The first debate of the 2024 presidential cycle is in the books, as eight candidates vying for the Republican nomination took the stage in Milwaukee hoping to seize the spotlight from Donald Trump — at least for one night.
The former president and current frontrunner in the GOP primary skipped the event as he prepares to surrender to authorities in Georgia Thursday, giving the field of Republican hopefuls a rare window without him to make their cases in primetime. They struggled to do so.
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Our live coverage has concluded. Check out Yahoo News for the latest on the race, and see the blog below for a recap and analysis of Wednesday night's debate.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy during a commercial break on Wednesday night. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Tonight was an introduction. Most people have not paid attention until now. Most people are still not paying attention, but this got some folks to take a first look at who's running.
So, it will be interesting to see how tonight impacts polling. It was a bit of a starting gun for the GOP primary.
One thing I'll be watching is whether Christie or Haley gets any bump. They had good moments, but they are both out of step in some pretty significant ways with the base of the Republican Party, the folks who are actually going to vote in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
As I said earlier, Ramaswamy is going to come in for some real scrutiny now.
And I think Pence was surprisingly strong tonight. I think he showed fire in the belly at a level I haven't seen before. I don't know if it will matter. It might.
DeSantis? I just don't know. I don't think he did much to reverse his negative momentum.
There's one month until the next debate. The race will be on to qualify with at least 50,000 unique donors and to reach at least 3% in the polls.
Vivek Ramaswamy had the most to gain tonight. He's accomplished what he needed to do. He will absolutely be thought of as a top-tier candidate after this debate.
What's not yet clear is who suffers the most from his rise. DeSantis? Scott? Haley?
Is there a universe where Vivek Ramaswamy is the Republican nominee next year?
Jon, what's your closing argument as we wrap this thing up?
I also would do away with closing statements if I ran a debate.
Boos from the crowd when Mike Pence says we don't need a president "who's too young." Ramaswamy, who wants to raise the voting age to 25, fires back and talks about a different generation taking charge, which was Nikki Haley's big thing when she first launched her campaign.
Candidates make decisions about when and who to attack based on internal (that is, nonpublic) polling. It's clear tonight that the people advising many of the second-tier campaigns tonight see Ramaswamy as a threat.
Alternatively, Ramaswamy may be viewed as other campaigns as a stand-in for Trump or a weak insurgent candidate. It's increasingly hard, however, to think of him as a weak candidate right now — even as he's shown little interest in criticizing Trump, the runaway frontrunner.
Haley speaks during Wednesday's GOP debate in Milwaukee. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
“Biological boys don’t belong in the locker rooms of any of our girls.”
— Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and ex-South Carolina governor
I am not a fan of the rule or norm, or whatever it is, that if your name is mentioned you get to respond.
Ramaswamy was gaining attention and traction leading up to tonight. But after getting so much attention tonight, he's clearly graduated to the top tier of the field.
That means a whole new level of scrutiny is heading his way. Of all the candidates, he's probably the least known and his record — mostly what he's said since he hasn't done anything in politics or government — has barely been examined.
That's about to change.