Updated Aug 23, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Ramaswamy emerges as lightning rod at GOP debate

Republican presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy participates in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on August 23, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Raucous, uncivil and loud: Tonight's first GOP debate featured lots of sparring between four of the candidates, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy a central figure in just about every fight.

Why it matters: This debate often felt like a veepstakes. No one on stage was even close to former President Trump in the polls, and most candidates said they'd support him even if he's convicted of a crime.

  • In an interview with Tucker Carlson that went live five minutes before the debate, Trump bashed Fox News and said he didn't feel like being on stage to be "harassed by people that shouldn't even be running for president?"

With Trump not there, Ramaswamy emerged as a lightning rod.

  • He fought with former VP Mike Pence over whether it's morning in America or a "dark time" — and over whether he's got the experience to serve.
  • He went back and forth with former Gov. Chris Christie, with Ramaswamy saying Christie's campaign was motivated by vengeance against Trump — and Christie comparing Ramaswamy to Obama and saying he'd had enough of a guy "who sounds like ChatGPT."
  • He even had a snappy back-and-forth with former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley over Ukraine and Israel.

Between the lines: Trump's legal troubles came up about halfway through the debate, introduced by Fox News moderator Bret Baier as "the elephant not in the room."

  • Christie, a vocal Trump critic, said: "Somebody's got to stop normalizing this conduct." He added that the "conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States."
  • Trump weighed in after the debate, saying on Truth Social that Christie "was horrible" and claiming he never asked Mike Pence "to put me above the Constitution." 

Live blog updates for this event have ended.

Less than an hour after his interview with Tucker Carlson aired on X, former President Trump's team sent out an email from his official store declaring: "Trump Wins Debate Night" and offered a 20% discount for purchases on his online store in celebration.

  • "President Trump is miles ahead of any competition, commanding a truly historic lead. President Trump obviously doesn't need to be there..." the email read.
  • The email also claimed Trump reached a larger audience via his interview with Carlson than the Fox News debate.

— Written by Bec Falconer.

Former Vice President Mike Pence said that former President Trump asked him to put him over the Constitution on Jan. 6, 2021.

  • "I chose the Constitution and I always will," Pence said, eliciting boos from some audience members at the debate.
  • "Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024," Pence said.

The big picture: Scott, DeSantis, Christie, Haley and Burgum all said on stage that the former vice president did the right thing on Jan. 6 by rejecting Trump's pressure to unilaterally overturn the results of the 2020 election.

— Written by Erin Doherty.

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