In the first 2024 Republican primary debate, former President Donald Trump was notably absent, allowing other candidates to vie for attention. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy emerged as a central figure, clashing with former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, among others. Ramaswamy positioned himself as a defender of Trump, making him a target for his opponents, who aimed to scuttle any momentum he has gained. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was expected to stand out, did not receive many attacks and did little to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack in the debate.
Ramaswamy, despite being a newcomer to politics, has seen a rise in recent polling over candidates with more political experience. However, his opponents sought to diminish his momentum by targeting him in the debate. Meanwhile, DeSantis did not live up to expectations and appeared content to maintain his second-place standing in the polls without taking any risks. Notably, when asked if he would support Trump if he is convicted in court, DeSantis hesitated before raising his hand. He mostly relied on rehearsed lines and focused on familiar issues, such as crime and immigration, which are part of his campaign platform.
Overall, the debate lacked a standout moment and failed to significantly alter the dynamics of the race. Trump’s absence deprived opponents who positioned themselves as critics of the former president from directly confronting him. The crowd’s reactions, including jeers and boos when candidates criticized Trump, often drowned out the Fox News moderators. While Ramaswamy emerged as a central figure, his opponents attempted to undermine him, and DeSantis did not effectively distinguish himself from the rest of the candidates. In the end, the debate appeared to be an undercard event, unlikely to significantly impact Trump’s lead in the polls.