5 takeaways from the spicy first GOP primary debate
Plus: Notes on where the candidates stood on some of the key issues facing the nation.
THE MORNING AFTER • The first Republican presidential primary debate is in the books.
The eight candidates who faced off against each other during the Fox News event faced an impossible mission: Appeal to former President DONALD TRUMP’s cult-like following while making the case that they can lead the party he’s reshaped in his image better than he can.
Trump, as I mentioned in Wednesday’s debate preview, skipped the debate, choosing instead of air his grievances in the comfy confines of an interview with disgraced former Fox News host TUCKER CARLSON.
It’s unclear if voters will make the former president pay a price for his choice. What’s clear is that he came away mostly unscathed as most of the candidates spent their time ferociously attacking each other and not the current runaway GOP frontrunner or President JOE BIDEN, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Democrats, of course, were unimpressed with what they saw—and didn’t hold back in their assessment.
“The Republican primary is a clown car. How many bozos can you fit in one party?” one strategist said to Supercreator News in a text. “You’ve got a racist, self-loathing Indian guy [entrepreneur and conspiracy theorist VIVEK RAMASWAMY], a morbidly obese corrupt Jersey politician [former New Jersey Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE], and a vertically challenged charlatan from Florida [Gov. RON DeSANTIS] whose state is years from floating into the ocean. The best part is that they’re all being crushed by a twice-impeached, sexually assaulting racist traitor who sold us out to the Russians [Trump]. Unbelievable.”
Speaking of Trump: The former president will surrender to to Fulton County authorities on charges tied to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. X, the social app formerly known as Twitter, is on mugshot watch. Expect the internet to break once it’s posted. (Ramaswamy said he would pardon Trump if the former president was convicted of federal charges; six of the eight candidates said they would still support Trump as the nominee even if he was convicted.)
What stood out the most: Back to the debate. These are the topline themes that caught my attention while watching the candidates in action:
(1) The establishment candidates despise Ramaswamy and think he uses his charisma to make up for the lack of a substantive agenda that can attract a winning coalition.
(2) Sen. TIM SCOTT of South Carolina’s aww-shucks vibe feels mismatched with the rough-and-tumble ethos of the modern GOP even if some are inspired by his exceptional rags-to-riches story.
(3) Christie was a boo magnet for a crowd uninterested in his attacks on Trump—perhaps because he spent years helping the former president get elected before finding the religion required to take on a former ally.
(4) Former Vice President MIKE PENCE spoke in depth about the pride he has from preventing Trump from overturning the 2020 election. Too bad it won’t matter to a base who feels he’s disloyal to a man who put Pence on the national stage.
(5) NIKKI HALEY, former Ambassador to the United Nations, made up for the weaknesses in her domestic agenda with strong positions on foreign policy—informed, one could assume, by her time as the top diplomat to the UN.
The issues: The debate moderators attempted to facilitate a robust policy discussion on the issues. Below, some highlights from the 13 pages of notes I scribbled on my pad during the two-hour event.
The economy: Of course, the candidates railed against Bidenomics. DeSantis said America is in decline as he made the case for exporting the ultraconservative agenda he’s passed in Florida to the rest of America.
“As governor, Ron DeSantis has used his bully pulpit to wage a relentless campaign of attacks on the freedom of all Floridians to be healthy, prosperous, and safe, while ensuring his billionaire and corporate elite donors continue to see their bottom lines increase in proportion to their contributions to his campaign account,” ANDERS CROY, spokesperson for Florida Watch said in a statement to Supercreator News. “The more people get to know Ron DeSantis, the less they like him.”
Haley said Republicans were just as much to blame for inflation as Democrats, pointing to the recent return of “earmarks,” which are funds appropriated by Congress for specific member projects, as an example of wasteful spending.
Pence said he was proud of his and Trump’s economic record, one anchored by trillions of dollars in tax cuts for wealthy individuals and big corporations. The former VP said he would extend those cuts if elected to the top spot. In April, I reported why doing so would be a bummer for the working- and middle-class.
Abortion: While all the candidates who spoke on this issue said they were pro-life, some differed on whether the Republican Party could pass a nationwide abortion ban against the will of the majority of Americans who support reproductive freedom.
The candidates defended their position with medically inaccurate phrases, including “late-term abortion,” partial-birth abortion,” and “abortion on demand” which mischaracterized the safe and effective procedure.
“They have to lie because the facts are against them. They espouse inflammatory talking points — meanwhile, real people across the country are suffering from the GOP’s extremist abortion bans,” ANGELA VASQUEZ-GIROUX, vice president of communications and research at NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement to Supercreator News. “These extremists aren’t going to stop spewing disinformation, but here’s what else you can count on: Americans are going to show up at the ballot box and defend their rights come 2024.”
Ukraine funding: Christie, Haley, and Pence were the fiercest supporters of continuing aid to the wartorn country as it defends itself against Russia’s invasion.
DeSantis and Ramaswamy, on the other hand, opposed future funding, instead calling for those dollars to be reinvested in securing the southern border. DeSantis added he would make US aid contingent upon European nations contributing a fairer share. But as Haley noted, many nations are spending more of their country’s gross domestic product in aid to Ukraine than the US.
Sens. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.), and ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) were in Ukraine on Wednesday to meet with President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY of Ukraine. Congress is expected to consider the White House’s supplemental request for $24 billion in additional military, economic, and humanitarian aid as early as next month.
Climate change: When asked by one of the moderators who believed human behavior worsened the climate crisis, none of the eight candidates raised their hands.
“The climate change agenda is a hoax,” Ramaswamy said moments before Christie hit back: “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.”
This was one of the weaker topics for the candidates as few had a clear plan for solving what the Biden administration describes as the existential threat of our time. This is unsurprising though for a group who did not deign to answer whether we’re facing a crisis to begin with.
Education: The candidates gave voters nothing on college affordability and gun violence prevention against a backdrop of exorbitant tuition and countless school mass shootings.
Instead, several said they would eliminate the Education Department and, as Sen. Scott put it, “break the backs of the teachers’ unions.”
Burgum, one of the candidates who would ax the Education Department, said education differs from state to state and called for more innovation and less regulation.
Haley said she would promote policies that got the nation’s kids back to reading at high levels and invest in vocational programs that inspired students to build again—before doubling down on her calls for a federal trans sports ban.
The post-debate response: The Biden campaign wasted no time posting a fundraising pitch on X moments after the debate ended, invoking one of the president’s most famous Bidenisms, courtesy of his dad: “Don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative.”
Notably, the campaign also released a statement from Vice President KAMALA HARRIS, not President Biden—the latest indication of the prominent role she will play in the reelection campaign.
“No one on stage ‘won’ tonight’s debate. Instead, the American people heard how much they stand to lose from an extremist agenda,” Vice President KAMALA HARRIS said in a statement released by the Biden campaign. “These extremists focus on unnecessary debates meant to divide our nation in hopes that the American people will not notice they have no affirmative agenda.”
Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen-Z-led nonpartisan advocacy group, said in a statement characterized the debate as an unserious display that ignored the concerns of young voters who will decide the 2024 election.
“On climate change, abortion rights, and the economy, the disconnect between these candidates and Gen Z is astounding,” the group said. “We would love nothing more than a primary between serious candidates who care about our future. With this party, that’s apparently too much to ask for.”
The next GOP primary debate is on Sep. 27 at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
👋🏾 HI, HEY, HELLO! Good Thursday morning. It’s August 24, 2023. Thank you for reading Supercreator Daily, your guide to the politicians, power brokers, and policies shaping the American creator experience. Have any questions about the debate? Get in touch: email@example.com.
IN THE KNOW
INTERNATIONAL • YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, the leader of a private mercenary group and former close ally of President VLADIMIR PUTIN who attempted a short-lived coup against the Russian leader two months ago, was aboard a plane that crashed outside Moscow. He and the other nine passengers were presumed dead, according to Russian authorities, in what’s widely viewed as an act of revenge on Putin’s part for Prigozhin’s defiance.
President Biden was briefed on the plane crash and spoke to reporters about after he finished a Pilates and spin class with his family near the vacation home the Bidens are renting in Lake Tahoe.
Biden: “You may recall, when I was asked about this by you, I said I’d be careful what drink and what I rode in. I don’t know for a fact what happened but I’m not surprised.
The president was also asked if he thought Putin was behind the crash. “There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” Biden said. “But I don’t know enough to know the answer. I’ve been working out for the last hour and a half.”
Related: Benjamin Hart / Intelligencer, “Yevgeny Prigozhin has met a predictable end” … Fred Kaplan / Slate, “Why it’s easy to see Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane crash as Putin’s murderous revenge”
MEDIA • A court in Russia extended the pre-trial detention of EVAN GERSHKOVICH, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been wrongfully detained on sham espionage charges since March, CNN’s Sarah Dean and Anna Chernova report. It had been due to end on August 30 but has been stretched to November 30.
HEALTH CARE • The White House announced a project led by Emory University to develop new tools with the same mRNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccines to train the immune system to fight cancer and other diseases. “This is a bold endeavor that has the potential to transform the fight against cancer and other difficult diagnoses,” President Biden said in a statement.
HOUSING • Rep. MAXINE WATERS (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, led seven other Democrats in a letter to a key federal regulator to provide permanent protections for tenants in Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-back mortgages. If implemented, the signatories say the efforts would stabilize housing costs, protect renters, and make sure Fannie and Freddie are sound enterprises.
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All times Eastern
President Biden is in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and has no public events scheduled.
Vice President Harris is in Washington, DC and has no public events scheduled.
The House is out.
The Senate is out.
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