Eight contenders for the Republican Party nomination participated in a debate Wednesday evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a successful entrepreneur, discussed his parents’ pursuit of the American dream and positioned himself as a candidate not running “from something” but rather running “to something.”

Doug Burgum presented a vision for a US President who comprehends “small town values.”

Former VP Mike Pence presented himself as the protector of the Constitution on January 6th.

Tim Scott played the safe card, casting himself as the son of the single mother who grew up poor but despite, achieved an American dream.

Notably absent from the event was Donald Trump, who instead featured himself in a pre-recorded interview with Tucker Carlson. This interview was simultaneously released on a platform now known as X.

Although physically not present, Trump’s influence permeated the debate. The candidates seemed to avoid overtly criticizing the former president. Bret Baier, the moderator of the Fox debate, aptly characterized this as addressing “the elephant not in the room.”

Outlined below are 3 key insights gleaned from the evening’s proceedings:

1. Bidenomics should go back to basement

“Our country is in decline,” stated Ron DeSantis, who was posed the initial question by Fox News hosts Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier. “We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline.”

However, Nikki Haley placed responsibility for excessive pandemic-related spending on the Republican Party. She noted that Trump had increased the national debt by $8 trillion. As the sole female candidate in the Republican primary, Haley criticized DeSantis, Scott, and Mike Pence for supporting measures that contributed to the surge in national debt.

2. Support for Trump remains prominent

Even when given opportunities, Republican presidential candidates refrained from attacking Trump. Those challenging Trump on the stage were cautious not to isolate Republican voters.

Haley went on to assert that Trump is the “most disliked” politician in America.

“We have to look at the fact that three-quarters of Americans don’t want a rematch between Trump and Biden. And we have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America. We can’t win a general election that way,” said Haley

When asked if they would continue to support Trump as the GOP nominee in the general election, even if he is convicted, most of the eight contenders raised their hands. Asa Hutchinson was an exception. He said that the 14th Amendment may disqualify Trump from serving as president.

“Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct, OK?” Christie said. “Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of President of the United States.”

“Your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against Donald Trump,” Ramaswamy said.

3. The war in Ukraine is losing support among Republicans

Support for the war in Ukraine is waning within the Republican ranks.

Both DeSantis and Ramaswamy were unequivocal in stating that Ukraine is not their foremost concern. DeSantis remarked, “I will have Europe pull their weight,” while Ramaswamy indicated that Ukraine holds a lower position in the United States’ list of priorities.

“You have no foreign policy experience and it shows,” Haley criticized Vivek. The critiques from Pence, Christie, and Haley aimed at Vivek suggested that he had touched a nerve. Despite their labels of him as an “amateur” and “rookie,” his ascent in the polls appears to be causing them distress.

Ksenija Pavlovic is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Pavlovic Today, The Chief White House Correspondent. Pavlovic was a Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department at...

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