The Winner of the Republican Primary Debate: Donald J. Trump

AP Photo/Morry Gash

The first Republican presidential primary debate has taken place, and the airwaves and interwebs are rife with the usual hot takes and spin. The anticipation leading up to the proceedings was palpable as the candidates took center stage in Milwaukee. Eight candidates, each with their visions for the future of the GOP and the nation, duked it out in an effort to convince voters that they were the ones who should carry on the mantle. In the end, despite some formidable performances on the stage, the winner of the contest was none other than former President Donald Trump, who was absent from the debate.


The candidates, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Sen. Tim Scott participated in lively and, at times, snarky, exchanges on a slew of issues facing the American public including climate change, inflation, the 2020 election, abortion, and even UFOs.

Former President Donald Trump did not participate in the debate, but his presence loomed large over the proceedings nonetheless. Instead of attending, he decided to give an interview to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. 

Ramaswamy, a newcomer and outsider, was the target of several jabs coming from the rest of the field. Christie called him an "amateur" and said he has "had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT is standing up there." Pence argued that it is not "time for on-the-job training" and that "we don't need to bring in a rookie."

Trump was also a significant focal point for the debate. Christie, who has based most of his platform on attacking the former president, lashed out at him several times, saying that his conduct was "beneath the office of the President of the United States." He even got booed while explaining why he constantly criticizes Trump. Hutchinson also had some sour words for the Orange Man What Is Bad™. "Over a year ago, I said that Donald Trump was morally disqualified from being president again as a result of what happened on Jan. 6," Hutchinson said while referring to arguments made that the Constitution disallows Trump from holding office again for supposedly inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol building.


To sum it up, the reason I contend that Trump won this debate is that while most of the candidates had a decent showing, none of them had any moments that are likely to move the needle when it comes to polling. The former president has only increased his considerable lead over the rest of the field in the lead-up to the debate, and it seems doubtful that any of his opponents made a good enough showing to threaten his numbers.

Moreover, the difference in the number of viewers between the Fox News debate and Trump's Carlson interview is worth mentioning:

An impressive 23.9 million viewers turned their attention to Fox News to watch the debate, breaking previous records and making it the highest-rated Republican presidential primary debate to date. On the same day, Former President Donald Trump, who chose not to participate in the debate, released a 46-minute interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson on a social media platform formerly known as Twitter, referred to as “X”. This drew a staggering 74 million views.

It seems America was far more interested in what the former president had to say than the rest of the field, which further indicates that Trump remains dominant over this race. He previously intimated that he would not be participating in any of the primary debates. However, as the field narrows, he might end up reconsidering this stance. 



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