In the first televised debate, the contenders for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election clashed on the major themes of the American right, in particular abortion. The debate took place without Donald Trump, who granted an interview at the same time on X (formerly-Twitter).
The debate – the first of two scheduled by the Republican National Committee – was broadcast live Aug. 23, 2023, on Fox News, from the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Eight of the nine contenders for the Republican nomination clashed, particularly on the issue of abortion. Each candidate tried to display pro-life convictions.
Nikki Haley, former-governor of South Carolina and former-ambassador of the United States to the UN, defined herself as “unapologetically pro-life,” and congratulated the U.S. Supreme Court for having “finally put the abortion debate back into the hands of the American people.”
Asked about the prohibition of any voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) beyond a period of six weeks in Florida, where he is the governor, Ron DeSantis explained: “You must always do what you think is right, I believe in a culture of life.” Asked if he would sign a similar ban at the federal level as head of state, the candidate replied more evasively that he “would stay on the side of life as governor and as president.”
Donald Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, made a stirring declaration of Christian faith, quoting a passage from the Bible, and defined himself as the “champion of the fight for life in Congress.” For him, abortion should be criminalized at the federal level from fifteen weeks of pregnancy.
Lesser knowns, Doug Burgum and Tim Scott were opposed on the type of ban that should affect abortion, the second defending criminalization at the federal level, the first preferring to leave the freedom to choose to each state.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the first candidate of Hindu religion, insisted on the spiritual roots of the crisis in the United States: “People are so hungry and thirsty for meaning, only faith can remedy that,” he explained. A staunch defender of Donald Trump, he had to face many attacks from his rivals, who seemed to consider him a greater threat than Ron DeSantis. He has stated that it is not an issue for the federal government.
According to the BBC, the winners of this first debate were Vivek Ramaswamy, who played “the outsider opposed to the current political establishment,” card; Mike Pence, who was pugnacious and experienced; as well as Nikki Haley, who stands out from her competitors by not sparing her criticism of the Republican Party and Donald Trump.
Moreover, the shadow of the Trump hovered over the debate. The former president, a candidate for re-election who is currently facing four sets of felony charges, preferred to be interviewed on X [Twitter] by Tucker Carlson. Carlson was recently fired from Fox News.
Trump used his lead in the polls as justification for not participating in the Milwaukee debate: “Was I going to sit there, for an hour or two…, and be harassed by people who should not even be presidential candidates?,” he quipped. Trump did not hesitate to take a dig at his successor Joe Biden, calling him “the worst president in the history of the United States,” whose “mental state is worse than his physical state.”
In terms of audience, the former president won hands down. On X, Tucker Carlson's show was watched by 74 million Americans, while the 8 other candidates gathered 23.9 million viewers on Fox News.