Republicans Target Biden in Trump-Free Debate to Open 2024 Race

Republican candidates battled each other over the economy in their first debate of the 2024 race, waging attacks on President Joe Biden’s policies while seeking to gain ground on the absent GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

(Bloomberg) — Republican candidates battled each other over the economy in their first debate of the 2024 race, waging attacks on President Joe Biden’s policies while seeking to gain ground on the absent GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Each of the eight contenders on stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday sought to break from the crowded field and present themselves as someone who could beat Biden in a general election, with many praising Trump but saying he couldn’t retake the White House.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second in national polls, survived the debate without a major misstep but largely stayed in the background. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy took the brunt of the attacks but also tried to dominate the discussion while former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stood out.

Wednesday’s debate was a make-or-break moment for many candidates on stage, especially DeSantis, who hoped to narrow the gap between him and Donald Trump.

The entire field agreed that Bidenomics was a mistake, with each candidate vowing to dismantle policies 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,” DeSantis said. “We need to lower your gas prices — we’re going to open up all energy production. We will be energy dominant.”


The economy remains a vulnerability for Biden, with voters giving him poor marks despite recent data showing job gains, steady gross domestic product, and cooling inflation. That’s provided an opening for Republicans.

Haley took the unusual stance of blaming her own party for its role in driving up federal debt and stoking inflation.

“No one is telling the American people the truth. The truth is that Biden didn’t do this to us. Our Republicans did this to us, too, when they passed that $2.2 trillion Covid stimulus bill,” she said. “No one has told you how to fix it. I’ll tell you how to fix it.”

Earlier: Trump Says He Will ‘Not Be Doing the Debates’ With Rivals

The candidates were asked if they would support Trump, who skipped the debate, as the nominee if he were convicted of a felony. Trump faces 91 felony counts in four indictments. 

Most raised their hands, but former governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas demurred.

“Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct,” Christie said. “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.”

US Role Overseas

Haley displayed her international credentials, hammering Ramaswamy for his positions on a range of issues.

“You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,” she said. “The problem is that Vivek doesn’t understand, he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel, you don’t do that to friends.”

Read more: 2024 GOP Candidates Outline Plans Ahead of First Debate

Haley, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and others used the discussion over Ukraine to segue to China, saying the country was supporting Russia and that Beijing’s policies were damaging the US economy and costing American workers jobs.

“A win for Russia is a win for China,” Haley said, calling Ukraine a first line of defense for the US.

Haley said Biden’s policies on clean energy and climate, spurred by billions in tax credits and subsides, were failing without a plan to get tougher on pollution from China.

“If you want to go and really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions. And these green subsidies that Biden has put in all he’s done is helped China,” she said. 

“Half of the batteries for electric vehicles are made in China,” Haley said. “You’re putting money in China’s pocket. And Biden did that.”

Target of Attacks

Ramaswamy, a first-time politician, bore the brunt of the attacks on stage, particularly from former Vice President Mike Pence over his lack of experience. Both the former vice president and the entrepreneur repeatedly jumped in out of turn, prompting scolds by Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

“Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” said Pence, who trails Ramaswamy in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. The former vice president is in fourth place with 4% support to Ramaswamy’s 7.2%.

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 known as 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 said. As the debate unfolded, both the Biden and Trump campaigns issued statements comparing their records to the debate rhetoric. 

A senior Trump adviser said the GOP frontrunner is not planning to participate in the next debate to be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on September 27.

Trump has gained support from Republican voters since he was indicted on state crimes in New York and Georgia and federal crimes in Washington DC and Florida. He is charged with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, for refusing to return classified documents that he took from the White House and for paying hush money to a porn star.

In a lighter moment as the debate neared its end, Christie was asked if he would share what the federal government knows about UFOs with the American people.

“I get the UFO question? Come on man,” the former governor said to laughter.

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