AS I SEE IT: 1st GOP debate – Trump not on stage but his presence is everywhere

Despite former President Donald Trump’s absence in the presidential primary debate hosted by Fox News Channel Wednesday, August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, his presence was everywhere on the stage and almost every presidential candidate has either mentioned his name or alluded to him in delivering their messages during the debate.

So, surprisingly, he was the winner even if he did not participate in the 1st debate participated in by eight presidential candidates seeking the GOP nomination as standard bearer of the party.

Former vice president Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had struggled to make their points and assert their presence.

Early on, Pence took a clear swipe at the 36-year-old Vivek Ramaswamy saying, “Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie.”

Ramaswamy is a neophyte in US politics and was never elected to any government position, that’s why he is being referred to as a rookie.

As to Gov. Christie, soon after Ramaswamy boasted that he was the only candidate on the stage “not bought and paid for,” he got the chance to make his night. He countered by saying: “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.”

With that line, Christie pierced through Ramaswamy’s stronghold, but it did not register positively to the viewers.

Continuing his attack, Christie emphasized his differences with Trump. He was the most aggressively anti-Trump candidate in the race. Because of his attacks, however, he earned a -44-point rating despite his most impressive performance on the stage in terms of debating skills.

Without Donald Trump on stage, the other Republicans seeking the nomination scrambled/struggled to stand out. Instead, Trump stood out!

Despite Trump’s absence on stage however, the eight contenders gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were able to have a lively discussion on a range of issues, such as abortion, climate change, urban crime, K-1 education, immigration, and the Russia-Ukraine war.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley criticized the early $8 trillion of federal spending authorized during the Trump presidency that any of the other candidates failed to discuss but she was able to do that only after 15 minutes into the debate. I think she was hesitant to do that, but did it just the same to stand out from the others.

Surely, the former president emerged from Wednesday night’s debate as the clear winner, even though he wasn’t there. In fact, six of the eight candidates pledged to support him even if he is convicted of a crime (in answer to the question from moderators Martha MacCallum and Bret Bater).

The audience also showed this loyalty because when former New Jersey Gov. Christie or Haley or Pence said something critical of Trump, they were met with boos. So, by the end of the night, it did not seem as though any candidate could be a realistic alternative to Trump. Trump is still the shoo-in winner and the probable GOP party nominee.

In fact, despite former Gov. Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and former Vice president Pence attempts to attack Trump, they failed to bring damage to frontrunner Trump. Instead, it even reinforced Trump’s chances of being the nominee of GOP for president.

While each of the debate contenders had their moments of brilliance: Mike Pence caught a second wind when the topics of abortion, January 6, and foreign policy came up; Ramaswamy picked fights with Pence and Christie, held his own against them, and seemed to stun the contenders with his witty replies; and Haley, seemingly fed up with Ramaswamy toward the end of the night, hammered him on his foreign policy positions; they did not make a point to raise their chances of defeating Trump.

At the end, it appears that no one emerged as the clear, non-Trump alternative. Trump is still the best choice! Pence’s defense of his actions on January 6 didn’t break any new ground. Christie’s Trump attacks were met with boos. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott could not break the mold of a career politician, and Ramaswamy’s Trump-lite grenade stinging schtick grew tedious. He started to get booed with more frequency after he declared that climate change wasn’t a “hoax.” (Fox)

In general, so few of the candidates were willing to go after Trump despite the 4th indictment against Trump. In fact, he is still the frontrunner in the GOP presidential nomination with DeSantis as a far second.

Instead, the 1st GOP presidential debate even bolstered his candidacy despite his absence on stage.

Six of the eight candidates on stage, when asked by the moderators, raised their hands to support Trump even if he was convicted.

Of course, this was expected because they agreed to the rules of the debate to support whoever emerged as the GOP candidate. And they don’ want to jeopardize their political future because they know that Trump is still a very influential politician and knew what he can do.

Okay, should Trump win the GOP nomination, with or without conviction, will the American people vote for him?

Fellow Americans, will you?