Jim Crawford: The first GOP debate for 2024

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

Given that this group is basically hoping the “King” falters somehow and one among them will prevail, it was educational to see them engage on the issues. The moderators did their best, the questions were mostly meaningful and the participants had time for voters to develop a first impression of each candidate.

 Issue by issue, it looked like this:

 • On Abortion, if you were looking for any Republican candidate to support women’s reproductive rights, you would be greatly disappointed. At the extremes were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Democrats want abortion up to birth) and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, of South Carolina, both in the six-week abortion limit club. 

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The most moderate position was expressed by diplomat and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, arguing for a 15-week national abortion policy, an end to third-term abortion and support for contraception. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison blamed Biden for supporting “on-demand” abortion, and former Vice President Mike Pence argued his religion would prohibit the sin of abortion.

 • On the environment, again, if you were hoping for any of these candidates to acknowledge that human activity has impacted the environment and we, as a nation, should prioritize restoring the environment for humans, you would be disappointed. Vivek Ramaswamy openly mocks the environmental movement, 

Haley asks why we should do anything when China and India are still polluting and Scott says the economy will fix the environment somehow. Not a good look for voters who think this an important issue.

 • On Crime, DeSantis took the most extreme position, that Democrat billionaire George Soros is financially supporting the Democrat’s softness on crime, and America is in decline (major crimes are up over the pandemic, but far lower than the 1980s and 1990s.).

Not far behind, Ramaswamy said we need to back the police and stop suing cops, bring back mental health hospitals, and support the rule of law (Apparently except for Trump, whom Ramaswamy would pardon for whatever Trump is convicted of). Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went straight to Hunter Biden as our crime problem, and Pence said Democrats want to defund the police.

 • On Trump, the room’s elephant, the moderators kept the discussion short and safe in a room where any criticism of the ex-president brought a chorus of boos, asking only if the debaters would support Trump if he was convicted and the Republican candidate for president. In the saddest moment of the two-hour debate, six of the eight willingly said they would support a convicted felon to hold the highest office in the land. Only Christie and Hutchison rejected supporting a criminal Trump. 

Haley offered that Trump was disliked more than any American political figure and could not win in 2024, but she would support him. DeSantis claimed charging Trump is the weaponization of the DOJ, as did Scott. Pence said Trump asked him to set aside the Constitution and support himself, Trump.

 • On Ukraine, came perhaps the best discussion of the evening, with Ramaswamy refusing to support U.S. help to Ukraine, and adding he would not continue supporting Israel. Ramaswamy would send military troops to the southern border to prevent illegal Immigration and would send armed forces into Mexico to stop fentanyl distribution. 

DeSantis was not as clear in his opposition in Ukraine, but called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “Pope Zelensky.” Christie pointed out the Russian brutality in Ukraine and spoke of his support of U.S. efforts there. 

Haley eviscerated Ramaswamy here on his lack of foreign policy knowledge and set the new figure on the stage to a head-covering thumping he never recovered from on stage.

 Finally, Haley won this debate, Pence was strong and confident, DeSantis seemed on the sidelines, Christie made few points, Scott had a bad night, Ramaswamy started out strong, but faded badly, Hutchison was logical and reasonable, and Doug Burgun should have stayed home and healed.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.