Much has happened since the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary began when former President Donald Trump announced his bid for re-election last November. Since then, Trump has been slammed with numerous charges for election interference, paying hush money to a stripper, violating campaign finance rules, and mishandling of classified documents.
Many have questioned if Donald Trump should be the Republican Party’s nominee, as many doubt his ability to defeat Joe Biden in the general election– Biden decisively beat Trump in 2020. Many looked to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as a possible successor to Trump. For those not paying attention, here is a recap of highlights from the first 10 months of the race.
DeSantis Slips, Other Candidates Join the Race
In January, Governor Ron DeSantis was the clear second choice for most Republicans, with 40.5% support of Republicans supporting him in polls. Trump had a slim lead, with the polled support of 42.5% of Republicans.
A combination of other candidates joining the race and missteps from the DeSantis Campaign, such as his Presidential Launch on Twitter Spaces experiencing technical difficulties for over 30 minutes, led to a disastrous summer for the DeSantis campaign. Additionally, a slew of attacks coming from both the right and left have greatly diminished his candidacy.
Over 20 million dollars have been spent attacking Ron DeSantis, more than Biden and Trump combined. In response, DeSantis campaign communications director Andrew Romeo stated “Republicans, Democrats, and the legacy media are united in their full-on assault of Ron DeSantis because he is the only candidate who can beat Joe Biden.” Whatever the reason, DeSantis has slipped almost 30 points in the polls, and other candidates have joined in the race.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38 year old Hindu biotech Entrepreneur, declared his candidacy for President on February 21. Leading a more online and youthful right wing coalition, he has quickly become many Republicans’ first choice due to what has been described as his straightforward politics and his pragmatic, yet sometimes controversial, statements.
Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley also announced her run in February. “We’re ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past. And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future,” she said when announcing her run. “America isn’t perfect, but the principles at America’s core are perfect.”
Junior Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott, announced his bid for the Presidency in May. He is well liked among Republicans for his personal story, as well as his response to Joe Biden’s state of the union address, and his involvement in crafting the 2020 Justice Act. In his declaration speech he said, “We have to have a compassion for people who don’t agree with us. We have to believe that our ideas are so strong and so powerful and so persuasive that we can actually take it to the highest points in the world and be successful but we also have to be able to take it all the way down to places that today are hopeless and prove that who we are works for all Americans.”
In June, Former Vice President Mike Pence joined the Presidential Race. He is running against Donald Trump, the man he served alongside in the White House from 2017 through 2021. Their relationship has soured since Pence refused to overturn the 2020 election results when Congress was counting the Electoral College votes.
The First Republican Primary Debate Highlights
Going into the debate, front-runner Donald Trump declined to attend the debate, posting “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!” on his Truth Social Account, a move many of his opponents criticized. However, an Economist-YouGov poll found that around 61% of Republican voters approved or somewhat approved of his decision.
The first Republican Primary debate was held on August 23, hosted by Fox News, and moderated by Bret Baier and Martha McCallum. The debate included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Former Vice President Mike Pence, Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Former Arkansas Governor Asa Huchinson, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
Opening Attacks on Debt
To many, Nikki Haley was the surprise of the night, not missing a beat in her answers and giving strong responses to questions and the other candidates. She came out swinging by specifically naming Pence, Scott, and DeSantis for their part in raising the National Debt, especially by approving a $2.2 Trillion COVID Relief Package in 2020. She then added that “Our kids are never going to forgive us for this.”
Mike Pence launched the first slew of attacks Vivek Ramaswamy faced during the debate. “Vivek, you recently said a president can’t do everything. Well, I’ve got news for you, Vivek. I’ve been in the hallway. I’ve been in the West Wing. The president of the United States has to confront every crisis facing America.” The former Vice President also called Ramaswamy a political “Rookie.”
Ramaswamy tried to explain his plans: “Yes. This isn’t that complicated, guys, unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal and embrace nuclear, put people back to work by no longer paying them more to stay at home, reform the US Fed, stabilize the US dollar, and go to war.”
DeSantis meanwhile showed off his record: “So, here is the thing. Why are we in this mess? Part of it, and a major reason is because how [sic] this federal government handed COVID-19 by locking down this economy. It was a mistake. It should have never happened. And in Florida, we led the country out of lockdown. We kept our state free and open. And I can tell you this. As your President, I will never let the deep state bureaucrats lock you down. You don’t take somebody like Fauci and coddle him. You bring Fauci in. You sit him down. And you say, ‘Anthony, you are fired.’”
The candidates were asked about the idea of a national abortion ban. Nikki Haley argued that the federal government should stay out of the issue and should encourage contraception availability. She went on to say, “Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available?” She said, “it will take 60 senate votes, it will take a majority of the house. So in order to do that let’s build consensus. “
Mike Pence responded, “I have been a champion of life in the congress, a champion for life as governor, and as Vice President. And to be honest with you Nikki, you’re my friend, but consensus is the opposite of leadership.” He went on to say a national 15 week abortion ban is “an idea whose time has come.”
DeSantis avoided directly answering the question by saying he believes in a “culture of life.” When the moderators challenged him on avoiding the question, he answered he would always stand on the side of life federally, but would understand if Wisconsin and Texas take different approaches to the issue.
Doug Burgum opposed any abortion ban at all, saying “We need to get back to freedom and liberty for the people.”
Donald Trump and His Election Claims
Moderator Bret Baier said, “We are going to take a brief moment to address the elephant not in the room” and went on to ask the candidates if they would support Donald Trump for president if he is both the eventual Republican Nominee and convicted for his interference in the 2020 Election.
Vivek was the first to raise his hand, followed by Haley, Scott, and Burgum. DeSantis appeared to look at how the other candidates answered first, then raised his hand. Pence raised his hand last. Christie and Huchinson did not raise their hands, Christie said “here’s the bottom line: someone has got to stop normalizing this conduct” and drew a mix of boos and cheers from the crowd.
“Let’s speak the Truth, President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century, it’s a fact,” Ramaswamy said. Ramaswamy drew cheers when he said, “We cannot set a precedent where the party uses police force to indict its political opponents.”
When the candidates were asked if Mike Pence, as Vice President, did the right thing by refusing Trump’s request to overturn the 2020 election, Hutchinson, Burgum, Haley, and Christie all raised their hands. When DeSantis was questioned on it, he said “Mike did his duty and I’ve got no beef with him. But here’s the thing, is this what we’re going to be focusing on? The rehashing of this? Let me tell you, the Democrats would love that, they will win if we let them get away with it. I’m not letting Biden hang out in the basement this time.”
Christie replied “Mike Pence stood for the Constitution, he deserves not grudging credit, he deserves our thanks as Americans.”
Ramaswamy said he would pardon President Trump if he is convicted of any crimes, and later asked Pence if he would pardon Trump on day one. Pence asked Ramaswamy why he would assume Trump would be convicted of any crimes.
Pence answered the moderators’ question by saying, “I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and it ended with a prayer ‘so help me God.’ It was a promise that I made to the American People, but I also made it to my Heavenly Father. Every day for four years I sought to keep that oath, and everyone on this stage should make it clear whether they would do the same whether or not if they earn this job.”
The candidates were asked if they would not increase aid in Ukraine. Only DeSantis and Ramaswamy raised their hands.
Nikki Haley took shots at Ramaswamy saying, “The problem Vivek does not understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel, you don’t do that to friends…you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.”
When Ramaswamy tried to defend himself, Haley interrupted saying, “You would make America less safe, you have no foreign policy experience and it shows.” This was met with a roar from the crowd and a standing ovation.
DeSantis said we should instead focus on the “invasion” on our southern border and stated “And so I am going to declare it a national emergency. I’m not going to send troops to Ukraine, but I am going to send them to our Southern border.”
The candidates were also asked about climate change, sparking a sequence where multiple candidates went on to attack Vivek Ramaswamy.
It started when Ramaswamy proclaimed, “I’m the only one on the stage who isn’t bought for so I can say this– the climate change agenda is a hoax.” This drew immediate boos from the crowd.
Christie fired back at Ramaswamy saying,“I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here. And the last person in one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage, and said ‘what’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ Was Barack Obama, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same kind of amateur on this stage tonight.” This drew immediate noise from the crowd.
Tim Scott chimed in saying, “Here’s what the American People deserve, is a debate about the issues that affect their lives, going back and forth and being childish is not helpful to the American people to decide on the next leader of our government.”
Towards the end of the Debate, each candidate was asked a single question in a 30 second “lightning round.” When the moderator began asking Chris Christie a question about UFOs, he interrupted saying “I get the UFO question? Come on, man.” This made the audience laugh. He went on to explain how important Government transparency is.
On the other hand, an Economist-YouGov poll found that 31% of Republicans and Republican-Leaning Independents said Ramaswamy won, and 19% said DeSantis won. When asked who did “well,” Republicans said DeSantis and Ramaswamy did about the same, with 43% and 48% respectively. Nikki Haley came in third with 33%, a huge jump from before the debate.
Mike Pence, the candidate with the most air time, was overwhelmingly ranked by Republicans as having a negative performance. Only 13% of Republicans in the Economist-YouGov poll said he did well, and 13% of Republican watchers in the FiveThirtyEight poll said that he did the second worst, only better than Chris Christie.
As of September 15, FiveThirtyEight averages have Trump at 55.5%, DeSantis at 14.2%, and Ramaswamy at 7.6%. Haley is in fourth, while Pence is in fifth. 270ToWin has Trump at 58.4%, DeSantis at 12.8%, and Ramaswamy at 8.2%. Pence and Haley are in Fourth and Fifth place.
While all of this was happening, there was an elephant in the room, an entirely different parallel narrative to the rest of the primary. The next installment of this series will examine the past ten months from Trump’s perspective, from his legal challenges to his appearance on Tucker Carlson.