Why Haley and Ramaswamy dominated Republican debate

Why Haley and Ramaswamy dominated Republican debate

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Vivek Ramaswamy, a wealthy entrepreneur rising in the polls, was a youthful stand-in for Mr. Trump. Barely old enough to run for president, Mr. Ramaswamy managed to compare himself to both former President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump. An American-born son of Indian immigrants, Mr. Ramaswamy called himself a “skinny guy with a funny last name,” an echo of Mr. Obama’s pitch in 2004.

But with no previous experience in politics and a charismatic personality, Mr. Ramaswamy could also portray himself as a Trump-like figure, bringing a businessperson’s sensibility to governance. He was the most MAGA – ”Make America Great Again” – candidate on stage Wednesday, and thus possibly a contender for Trump vice president or Cabinet member.

Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Trump, was another standout Wednesday night. She articulately framed the GOP’s challenge on abortion, government spending, and support for Ukraine, and as the only woman in the Republican field, stood in for many voters in a key segment of the electorate.

“At the end of the day, you look at the 2024 budget, Republicans asked for $7.4 billion in earmarks. Democrats asked for $2.8 billion,” Ms. Haley said. “So you tell me, who are the big spenders? I think it’s time for an accountant in the White House.”

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Maybe “accountant in the White House” isn’t the most compelling message, but Ms. Haley’s point is important. Republicans used to stand for fiscal responsibility, and after the free-spending Trump era, that’s now in doubt. Her call for fiscal prudence speaks to a significant portion of the GOP base, and it’s a message she could build on.

Ms. Haley’s message on abortion – a nuanced take on the reality of women in an unwanted pregnancy – also introduced a fresh perspective in a male-dominated field that could help the GOP.

It’s easy to say that, with no clear winner, Mr. Trump “won” the first Republican debate. But his decision to skip the debate could also be portrayed as a mistake. As a TV performer focused on ratings, he missed the opportunity for a big cable audience, opting instead for an interview with former Fox host Tucker Carlson on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.

But it’s also apparent that Mr. Trump “beat” his top primary opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has struggled with relatability. Governor DeSantis barely smiled during the two-hour debate. And while he didn’t stumble, he also didn’t distinguish himself. Mr. DeSantis needed a breakout moment, and it didn’t happen.

It’s still early, and maybe Mr. DeSantis can step up his game. As a Trump-friendly GOP activist noted by text Thursday morning, “50%+ of Republicans are open to voting for him, which is second behind Trump.”

All of which means, this ain’t over.


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