After a commercial break, the debate continued with the moderator Bret Baier asking the candidates to raise their hands if they would support Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, even if he is convicted in one of the criminal cases he is facing.
All candidates raised their hands, with the exception of the former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson. Chris Christie retracted his hand a moment after raising it and clarified that he was not really raising it.
Christie has deliberately positioned himself as the anti-Trump, almost the only Republican in a crowded field willing to directly take on and criticize the four-times-indicted frontrunner – despite being a former friend and ally.
Mike Pence is in an awkward situation. He’s trying to campaign on his accomplishments while serving under Donald Trump, but has also made clear he is no ally of his former boss.
He attempted to thread that difficult needle in his closing statement.
“Different times call for different leadership. The Republican party owes the American people the choice, proven leadership at the national level that knows how to move a conservative agenda forward. We proved in the Trump-Pence years you can turn this country around faster than you can imagine. And I have faith we will again because I have faith in the American people.”
In her closing argument, Nikki Haley talked about her husband’s latest military deployment, and promised to do … lots of things.
“I will beat Joe Biden and he knows that. I will strengthen our economy and we’ll bring this inflation down. We will put transparency in the classroom. We will secure our borders, we will have the backs of our law enforcement and we will make sure we have a strong national security. And once again, we will make sure we have an America that is strong and proud,” Haley said.
Chris Christie is from Democratic New Jersey, and argued that his ability to win the governor’s office twice makes him the right man to beat Joe Biden.
“I’m the only one on this stage who has ever beaten the Democratic incumbent in election. I did it in a deep-blue state, being outspent three to one,” Christie said. “Beating a Democratic incumbent is not easy. The last Democratic incumbent president who was defeated was Jimmy Carter, and he was defeated by a conservative governor from a blue state who knew how to get results, who stood for the truth, who cared about accountability, and stood strong and hard against waste. Those are the very things that I did in my eight years as governor of New Jersey, and exactly what I’ll do as president of the United States.”
As he did when he kicked of his campaign in May, Tim Scott mixed reminiscence about his mother with rightwing messaging.
“I had the good fortune to have a mom who worked 16-hour days, making sure we had food on our tables. She taught me that if you’re able-bodied in America, you work, if you take out a loan, you pay it back, you commit a violent crime, you go to jail. And if God made you a man, you play sports against men,” the South Carolina senator said.
Asa Hutchinson asked voters to say no to Joe Biden, and also to Donald Trump.
“Our nation is in trouble. It is in trouble because of failed leadership. And the solution is not full more years of Joseph Biden. The solution is not full more years of Donald Trump. The solution is new leadership that can bring bold ideas to America and to bring out the best of America,” he said.
Now we’re on to the closing arguments part of the debate, where candidates get to make their case without anybody interrupting them (a dynamic Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence and Chris Christie all probably appreciate).
First up is Doug Burgum, who invoked the plains of his home state in promising to make Americans’ lives better:
When I’m on a horseback in the badlands of North Dakota, it looks like the horizon is just limitless. And when you can almost see beyond that horizon, you can see that this great country, our future is unlimited, but we’ve got to focus on innovation, not regulation. We’ve got to cut the red tape, we got to drive ourselves forward. The way we win the cold war with China is by growing our economy through innovation, and as [resident, I will bring out the best of America, I will improve every American life.
American students are struggling to recover from the school closures and shift to remote learning Covid-19 caused, creating what some consider an “education crisis”. The Republican candidates were asked how they’d solve it, and Vivek Ramaswamy, who supports dismantling the education department and other parts of the federal government, said unmarried mothers were partially to blame.
“Part of the problem is we also have a federal government that pays single women more not to have a man in the house than to have a man in the house, contributing to an epidemic of fatherlessness. And I think that goes hand in glove with the education crisis as well because, we have to remember, education starts with the family and the nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind,” the entrepreneur said.
Unlike in recent election cycles, when Republican candidates tended to completely reject the realities of global heating, most of the GOP presidential hopefuls (except Vivek Ramaswamy) have at some point acknowledged that the climate crisis is real.
But almost all the candidates have indicated they’re not interested in dwelling on the topic – or doing much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or the use of fossil fuels.
Ron DeSantis immediately derailed efforts to elicit a clear yes or no response from candidates on whether they believe in human-caused climate change. He said “let’s have the debate” before proceeding not to have the debate.
Ramaswamy was notably the only candidate to full-throatedly deny climate science, making the unsubstantiated claim that “more people are dying a bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
Nikki Haley, on the other hand said “climate change is real” but then pushed off all responsibility to take care of it on India and China. Both those countries have lower per-capita carbon emissions than the US. And as of the latest figures, from 2021, no country had emitted more carbon dioxide since 1850 than the United States.
About halfway through the debate, candidates were asked whether they believe then vice-president Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6, when he refused Trump’s efforts to sabotage the counting of electoral votes.
Most candidates resoundingly supported Pence’s actions following the insurrection at the Capitol. “Absolutely he did the right thing,” the South Carolina senator Tim Scott said. Nikki Haley agreed. “I do think Mike Pence did the right thing and I think we need to give him credit for it,” she said.
But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis avoided the question, instead choosing to rail on the “weaponization” of federal agencies under the Biden administration. “This election is not about January 6, 2021,” he said, adding that it’s about January 2025, when the next president will take office.
Pressed by moderators to answer the question, DeSantis said: “Mike did his duty. I have no beef with him.”
Christie called out the Florida governor’s lackluster support. “Mike Pence stood for the constitution and he deserves not grudging credit,” he said. “He deserves our thanks as Americans for putting the constitution above personal and political pressure.”
Ron DeSantis has surprisingly hung back and stayed out of the fray during much of this debate, but jumped at the opportunity to articulate a vision of a militarized border with Mexico – repeatedly endorsing the use of “lethal force” to slow irregular migration.
“I’m not gonna send troops to Ukraine, but I am gonna send them to our southern border,” said the Florida governor. “When these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border, that’s going to be the last thing they do. We’re going to use force and we’re going to leave them stone cold dead.”
Donald Trump wrapped up his interview with Tucker Carlson by warning of the threat of conflict in the US after saying that he expects the Democrats to steal the 2024 election from him.
The former president also described the crowd that stormed the Capitol on 6 January 2021 as full of “love and unity” while appearing to justify the violence as the result of legitimate grievance.
Asked by Carlson if he thinks the country is headed to “civl war” and “open conflict”, Trump said he didn’t know but then added: “I can say this. There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen. There’s a level of hatred, that I’ve never seen and that’s probably a bad combination.”
Carlson responded: “That is a bad combination.”
The remarks came after Trump defended the crowd that gathered to hear him speak on January 6. Trump suggested that he told the protestors to behave “peacefully and patriotically” but “a very small group” went to the Capitol.
“People in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they’ve ever experienced. There was love in that crowd, and unity. I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love. And I’ve also never seen simultaneously, and from the same people, such hatred of what they’ve done to our country,” he said.