- 5:50: The number of minutes border security was discussed, making it the lengthiest issue of the night
- 38: The number of years former Vice President Mike Pence said he has been sleeping with a teacher (his wife)
- 9: The number of attacks on Donald Trump
- 30: The number of minutes ND Gov. Doug Burgum had to wait before getting any speaking time
- 12:27: The number of minutes Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke, the most of any candidate on stage
- Every Time: The amount of times Nikki Haley gets “dumber” when she hears what Vivek Ramaswamy has to say
Takeaways of This Week’s GOP Debate
Changes in Tone
On August 23, American politicos experienced the long-anticipated first GOP presidential debate of the 2024 cycle. In the morning-after highlight reel, political newbie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy made headlines for his insult that alleged the other candidates were “bought and paid for” politicians. Mike Pence created some chatter around his “presidential” demeanor. South Carolina Tim Scott walked away with a performance seen by many as not assertive enough and lacked the hope-filled character and tone of his campaign. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum couldn’t get a word in and seemed nervous when it was his turn to talk.
This week, candidates came ready to fight – among themselves, with the absent GOP frontrunner, and with the moderators. Within minutes of the first question, candidates were yelling over each other, squabbling about response time, and making pointed jabs. Among the most dramatic changes in tone stood Ramaswamy, who tried to make good with the establishment by calling the other candidates “good people.” The attempt backfired, however, and he found himself at the bottom of a political dogpile as other contestants… er… candidates lined up to attack him.
Scott and Burgum learned from their first-round mistakes, too. Refusing to be left in the dust, Scott and Burgum were prominent offenders of speaking out of turn. At one point, moderators threatened to mute Burgum’s microphone. Did the bulldog tactic work? Kind of. Burgum still received the least amount of speaking time (7 min. 39 sec.) but didn’t walk away unnoticed. Mollie Hemmingway, a political journalist and editor-in-chief of The Federalist, assigned grades mid-debate via X, and ranked Burgum the highest with a “B,” while also stating the governor was among her mom’s top candidates.
The Sophisticated Art of Political Comedy
Since the dawn of rhetoric, politicians and public speakers have sought to create one-liners and jokes that pack a punch. The debate stage is certainly no exception. Throughout the two-hour event, several candidates tried to win affection through humor. And, well, some of the zingers landed. Here are our standouts, and on a scale of 1-10, our cringe assessments.
Political comedy is not new for White House residents. Franklin Pierce, our 14th president, deployed a catchy campaign trail slogan that invoked puns on his name and that of a fellow Democrat president. “We Polked You in ’44. We Shall Pierce You in ’52.” Ulysses S. Grant had a dry sense of humor: “I only know two tunes, one of them is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ the other isn’t.” Ronald Reagan famously flipped the script during his debate with Walter Mondale during his 1984 re-election campaign by wryly addressing concern with Reagan’s age (73), by quipping, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
The GOP and The Gipper
The candidates stood in Ronald Reagan’s presidential library in the shadow of an impressive Boeing 707 used as Air Force One during his administration. The moderators began the debate with a snippet of The Gipper’s immortalized “A Time for Choosing” speech. And several candidates tried to align themselves with the man who many consider one of the greatest Republican presidents of all time.
Throughout his campaign, former Vice President Pence has sought to align himself with the 40th president while pointing out differences between the party of Reagan and the party of Trump. Senator Scott has quoted Reagan on the campaign trial. But others are straying away from the policies of Reagan, especially surrounding immigration.
While Reagan was outspokenly supportive of legal immigration, some candidates on the debate stage took different approaches. Former Governor Christie said we must “enforce the law.” Former Governor Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, stated, “Only when we fix the immigration system, only when we make the border secure should we ever put more money into this.” And Vivek Ramaswamy, also the son of Indian immigrants, suggested discontinuing U.S. citizenship for babies born in America to illegal immigrants.
Even when he’s not on the debate stage, Trump continues to be the elephant in the room, and presidential hopefuls couldn’t help from shooting lackluster one-liners his direction. Ron DeSantis called Trump “missing in action,” while Chris Christie threw in his “Donald Duck” jab – speaking directly to Trump through the camera. Trump indirectly snapped back at Christie telling Fox News Digital, “Anybody that would come up with that nickname shouldn’t be running for president.”
Trump’s lack of appearance wasn’t the only issue for which he came under fire. DeSantis swung at Trump’s inability to defend the $7.8 trillion dollars added to the debt during his presidency, while Haley whacked him for his “out-of-control spending” and weakness towards China.
It appears Trump won’t make a debate appearance anytime soon, leaving the door open for his opponents to criticize him without immediate consequence. However, when moderators asked which candidate the others would vote off the island, DeSantis shut it down, saying it was an insulting question — but not before Christie took one final whack at Trump, voting him off the island.
So where was Trump? While his rivals courted primary voters in California, Trump was in Michigan, a battle state, connecting with blue-collar workers, casting himself as pro-worker, and blasting President Biden for his applause of electric cars amidst an autoworkers’ strike. Trump worked to differentiate himself from the president by claiming the auto industry was “being assassinated” and Biden’s support for EVs was a sellout to China.
A Race for First or Second Place?
The day before the second GOP debate, the New York Times headlined this question: “Can the Second GOP Debate Amount to More Than a Race for Second Place?” It’s a valid question as former President Trump commands the lead in polls, like a recent CBS News poll that shows Trump at 51% to DeSantis’ second place at 21%.
For almost a year, Gov. DeSantis has been considered one of the only viable competitors to the 45th president, but his dipping approval ratings prove a challenge. Many others in the field struggle to eclipse double digit polling numbers and foreshadow difficulties in fundraising. Qualifications for the next debate may also be uphill: candidates must attain 4% in polling and 70,000 donors before the Nov. 8 debate in Miami.
In a traditional GOP primary, some candidates might be on the debate stage as a sort-of-audition for Vice President or cabinet position. But if Trump wins the primary, that’s likely off the table, too. During a speech in Michigan, he asked, “Does anybody see the VP in the group? I don’t think so.”