Trump seems inescapable but many Republicans embraces campaign discussion

Vivek Ramaswamy takes center stage

Washington: Donald Trump’s decision to skip the first Republican debate may hurt television ratings and put more pressure on the eight contenders who will be on stage. But plenty of rank-and-file conservatives said they were eager to see their options without the former president dominating the conversation. Neither dominated the debate stage Wednesday night.

Trump, of course, decided to skip the GOP’s opening presidential primary debate given his overwhelming lead in the polls. DeSantis showed up, but he was overshadowed for much of the night by political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy.

And there was no shortage of aggressive performances from the others on stage either. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were aggressive when given the opportunity.

Trump scheduled counter-programming with an interview aired on X, formerly known as Twitter, while his team suggested that the debate was essentially an audience to see who’s best positioned to serve as his running mate.

Vivek grabs the spotlight 

 

At the center of the stage, and the center of the debate’s hottest exchanges, was a 38-year-old man who no one expected to be there even a few months ago – a novice candidate and technology entrepreneur named Vivek Ramaswamy.

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 gave him the chance to found billion-dollar companies.

Navigating Trump 

It took more than an hour for the candidates to confront the elephant not in the room.

And when they did, most of the participants raised their hands to say they’d support Trump even if he was convicted. That’s after the moderators noted that Trump is facing more than 90 criminal counts in separate cases across four jurisdictions.

Ramaswamy vowed to pardon Trump if given the chance.

“Let’s just speak the truth. President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact,” Ramaswamy said.

Christie, a former U.S. attorney and frequent Trump antagonist, pushed back aggressively despite being drowned out at times by the audience’s boos.

Even if people disagree with the criminal charges, Christie said, “The conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States.”

DeSantis in the background 

 

The Florida governor was the highest polling contender on stage. Yet at the debate, he seemed to slide into the background as Ramaswamy took most of the attacks and fought with others on stage.

DeSantis rarely waded into the back-and-forth, preferring to wait for a moment when he could give a lengthy statement. His critics – especially Trump – have hammered him for being awkward and wooden, and he had relatively few opportunities to dispel that impression.

That’s not to say DeSantis didn’t have strong moments. He grabbed hold of a question about liberal billionaire George Soros, a major donor to left-leaning causes and frequent conservative target. DeSantis noted he was the only person on the stage who’s removed Democratic prosecutors who were elected with donations from Soros’ network.

“As president, we are going to go after all of these people because they are hurting the quality of life,” DeSantis said.

Image courtesy of CNN

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