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Thoughts from 1st 2023 Republican Primary Debate

The First Republican Presidential Debate made its way to our television - for entertainment or information, or for something else, you decide - and it did not disappoint. 

As many of you who frequent this space know, I love debates, and for a while, I thought the Presidential debate would no longer be a thing as we've seen it become more of a tool used for those doing the chasing in the polls rather than sharing views and candidate ideals with the voting public. You know, the very reason former President Trump decided to skip this one. What does he have to gain? 

The first debate was full of interesting moments and the first - of many to come - opportunities for Republicans to recalibrate the national perception of the party heading into 2024. Or, well, at least attempt to. 

I'm not sure where I'm voting in 2024. That's the honest truth. For me, the Republican Party is a mess. An absolute mess. And to that point, so are the Dems. But the GOP feels like a party astray from its core principles. Just my thoughts. So for me, I'm looking at these debates not just for a candidate of interest, but for quite frankly something different. Something fresh. Something ummm, honest. 

This is politics, you're asking wayyy too much.  

Before diving into each candidate, I must give tons of credit to hosts, Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum. I thought they were prepared, offered rebuttals of interest, and addressed so many of the conflicting topics head-on. I was a fan of the "raising hand" technique rather than allowing candidates to buffer through the questions without response. 

Here are some quick takeaways from yours truly on each candidate's performance: 

Donald Trump

  • As Baier put it, Trump was the elephant NOT in the room. Yet, somehow, the entire debate still felt like it revolved around him. Unfortunately, that doesn't do any of these candidates a favor as Trump is far and away the leader in the polls. 
  • The crowd also felt very much in support of Trump throughout the night when topics were raised and answers went against him. 
  • The future debates still raise the question - there has to be someone else other than Trump, no? Are we really headed for Biden vs. Trump II? 
  • Lastly, Trump won without even showing up. Not the debate, of course, but in some weird way, yeah, he won. Ugh... Says so much about the candidates who were present. 

Nikki Haley

  • From a debate standpoint, I thought Haley won the night. Presidential debates aren't won on the scorecards like collegiate debates, but are about pushing your weight around, being felt on stage, having a few moments, and standing tall with some of the opposing heavy hitters. Haley did all of that. 
  • Her rebuttal to Ramaswamy on Ukraine was fantastic. 
  • I was surprised not to hear more from Haley on abortion rights as the only woman on the stage. She seemed to pass on that moment which was interesting. 

Mike Pence

  • We learned that Mike Pence is not a robot. He actually made a joke! Like, intentionally! 
  • Pence dominated the time by overspeaking and bullying his way into rebuttals - highly annoying. It's a poor tactic and a characteristic of someone without substance and who is purely defensive. 
  • He DOES NOT like Ramaswamy. No, check that. He likely would punch him if had the chance. 
  • Pence had some great moments of defending himself regarding the election "overturning" lies and also separated himself from Trump in areas where he needed to. However, as is the only thing he could do, he referred to the Trump/Pence administration whenever he needed evidence - which is a tough road to sled in this election.
  • Unlike the other candidates, he likely will not have the pro-Trump crowd. It'll be interesting where Pence believes he is pulling votes from. 
  • I still have no idea why he's running for the office. 
  • I so badly want Trump on stage - we need a Pence vs. Trump face-off on Night two. Mute the others and there mics. You know what, just dim the whole stage and place two spotlights on Pence and Trump. Give them ten-minutes. I want the tea - COVID, January 6th, Transfer of power - all of it. We deserve that. Yes, that is the pro wrestling fan in me. 

Ron Desantis

  • DeSantis remains cringy on platforms like this. 
  • It was obvious he dodged moments where he could have separated himself from Trump. It feels like he's not afraid of going there, but calculating when to go there
  • The overwhelming fear so many of the candidates have of Trump's base is glaring. So many of them, including DeSantis who polls right behind him, have no shot without pulling the gloves off. 
  • I don't think DeSantis particularly debated very well, especially considering some of the facts and topics he opted to dodge with prepared statements. 
  • Oh yeah, did I say DeSantis is cringe? Like, really, cringy. 

Tim Scott

  • I like Tim Scott as a person. He seems like the kind of guy I could have a nice conversation with as we both exit the church pues after church service and walk together to the refreshment area - none of us missing a beat in the conversation. That's all I got from this debate. 
  • Scott comes off way too robotic in firing off the Republican phrases and must-haves. It's inauthentic. 
  • I want more from Scott on education. He says the party's lines - you know, "sChOoL cHoIcE!", but it baffles me that he leads a state that is continuously in the lower quartile of the United States in education. 
  • Scott left me shaking my head more than gravitating to him. 

Doug Burgum

  • This dude...
  • My guy said "America needs to look at more small towns for guidance and to lead the way". Burgum left me convinced he has no understanding of the total landscape of America and the complexity of its problems. It's not him being from North Dakota. Forget my perspective of residing in the North East. Throughout the night, he had very few responses that felt promising for the Presidency.  

Asa Hutchinson 

  • Hutchinson was one of two people tonight who felt like they weren't afraid of the Trump shadow looming. I liked that. Not just to be anti-Trump, but to be well, an individual. The party needs this, right now. 
  • Hutchinson didn't have a great night. However, he very much established himself as someone willing to risk his campaign for his morals and beliefs, and not to play the political game. I respect that. I want to hear more from him on September 27th. 

Chris Christie

  • I'm not a Christie fan. Not. At. All. 
  • However, Christie felt like the sole person willing to take that initial step of separating themselves fully from Trump. He went further by calling out the Republican party on Trump's behavior and legal troubles and questioned its hypocrisy for "law and order" stances. 
  • Christie was a pro wrestling heel on that stage. He embraced the jeeering from the crowd, stood firm, and delivered his points with conviction, promise, facts, and the occasional ethos. Damn it, he won me over tonight. 

Vivek Ramaswamy

  • Ramaswamy is the new guy, and it's fresh to see a fresh and younger face repping the GOP. The party desperately needs fresh blood, and an individual that feels realistic based on experience, policy, and fact, and not hot takes and outlandish narratives. 
  • The guy is VERY charismatic and is a tremendous speaker. Borrowing from Brack Obama when he decided to go rogue on answering a question with a prepared response definitely was a head-scratching moment. 
  • His policies are just wayyyyy too out there for me. But he's trying....
  • I wouldn't be surprised if all of the candidates made him a target.
  • You know Pence will. My guy can't stand him. 

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