Key moments from chaotic first Republican primary debate

Asa Hutchinson, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott (R-SC) and Doug Burgum pose together before the start before beginning the first Republican candidates debate of the 2024 US presidential campaign in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US August 23, 2023. — Reuters

Eight strong contenders strived to establish their candidature on Wednesday as the Republican presidential nominee on a chaotic stage, full of conflicting voices and pandemonium, but there were a few important moments that we just cannot leave out.

The first primary debate of the 2024 campaign in Milwaukee saw Republican candidates, argue their viability as alternatives to Donald Trump, who chose to skip the stage for an interview with Fox News, the BBC reported.

The debate got underway with a flurry of attacks from candidates on entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former US president Donald Trump,

Those who appeared at the debate include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, US Senator Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

The discussion covered a variety of subjects, including abortion, the Russia-Ukraine War, and more.

Let’s look at some of the main exchanges from the tense Republican debate that caught everyone’s attention.

Should abortion be banned?

Republicans disagree on abortion because their evangelical base is so concerned about its deadly nature. The US public does not accept strict abortion restrictions, which causes moderate people to back Democratic candidates, according to more pragmatic Republicans.

In the Republican debate, former Vice President Mike Pence and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley sparred over this rift within the party.

Haley, the only woman on the stage, argued that while she is “unapologetically pro-life,” the Republican party needs to stop demonising abortion and build “consensus” on a potential federal ban.

Her position may be more effective in the general election next time, but Pence is betting on his outspokenness on abortion to gain evangelical support in the Republican primaries.

“We can win,” he said. “You got to do what you think is right. I believe in a culture of life.”

Vivek Ramaswamy in hot waters

Former vice president Mike Pence addressed Vivek Ramaswamy, a political novice, at his first opportunity to criticise, emphasising his extensive political background and saying that the timing was not right for a rookie in the White House.

“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” he said.

Despite the remarks, the tech entrepreneur, Ramaswamy, displayed a different attitude on the debate stage, smiling and poking fun at his opponents due to his status as a political outsider and his campaign outperforming expectations.

Furthermore, the veteran politician’s dogpile on Ramaswamy was just beginning, as former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went on to compare him to ChatGPT.

For politicians who have worked their entire lives to get on the debate stage, Ramaswamy’s presence at the centre of the stage must be irksome.

Moreover, the 38-year-old, despite being the target of criticism from some of his fellow candidates at Wednesday’s debate, said he took the comments “as a badge of honour.”

“As the 38-year-old outsider in this race who’s never been in a political debate to be at centre stage and see a lot of established politicians that threatened by my rise, I am thrilled,” Ramaswamy told BBC soon after the debate.

What’s the candidates’ take on Russia-Ukraine war?

Ukraine has sparked division within the Republican Party, shifting from George W Bush’s internationalist foreign policy to Donald Trump’s America First nationalism.

This division was evident during the debate stage, where Ramaswamy, who supports ending military aid to Ukraine, clashed with established Republican opponents.

Pence emphasised parallels between US assistance to Ukraine and American efforts to battle the Soviet Union during the Cold War, even reiterating the cliché “We achieve peace through strength” in his remarks.

Upon her turn to share her thoughts on her competitors’ views on the war, Haley took a jab at Ramaswamy, saying: “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”

However, recent surveys reveal that the majority of Republican voters share Ramaswamy’s opinion that the US is providing Ukraine with too much aid.

Candidates like Pence and Haley will need to persuade voters to change their thoughts if they want the subject to be a success for their campaigns as the political landscape is shifting.