First Republican debate hinges on disinformation, marks Trump’s absence

By Sophie Foster

Opinion Editor

If squeezing as many borderline parodic, buzzword-packed lines into a two-hour time span as possible were an Olympic sport, the 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls would all be contenders for the gold.

The party’s first primary debate of the 2024 election cycle, facilitated by Fox News, took place on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Eight candidates took to the stage to argue the case for their earning of the Republican nomination for the general election next year.

Key themes of the evening ultimately boiled down to misinformation and unsurprising one-liners regarding the state of the United States amid President Joe Biden’s tenure in the Oval Office.

This included an inaccurate claim from former Vice President Mike Pence that 70 percent of Americans are in support of decreased abortion access, the false statement from entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy that “more people are dying of bad climate change policies” than climate change itself, and the assertion from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that COVID-19 lockdowns were caused by “deep state bureaucrats” that sent the economy into turmoil.

Other baseless sentiments expressed by DeSantis included the empty promise to lower gas prices and an unverifiable story of a woman he claimed to know that survived numerous attempted abortions.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also contributed to the pattern of misinformation, sharing claims alongside DeSantis that fentanyl was on a path of destruction through the United States as a result of unconfirmable Mexican terrorism and fictionalized Chinese manipulation.

Pence, meanwhile, spent his speaking time ruminating on God and his commitment to “Jesus Christ, our lord and savior,” in between desperate attempts to ride on the coattails of the highly controversial and contentious Trump administration despite lack of direct correlation between his former position as Vice President and the talking points he employed.

Much of the debate continued to be populated by unremarkable grasps at audience attention. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott meandered, rambling about taking back jobs supposedly stolen by China and making the United States better via unspecific means.

Meanwhile, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum came equipped with a bound copy of the U.S. Constitution, which he whipped out in order to argue in favor of getting back “to freedom and liberty for the people.”

Every candidate on the debate stage went to great lengths to criticize President Biden, seemingly forgetting that, until the general elections, their opponents are the other Republicans on stage rather than the incumbent. Thus, there were several periods during which little was accomplished in terms of distinguishing themselves from one another.

Ramaswamy was the surprising figure of vocality; trending well behind favored candidates prior to the debate, he gained interest among a vocal audience by announcing his admiration for former President Donald Trump, whom he considers the “greatest president of the twenty-first century.”

The political ambitions of Ramaswamy in his bid for the office are to “unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, and race nuclear,” as well as to defund the Department of Education, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Administration for Children and Families, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service in favor of diverting that money to parents.

“The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind,” Ramaswamy said.

Ultimately, though egregious and appalling, many of these claims come as no surprise to those aware of the Republican Party’s recent right wing extremist shifts. The fact that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was

the most reasonable on stage exemplifies just how dire the reality of these presidential platforms is; Haley, at least, admitted abortion requires nuance and climate change is real, though she placed the blame for the latter squarely on the shoulders of China and India.

Additionally, six of eight present candidates — exceptions being Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — indicated refusal to withhold support for Trump should he be found criminally responsible for 2020 election interference.

“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.”

While the winner of the debate remains hazy, one evident loser emerged the following day: Trump himself, who was absent from the debate despite candidacy for the office. He surrendered to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday, Aug. 24 on 13 counts of criminal felonies, according to the Fulton Grand Jury.

In lieu of debate attendance, Trump gave a pre-recorded interview on Twitter, now rebranded as X, with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, citing poll numbers surpassing those of his fellow candidates by such a margin that he deemed them “irrelevant,” according to AP News.

“Do I sit there for one hour or two hours or whatever it’s going to be and get harassed by people who shouldn’t even be running for President?” Trump asked Carlson, who was recently fired from Fox News after a defamation lawsuit.

In reference to his chief rival, DeSantis, Trump shared a belief that the governor is “gone-zos…People have figured him out. He’s gone.”

The pair also discussed the possibility that one of Trump’s competitors may attempt physical violence against him and that attempts for election fraud may transpire in 2024.

More debates are to follow ahead of the primary elections, which will begin in March of 2024 in some states. It is unclear whether or not Trump, who currently awaits trial, will be in attendance.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo Caption: Former President Donald Trump surrendered to Georgia’s Fulton County Jail on Thursday, Aug. 24.

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