Who’s up and who’s down after the first Republican presidential debate:
Donald Trump: No rival emerged as the obvious top dog, and with the No. 2 candidate already fading, nothing that happened Wednesday night will seriously disrupt the frontrunner.
Nikki Haley: She stood out as realistic on abortion, tough on foreign policy (through blasting Vivek Ramaswamy) and firm on the need to move on from Trump’s troubles without attacking him directly.
Issues: The GOP presidential race so far has been almost entirely about Donald Trump — his legal endangerment, his hang-up on the 2020 election and his grip on the GOP base. That will probably continue as soon as Thursday, when he reports for booking in Georgia. But for two hours, at least, the candidates focused mostly on the economy, immigration, foreign policy and education.
Ukraine: The grassroots GOP complaint that America spends too much to help in the war against Russia was nowhere to be heard in Milwaukee. Only Vivek Ramaswamy wanted to cut Ukraine loose.
It’s a great example of an issue where the vocal base of the party obscures how most voters really feel. The Manhattan Institute has done good, detailed polling of voters in early GOP primary states. And they want more, not less, action to rein in Russia. On the question of spending on Ukraine, it’s more of an even split.
UFOs: No debate is perfect, and somehow in this one, the moderators asked about “visitors” but not about the Supreme Court.
Donald Trump: Not debating, even with a large lead, is a sign of cowardice to at least some number of voters. He wants the race to be about the legal assaults on him, but without Trump there, it was a brief subject.
Asa Hutchinson: Nice guy with a strong record of service, but he looks like a candidate from another time — not because of his age but because of his style. He’s just not what Republican voters are looking for these days.
Fox News: Trump wasn’t there, the moderates lost control early and often, as the candidates clearly came with plans to swing away at each other. And doing a “raise your hand” question on climate change will not impress Republican voters.
The Fox bell: The dogs of America lost their minds in previous Fox debates, and this bell was supposed to be more like a hotel desk than a doorbell. But plenty of on-edge pups didn’t detect the difference.
Vivek Ramaswamy: He’s zealous and passionate, which might attract some young voters. But he was also loud and arrogant with clearly prepackaged lines. Several other candidates looked at him like they were thinking: “Who is this young guy? What does he know?” And they weren’t the only ones.
Staff writers Bud Kennedy and Nicole Russell contributed to this report.
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