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Five key things to consider in the Republican primary debate

A candidate’s performance in a presidential debate can make or break a campaign.

Florida Senator Marco Rubioit is being dressed at the hands of the governor of New Jersey Chris Christie represented the death knell of a once-promising White House bid in 2016. Former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan’s masterful performances on the microphone during the 1980 presidential campaign likely won him the Republican nomination and, later, the presidency. And in a 1992 debate against the Democratic rival bill clintonthen president George HW BushThe decision to check his watch during an audience question on the economy helped cement an image of him as out of touch with the concerns of working Americans, leading him into a heated debate in the november

The Republican field of candidates this cycle will inherit an unprecedented and possibly insurmountable challenge as they seek to defeat a dual candidate in their party, former President. donald trump, leading most national polls. They’ll have to, too, since the man they want to beat isn’t on the same stage: Trump has already announced he won’t participate in any debates this presidential cycle, much to the chagrin of the party leadership. But in a race for second place, there’s a lot to gain for potential candidates, especially considering a front-runner whose campaign war chest is committed to fighting 91 criminal charges in four different jurisdictions.

From left to right, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott are shown in this photo illustration. They will face off Wednesday night in the first GOP primary debate for the 2024 White House race.
Newsweek photo-illustration; Source of photos from Getty

Here’s what to look for on Wednesday night:

DeSantis v. Ramaswamy

Since his commanding victory in his 2022 re-election bid for Florida governor, Ron DeSantis has been considered the man to beat in a crowded GOP field to replace Trump, once he polled nearly neck-and-neck with a man many republicans consider the face of the modern GOP.

That narrative quickly changed. In several recent polls, DeSantis, once a strong contender to unseat Trump at the top of the Republican pecking order, has been struggling to hold onto his prey in second place as upstarts Vivek Ramaswamy and even “Never Trump” candidate Christie has seen a rise in the polls among the half of the Republican electorate willing to support someone other than Trump.

DeSantis’ own team is aware that it needs to make a move. In a leaked strategy note from Axiom Strategies the week before the debate, DeSantis advisers encouraged the governor for “hammering” Ramaswamy during the debate, including leaking an extensive opposition file on Ramaswamy attacking his business record and recent policy positions.

Whether DeSantis sticks to that plan is up for debate, especially since the company has come under immense media scrutiny in recent days. Although Axiom Strategies executives are closely connected to the Never Back Down political action committee that backs it, DeSantis has tried to distance himself from the memo and played it down publicly.

“On the memo, it’s not mine. I haven’t read it,” DeSantis said in a brief. Fox News Saturday interview. “It’s something we have and we put it aside.”

More on Newsweek’s GOP debate:

‘Pile on Ron’

The other candidates in the field, meanwhile, smell blood in the water.

After the memo was released, Ramaswamy attacked DeSantis as a career politician, touting his carefully groomed outsider facade that has helped him build a level of momentum that few others in the Republican camp have been able to. reproduce But Ramaswamy, unlike the more conventional figures of the race like the ones above United Nations ambassador Nikki HaleyDeSantis or even the senator from South Carolina Tim Scott—also has something that candidates lack: the ability to criticize their opponents at will. And the capital is likely to be used to attack the man who makes the most sense to attack.

“Haley and DeSantis, they’re young, but they’ve been in politics and they have brands to protect,” said Aaron Kall, an expert on presidential debates at the University of Michigan. Newsweek in an interview “There are norms and expectations. They have been governors and they will probably be a little more conservative in their approaches. But someone like Ramaswamy is really playing with the house’s money.”

Others, like Christie, have built their campaigns around their express willingness to attack Trump’s record and, in particular, his lack of success as a candidate. Attacking someone who has tried to replicate Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement without Trump, experts say, is probably a natural line of attack. Particularly along the lines of the leaked memo that DeSantis should “defend” Trump from Christie’s attacks in the debate.

“The only way to beat someone is to beat them. Yes [DeSantis] thinks he’s going to get on stage and defend Donald Trump on Wednesday night, then he should do Donald Trump a favor and do our party a favor, go back to Tallahassee, support Donald Trump and get out of the race,” he Christie said during a whistle stop in Florida over the weekend.

Exploding in Ukraine

On most aspects of the Republican platform, most of the candidates are tied with each other. Almost all of them have made a comment about wanting to prevent transgender athletes from playing women’s sports. They all believe that the Biden administration has been a failure. Most, but not all, expressed a willingness to support a federal ban on abortion, though the specifics vary from candidate to candidate. (More on that later.)

The biggest area of ​​divergence, however, may be the individual candidates’ stances on foreign policy amid a growing divergence between Republicans’ traditionally hawkish stance on world affairs and a growing anti-interventionist streak among the populist strain of conservatism.” America First” that flourished under Trump.

While candidates like Haley and former Vice President mike pence have been ardent supporters of continued involvement in Ukraine’s ongoing effort to repel Russia from its borders, others, such as Ramaswamy, have expressed support for plans to appease Russian demands in exchange for a quick resolution of the conflict.

Others, like DeSantis, have largely tried to avoid facing questions about their plan to address the conflict.

Ukraine funding is likely to be the biggest divide between candidates and voters in the Republican primaries. According to Pew Research Center survey Since June, roughly four in 10 Republicans believe the U.S. is providing Ukraine with “too much” aid, while populist GOP leaders have regularly railed against the amount of money being diverted out of the U.S. to support to the war. effort Other votes later in the summer continued to show strong support among Republicans.

Nuances on abortion

Arguably, no issue will come to define the 2024 election more than abortion.

After the repeal of federal abortion protections established under the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Waderepublican candidates for congress lived and died by their support for strict limitations on abortion rights during the 2022 semi-conference, helping Democrats avoid a significant defeat that most political strategists believed was historically inevitable.

Among Republicans, support for a national abortion ban has turned something like a litmus test for presidential hopefuls. The key is how strict they think it should be.

Some, like Pence, have publicly supported a federal ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and pushed other candidates to support it. Others, like Scott, have followed suit, expressing willingness to sign any abortion ban that a presumptively Republican-led Congress passes. Haley stressed that it should be a matter for states to decide.

Who is facing Trump?

However, the biggest question for those on stage Wednesday night will be who isn’t: Trump, who dominates the preference of more than half of the Republican electorate in most major polls in the whole country

While Christie has seen his star rise amid his regular criticism of the former president, few others have been willing to mirror his attacks for fear of alienating Trump-supporting voters who will likely need to get behind him to win. a general election.

However, with most of the field vying for the same share of the Republican vote, the candidates will have to find a way to outshine their colleagues and undermine the former president’s viability if they are to win the nomination for their match With him not on stageRepublican candidates will have to find a way to make a case against him, rather than defend a man who didn’t see fit to join them on stage.

“I think Trump is right to stay out of the debate,” said David Greenberg, an expert on presidential debates at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Newsweek in an interview “They’re going to be shadowboxed. Yeah. They’re going to look a little pathetic chasing him when he’s not there. But they should be chasing him if he was there. I mean, that’s just the reality. He’s the favorite. They have to go after him. If they don’t talk about him, he can ignore everything and say ‘who cares’ about this debate.”


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