Debate shows deep divides within Republican Party
Image via AP.

GOP Debate AP
Florida’s Governor seemed to take a back seat to more vocal candidates.

The first Republican presidential debate illustrated the deep divisions within the GOP, with the candidates on stage arguing over issues including U.S. support for Ukraine, when and how to best restrict abortion nationwide, and support for the party’s eventual 2024 nominee.

Most of the candidates vowed to support Ukraine in its war with Russia, but the notable exception was biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. He suggested that supporting that country when the U.S. hasn’t fixed its own problems was “disastrous.” That drew rebukes from many of his rivals, including former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who told the 38-year-old technology entrepreneur, “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”

There was disagreement on abortion, with Haley calling for “consensus” and former Vice President Mike Pence saying that was the “opposite of leadership.” The candidates largely agreed that Pence was right to protect the results of the 2020 election against Donald Trump’s pressure campaign.

Trump skipped Wednesday night’s event and was not a major focus of what was said. But both former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison were booed for saying they wouldn’t support him as their party’s nominee, though Christie faltered in his answer. Despite so much consensus on Trump, however, Pence drew applause when he said the former President wasn’t above the law.

DeSantis, the highest-polling candidate on stage, takes back seat

After recent campaign stumbles, Ron DeSantis was expected to have to defend himself and project likeability on the debate stage — but he had done relatively little of either as the two-hour broadcast neared its end.

The Florida Governor instead seemed to take a back seat to more vocal candidates, speaking significantly less than Ramaswamy, his closest GOP competitor besides Trump in recent polls.

Ramaswamy garnered both massive applause and barbs from competitors on stage on topics from foreign policy to climate change.

In the second half of the night, DeSantis was given the first chance to answer a question about education, one of the topics he campaigns on most passionately.

He responded with ease, citing Florida legislation to remove mentions of gender identity and so-called critical race theory in the classroom.

But Ramaswamy was quick on his tail. The novice candidate pleased the crowd with calls to “shut down the head of the snake, the Department of Education,” end teachers unions, and require civics tests to graduate high school.

Christie asked about UFOs

Is the truth really out there?

There was a UFO question posed near the end of the GOP debate. Christie was asked if he would “level” with the American people about what was known about what was “out there.”

Christie took mock offense, saying he’d been asked that because he was from New Jersey and that his home state is “different but not that different.”

He didn’t otherwise take the bait, saying those on stage had better things to talk about.

Ramaswamy only candidate to oppose more funding to Ukraine

When asked by the moderators who would not support more funding to Ukraine, the only candidate to raise their hand was Ramaswamy.

“I think this is disastrous that we are protecting against 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 here in the United States,” Ramaswamy said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Ramaswamy also took a swipe at his fellow Republicans, including former Christie and Pence, who have met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I find it offensive that we have professional politicians on the stage that will make a pilgrimage to Kyiv to their Pope Zelenskyy without doing the same thing for people in Maui or the South Side of Chicago or Kensington,” Ramaswamy said. “I think we have to put the interests of Americans first, secure our own border instead of somebody else’s.”

This prompted a rebuke from Pence: “Anybody that thinks that we can’t solve the problems here in the United States and be the leader of the free world has a pretty small view of the greatest nation on earth.”

Ramaswamy takes literal center stage at debate

At the center of the stage, and at the center of the hottest exchanges in the first part of the debate, was Ramasawmy, a 38-year-old novice candidate and technology entrepreneur.

Though he’s well behind Trump, Ramaswamy has crept up in recent polls, leading to his position next to DeSantis at center stage. And he quickly showed why when he showcased his ready-for-video, on-message approach, talking about how his poor parents moved to the U.S. and he had the ability to found billion-dollar companies.

Then Ramaswamy tried to show he wasn’t a regular politician and started to throw elbows. At one point he declared, “I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for.” He slammed his rivals as “super PAC puppets” who were using “readymade, pre-prepared slogans” to attack him.

He seemed to be betting that primary voters preferred something memorable said to something done. His rivals were having none of it.

Candidates agree Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6

The Republican presidential candidates at Wednesday’s debate largely said they agreed with former Pence’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pence eschewed then-President Trump’s demands to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election, a decision that led some in a mob of Trump supporters to chant for his hanging that day.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said, “Absolutely.”

DeSantis didn’t immediately answer the question, saying, “We’ve got to look forward.” Under pressure from both Pence and the moderators, DeSantis ultimately said, “Mike did his duty. I’ve got no beef with him,” prompting Pence to reply, “I’m relieved.”

Christie leaped to Pence’s defense, saying the then-Vice President “deserves not grudging credit, he deserves our thanks as Americans.”

Haley agreed that Pence “did the right thing” and deserved credit, as did North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Say good night, Ron!

    August 24, 2023 at 12:11 am

    On items of substance such as Ukraine DeSantis did not give a straight answer. He’s toast.

    • Ron DiSaster

      August 24, 2023 at 12:47 am

      Ron is in Putin’s pocket.

  • EliotG

    August 25, 2023 at 9:49 am

    The GOP debate on Wednesday was completely irrelevant. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president and will be the 47th President of the United States despite the election interferrence being committed by the Democrats with their Banana Republic tactics. The question not asked is do any of the others think they can win without the MAGA base? And do they really think they can avoid and stand up to the firestorm the Dems and their synchophant media will use against them the way Trump has shown he can and does? I think not.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704