There was a broad spectrum of political takes over which Republican presidential candidate performed best during the first primary debate this week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The debate event featured strong moments from most of the candidates on stage, but polling, post-debate focus groups, and online reactions showed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, pharmaceutical executive Vivek Ramaswamy, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley generated the most interest from the debate.
Former Vice President Mike Pence drew mixed reviews, Sen. Tim Scott (S-SC) had a couple positive moments but was criticized for not really rising to the moment, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leveled hard hits against Ramaswamy, but later seemed to turn off voters with his comments about former President Donald Trump.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum managed to tough his way through the two-hour event after suffering a leg injury beforehand that required a trip to the hospital, and the audience largely went silent or booed when former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson spoke.
Some of the top reactions on social media, radio, and television included:
DeSantis earned praise from some high-profile TV personalities, including Sean Hannity, Ari Fleischer, Howard Kurtz, and Kayleigh McEnany, particularly for what he said about securing the border, using the military to take on the cartels, and removing woke prosecutors from office in Florida.
Radio and television host Mark Levin, who is an ardent Trump defender, said that he believes DeSantis came out on top because he was the only one on the stage who has actually “led a revolution.”
“Why did Ron DeSantis win that debate?” Levin asked on radio. “He was respectful. He was decent. He came across to me like an Ohioan. Like the blue collar gentleman he says he is, and how he was raised. But even more why? That’s not enough, right? Because the man has already led a revolution. He doesn’t talk about the revolution he’s going to lead.”
Without using his name, Levin said that Ramaswamy could only “talk about” his plans despite “not really [being] invested in grassroots efforts or anything like that.” DeSantis “will muscle his way through the system and he will beat the system.”
Mark Levin, who is a staunch Trump supporter, explains why Ron DeSantis won the debate — and slams Ramaswamy:
“The man has already led a revolution. He doesn’t talk about the revolution he’s going to lead.”
— Giancarlo Sopo (@GiancarloSopo) August 25, 2023
Ramaswamy got the most attention during the debate in large part due to several heated clashes with other candidates, including Haley, Pence, and Christie. He also delivered several lines over the course of the night that drew strong applause from the lively audience.
Reaction to his performance from pundits and politicos was largely split — many people felt he did well and had a lot of energy while others criticized some of the personal swipes he took at people. He received the most praise from the diehard Trump surrogates.
The 38-year-old received the most praise for bringing up the issue of fatherlessness in the U.S. and for his answer on education.
DeSantis and Vivek back-to-back are the two best answers on education ever given at a GOP presidential debate.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) August 24, 2023
Vivek: “The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.” 🔥🔥👏👏#GOPDebate
— steve hilton (@SteveHiltonx) August 24, 2023
Haley saw the largest bump from the debate because she was largely viewed as having over-performed compared to what people expected from her.
Haley was praised for one moment where she went hard after Ramaswamy over his foreign policy views, and for what she said about men competing in women’s sports.
She also made headlines for her argument for Republicans to take a more practical approach on abortion, arguing that the current political landscape and power balance in Washington makes a hardline stance on the issue untenable and a more measured, compromise-minded approach would be more effective.
Haley: biological boys do not belong in girls’ locker rooms. SO SIMPLE, SO TRUE
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) August 24, 2023
Ramaswamy is drowned out by applause for Haley dunking on him pic.twitter.com/lvMwXQxZJk
— Acyn (@Acyn) August 24, 2023
Pence, Scott, and Christie all earned mixed reviews.
Everybody on stage basically accomplished his/her her goal last night.
DeSantis avoided the fire.
Vivek gained attention.
Haley picked up steam in the Traditional GOP lane.
Christie solidified the Never Trump lane.
Pence defended his legacy.
And Trump is still 40 points ahead.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) August 24, 2023
DeSantis- Did well with several good lines. Came out unscathed after high expectations.
Pence- Just a bad performance
VivekGPT- Biggest loser on stage. Exposed repeatedly as unlikable and inauthentic.
Christie’s skill is…
— AG (@AGHamilton29) August 24, 2023
Does anyone else think Tim Scott and Nikki Haley sounded like empty shells at the debate? They’re clearly the establishment picks. Pence, I think, is generally a good person but he’s completely misguided about everything, and Christie is obese, is running just to torpedo Trump,…
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) August 24, 2023
Normal people watched the debate and thought:@RonDeSantis – Calm, confident, competent.
Vivek – Too young, to aggressive, and too eager for massive changes he’s not experienced enough to oversee.
Haley – An angry scold.
Pence – A jerk, which we did not expect or like. Stop…
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) August 24, 2023
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