Presidential hopefuls fail in first battle to beat absent Trump

Presidential hopefuls fail in first battle to beat absent Trump

August 26, 2023

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Milwaukee: In a normal US election season, the first Republican primary debate would give voters their first real chance to get to know the candidates vying to become the next US president.

But there is nothing normal about an election season when the overwhelming frontrunner has been criminally charged in four states, doesn’t bother to show up to the debate, and will spend the aftermath getting his mugshot taken at a jail so notorious it’s under investigation by the federal Justice Department.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy at the Republican debate.Credit: Reuters

You have to hand it to Donald Trump: he sure knows how to deprive his rivals of much-needed oxygen.

But even in his absence, the former president’s shadow was everywhere.

It was evident in the inability of Trump’s biggest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, to come out swinging when asked if former vice president Mike Pence did the right thing by certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

It was notable in the way rising star Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, spent most of his time acting as though he was jockeying to be Trump’s running mate, even describing him as “the best president of the 21st century” and vowing to pardon him if he somehow won office.

And it was obvious in the way Trump fans flocked to Fiserv Stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the debate took place, as a plane funded by the Democratic National Committee flew overhead with the words: “GOP 2024: A Race for the Extreme MAGA Base”.

Nor was it lost on anyone that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News hosted the debate, months after it paid Dominion Voting Systems a $US787 million settlement for promoting Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being “stolen” despite knowing they weren’t true.

The bromance between Murdoch and Trump has cooled over the years, but in recent weeks, Fox executives and presenters have leaned on him to take the stage, even as he was plotting to do a counter-programming interview with axed Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson.

The entire spectacle was emblematic of the grip that Trump continues to have over the party he has moulded in his image, and the deep divisions he has sown.

One CBS News/YouGov poll released this week, for instance, found that Trump enjoyed 62 per cent support among GOP primary owners compared to DeSantis at 14 per cent.

To that end, the eight Republicans who made it to the debate stage tonight faced an uphill battle trying to distinguish themselves as an alternative to America’s 45th president.

There were, however, some spicy moments.

In terms of the economy, Haley singled out her own party for runaway spending and was the first person on the stage to take aim at Trump, declaring that he added $US8 trillion to the nation’s debt, and “our kids are never going to forgive us for this”.

Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, attacked the Republican party during the debate for its spending policies.Credit: Bloomberg

In terms of experience versus youth, 64-year-old former vice president Mike Pence, who is usually calm and collected, finally fired up as he attacked Ramaswamy as a “rookie”. The businessman is moving up in polls by embodying Trump’s policies and presenting himself as an “outsider” chasing the American dream.

And in terms of Trump’s many legal woes, former governors Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson led the charge, branding the former president as unfit for office and urging Americans not to “normalise” his alleged criminal behaviour.

Whether any of is enough is yet to be seen. The good news for Republican hopefuls is that another debate will take place next month. The bad news is Trump remains a formidable force and his rise to the top shows no sign of abating.

Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article