Surprisingly, Trump was not mentioned much in the Republican debate, which he rejected

Surprisingly, Trump was not mentioned much in the Republican debate, which he rejected

Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy on the panel.Image by Getty Images via AFP

It was about the government budget, abortion, climate policy, crime, and even cooperation with the Democrats. It seemed like a discussion before Trump’s rise to power and his polarizing politics in 2015.

Trump refused to participate in the first debate leading up to the primaries that will determine who will be his Republican party’s nominee for the presidency next year. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in his absence from the debate stage, played the role of an enlightened voice and sharp discussion of the conservative mind. For example, she advocated for a limited national ban on late-term abortions, rather than the near-total ban some rivals would like, and she was the only one to advocate for wider access to contraceptives.

DeSantis is overwhelmed

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, long seen as the most likely successor to Trump, was not as dominant as might have been expected. The debate started off turbulent and was soon overshadowed by Vivek Ramaswamy. In DeSantis, the other candidates were not very interested – the competitors mainly aimed their arrows at the newcomer with provocative texts and a somewhat pedantic attitude. Wealthy businessman Ramaswamy voted only for the first time in 2020, but now he has promised a Reagan-style revolution.

One of the major points of contention on the stage was Ukraine. Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie have all taken to the stage to demand generous aid for the Ukrainians, but neither DeSantis nor Ramaswamy have much appetite for continued support for Kiev after the Russian invasion.

“Europe must do more,” DeSantis said. Ramaswamy dismissed the subsidy as “protecting another country’s borders”. “We have to expend these military resources to stop the invasion on our southern border.” Haley shouted at him that he did not understand. “You don’t have any overseas experience, and it shows.”

Not an ordinary discussion

It may often sound like a very ordinary political debate, but it wasn’t. The second class of the Republican Party was discussed here, while the real party boss was preparing for arrest. The night after the debate, Trump promised to go to an Atlanta jail as a suspect in a fourth criminal case.

His leading position in opinion polls did not appear to be in jeopardy after the debate, but it took a remarkably long time before the man on everyone’s minds was mentioned on the debate stage. Fox News’ debate moderators asked his eight rivals whether they would support him if he were elected president – and six hands were raised, albeit somewhat hesitantly.

“The most hated politician in the United States”

Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, noted that Trump wanted to suspend the Constitution to control the outcome of the 2020 election. “Whether you approve of criminal cases or not, his behavior is unworthy of the office of president.” Nikki Haley spoke of Trump as “the most hated politician in the United States” who, in her eyes, could never win a round against a Democrat.

But most others on the stage avoided criticizing the former president along with his loyal supporters. “This election is not about what happened on January 6, 2021,” Ron DeSantis said of the day Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. “It’s about what will happen on January 20, 2025.” Then the new president takes office.

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