Republican candidates attacked Joe Biden’s stewardship of the US economy at the first presidential debate of the 2024 race, with vows to dismantle an economic program the president has made a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.
(Bloomberg) — Republican candidates attacked Joe Biden’s stewardship of the US economy at the first presidential debate of the 2024 race, with vows to dismantle an economic program the president has made a centerpiece of his reelection campaign.
“We must reverse Bidenomics so that middle class families have a chance to succeed again,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. “We need to lower your gas prices — we’re going to open up all energy production. We will be energy dominant.”
US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said federal spending under Biden had fueled inflation that reached a four-decade high under Biden.
“What we also need to understand is that Joe Biden’s Bidenomics has led to the loss of $10,000 of spending power for the average family,” Scott said. “We can stop that by turning the spigot off at Washington, sending the money back to the states.”
The economy remains a vulnerability for Biden, with voters giving him poor remarks despite recent data showing jobs gains, steady gross domestic product, and cooling inflation — providing an opening for Republicans eager to replace him.
But the debate also highlighted the divisions on stage between the candidates. After a commercial break, they were asked if they would support Donald Trump, who was absent from the debate stage, as the nominee.
Most raised their hands. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a sharp critic of the GOP frontrunner, appeared to start to raise his hand but said he had not meant to, spurring boos from the debate audience.
“Here’s the bottom line, someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” Christie said, referring to Trump, who awaits prosecution on multiple indictments. “Whether or not you believe the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of the president of the United States. And you know, that’s the great part of this country. Booing is allowed, but it doesn’t change the truth.”
Christie praised former Vice President Mike Pence for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when he rejected Trump’s calls to block the certification of Biden’s election victory, even as a mob stormed the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
“Mike Pence stood for the Constitution and he deserves not grudging credit, he deserves our thanks as Americans,” said Christie.
Pence said voters deserved to know if the other candidates for the nomination agreed he had defended his oath to the US Constitution that day.
“Mike did his duty, I got no beef with him,” said DeSantis, who has been reluctant to directly challenge Trump over his efforts to overturn the election and criminal cases.
Earlier: Trump Says He Will ‘Not Be Doing the Debates’ With Rivals
Trump, who leads the rest of the GOP field by double digit margins, sought to upstage the event by airing a pre-recorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
“If you’re leading by at one poll 70 points, why am I doing it if I’m going to have all these people screaming at me shouting questions at me?” Trump told Carlson. As the debate unfolded, the former president’s campaign sent out emails on his record appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court and limits on abortion.
The former president has gained support from Republican voters since he was hit with the first of now four indictments alleging a wide array of crimes from the mishandling of classified documents to trying to overturn the 2020 election results.
Wednesday’s debate is a make-or-break moment for many candidates on stage, in particular DeSantis. DeSantis has consistently been a distant second to Trump, but has steadily slid in polls due to a series of political missteps and campaign problems.
Read more: 2024 GOP Candidates Outline Plans Ahead of First Debate
Rivals including entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Scott have seen fresh polling gains in early primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. The debate affords them the opportunity to harness that energy and potentially surpass DeSantis.
Ramaswamy jokingly introduced himself as a “skinny guy with a funny name,” echoing a similar comment from then Senator Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Christie seized on the moment. “The last person in one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here’ was Barack Obama, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur,” he told moderator Bret Baier.
Pence also jabbed at Ramaswamy, a first time politician who is polling ahead of the former vice president at third in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” Pence said.
(Updates with additional details from sixth paragraph)
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