Eight Republican contenders for president faced off Wednesday in the first primary debate of the 2024 race, exchanging barbs that were at times personal, contentious, and misleading.
The candidates sparred over everything from abortion to transgender rights, with some relying on their government experience and others on their outsider perspective as they made their case to voters.
Here are some of the debate claims that stretched the facts.
Chris Christie touts economic record: “We cut taxes in New Jersey. We cut debt in New Jersey.”
Christie’s rosy picture of his economic record as governor of New Jersey is not quite the whole story.
New Jersey law requires state lawmakers to balance the budget each year, so Christie never had a choice other than keeping debt low. While he was governor, his state’s credit rating was downgraded multiple times because of financial issues, such as an underfunded pension system.
Christie did not technically raise taxes, but in order to make up for a budget shortfall, he did pull back on tax credits and rebates that New Jersey residents were receiving before he took office.
Previous fact-checks of Christie’s economic record as governor have consistently found that Christie overstates how well he performed in this area, although it is the case that he inherited a particularly messy budget situation when he was elected in 2009.
Tim Scott: “Joe Biden’s Bidenomics has led to the loss of $10,000 of spending power for the average family.”
Scott’s figure appears to come from a study that attempts to quantify the economic burden of all the regulations the Biden administration has enacted, not just the costs of President Joe Biden’s economic policies.
One study from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity claimed each household has had its spending power reduced by $10,000 as a result of the Biden regulatory agenda since Biden took office.
Other studies have shown a much smaller, but still substantial, cost from Biden’s economic policies.
A Heritage Foundation report from December shows that the average household has lost roughly $7,100 from the combination of inflation and high-interest rates – the two economic problems for which Republicans most frequently blame Biden.
The White House claims its economic policies have boosted Americans’ bottom line, although polls don’t reflect that sentiment.
Nikki Haley hit Donald Trump for adding $8 trillion to the national debt.
This is misleading because a significant chunk of the spending Trump added to the national debt came during the final year of his presidency when both parties approved massive rescue packages to keep the economy afloat during pandemic-era lockdowns.
The national debt did indeed grow by nearly $8 trillion during Trump’s four years in office, but not necessarily because of his policy choices.
At the beginning of 2020, the debt had risen by more than $3 trillion; roughly half of the spending Haley criticized came in the remaining months of that year when Congress passed more than $3 trillion in stimulus bills.
Mike Pence hits Ron DeSantis on abortion credentials: “I’m not new to this cause.”
Pence positioned himself to DeSantis’s right on abortion after the Florida governor touted his signing of a six-week abortion ban in Florida.
The former vice president attempted to claim the mantle of being the most aggressively anti-abortion candidate on the stage.
While that may be the case, DeSantis is not a newcomer to the anti-abortion issue.
He consistently voted for anti-abortion legislation while in Congress from 2013 until he became Florida’s governor in 2019.
The conservative group Heritage Action for America gave DeSantis relatively high marks for his conservative credentials, including his 2017 vote for a bill that would have banned abortions after the age at which doctors believe fetuses can feel pain and for a vote to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood.
DeSantis has been expressing conservative views on abortion for at least a decade.
Nikki Haley defends Ukraine war position by noting only 3.5% of the U.S. defense budget has gone to Ukraine.
In one of the most memorable exchanges of the evening, Haley and Ramaswamy sparred over whether American tax dollars should continue to flow to Ukraine.
Haley attempted to justify the U.S. contribution to Ukraine by arguing that it only represents a single-digit percentage of the American defense budget.
But the figure omits key context as to just how much larger the American military budget is — as the highest in the world, it dwarfs those of countries with far larger populations — and how much more the U.S. is spending to defend Ukraine than its European allies.
The U.S. support for Ukraine has far outpaced that of any other country, more than doubling the support provided by Ukraine’s second-largest benefactor, the European Union.
In terms of individual countries, the U.S. has provided close to seven times the amount of aid, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, than the next-biggest supporter, the United Kingdom.
Biden raised eyebrows in July when he told CNN during an interview that the U.S. military was running low on cluster munitions because of how much the Pentagon has sent to Ukraine.
Haley’s numbers-focused argument against reducing aid to Ukraine was therefore misleading because she tried to conceal the historic scale of military support behind a number that, lacking context, sounds negligible.