promised that as president, the American people would have a “champion for life” in the White House. Pence indicated he would support a national law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, when a baby in the womb is able to feel pain.
Ramaswamy was quick to fire back at his fellow candidates Wednesday evening, sparring with Christie, Haley, Pence, and others in sometimes heated exchanges on foreign policy, climate change, and more.
When asked if he would support additional funding for Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion, Ramaswamy said he would not support an increase and added that aid for Ukraine detracts from other, more pressing concerns for Americans.
“I think this is disastrous, that we are protecting an invasion across somebody else’s border when we should be using those same military resources to prevent the invasion of our own southern border,” he said.
Ramaswamy said that the increase in financial and military support for the Ukrainian cause only pushes Russia further into the arms of China.
“We have professional politicians on this stage that will make a pilgrimage to Kyiv, to their pope [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy without doing the same thing for people in Maui or the South Side of Chicago or [the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia],” he said. “I think we have to put the interests of Americans first.”
The entrepreneur-turned-presidential candidate said that America will be made secure by ensuring that “we are strong at home.”
Scott defended his record on issues such as federal spending and abortion. He spoke passionately about his pro-life record and the need for federal legislation to limit late-term abortions.
“We cannot let states like California, New York, and Illinois have abortions on demand up until the day of birth,” Scott said about a national abortion ban. “It is immoral. It’s unethical. It is wrong.”
The South Carolina senator said that we must have a president “who will advocate and fight for at minimum a 15-week limit” on abortion. He called himself a “100% pro-life conservative.”
Scott said that the Declaration of Independence defined our rights as coming from our Creator and that among those rights is the right to life.
“That is an issue we must solve,” he said. “We can’t leave it to Illinois. We can’t leave it to Minnesota. We must solve that issue with a 15-week limit at minimum.”
In his closing remarks, Scott spoke about the attainability of the American dream.
“I was a disillusioned young man growing up in a single-parent household mired in poverty, and I wondered if the American dream was real for a kid like me,” Scott said. “I can stand before you today and say that the dream is alive. It is well, and it is healthy.”
Scott said his single mother worked hard to put food on the table.
He said she taught him that if “you are able-bodied, you work. If you take out a loan, you pay it back. If you commit a violent crime, you go to jail. And if God made you a man, you play sports against men.” The latter is a reference to biological men seeking to play on girls and women’s athletic teams.
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