2024

The Milwaukee Melee: Winners And Losers From The First 2024 Presidential Debate

Let the winnowing of the field begin …

For two hours on Wednesday night, eight Republicans managed to do what hasn’t been done since Richie, Potsie, and Fonzi’s day: They made America pay attention to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The first debate of the 2024 presidential election was an animated encounter, to be sure – full of zingers, cheers, jeers and poignant moments. But there was no breakthrough. No clear “winner.” Nor, for that matter, was there an obvious loser. Many elbows were thrown, multiple verbal jabs hit their intended targets – and a few of the candidates went home with sore guts.

But there was no knockout blow – and as a result, there was no decisive moment which shot one candidate to the head of the pack (or rather the head of the pack chasing former U.S. president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump). Nobody committed a fatal gaffe, and nobody loosed a lightning bolt that lit up the heavens, either. 

All the GOP candidates who participated in yesterday evening’s debate are claiming victory today. Every one of them. And absent a clear-cut winner, here is some degree of validity to several of those claims. A debate’s outcome is highly subjective, after all. Minus an outright triumph or disaster, each candidate’s supporters see what they want to see – nd they presume the rest of America sees it that way, too.

Except, that’s not true. With that in mind, here’s a quick overview of the “Milwaukee Melee” as seen from this author’s perspective …

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Fox News/ YouTube

Ron DeSantis: Florida’s governor got what he had to have: A good night. The first question was directed at him, and he got off to a solid start with a strong response that showed a degree of passion critics said had been missing.

DeSantis also appeared to do the most effective job of any of the candidates addressing bread-and-butter issues impacting middle-class Americans.

“We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline,” he said.

A barrage of attacks aimed his way didn’t materialize. Some observers are saying he looked and sounded the most presidential of the crowd. Regardless, DeSantis stayed on an even keel all night and turned in a performance that will likely calm jittery supporters.

Was it a breakthrough? No. But it was a solid showing that should reestablish him as the top alternative to Trump in this crowded field.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Vivek Ramaswamy: The Ohio entrepreneur was a blunt, articulate soundbite machine with some of the night’s most colorful lines – and he arguably exuded more energy and authenticity than the rest of the field combined. As expected, the self-proclaimed CEO of “anti-woke” didn’t mince words, saying “I am genuinely worried that the American Dream no longer exists.”

That’s hardly “morning in America” language, but Ramaswamy’s infectious charisma – and outsider appeal – managed to lend silver linings aplenty to these doom and gloom pronouncements. And once again, he wove plenty of substance into his soundbites.

Ramaswamy also seemed to get under the skin of his rivals, too – pushing them into unforced errors. While some expected DeSantis to draw the most fire of any candidate on stage, it turned out to be Ramaswamy. Little love was lost between him and Chris Christie in particular, with each giving as good as he got. Though it was the 38-year-old entrepreneur’s first debate, he smiled more than the rest of the field combined – even when he was getting popped by his rivals. That’s a smart long-game play.

Whether he won, placed, or showed, Ramaswamy certainly had fun.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Nikki Haley: Her supporters said she absolutely nailed it. “She did fantastic,” one of her allies told me late Wednesday evening. Beltway pundits agreed, with establishment Republicans – and a few Democrats – gravitating to Haley after her strong showing. Her feistiness was on full display – with the former U.N. ambassador even chiding the moderators at one point saying, “ya’ll need to get control of this debate.”

Haley showed no hesitancy in mixing it up with Ramaswamy, either — repeatedly, in fact. She powerfully pivoted from Ukraine to China (her strong suit), telling him, “you have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.” More than any other moment, that line felt like the strongest verbal jab delivered by any of the candidates on the stage.

Haley also enthusiastically played the gender card every chance she got, which the audience lapped up. But Have-It-Both-Ways Haley was on display, too. Consider abortion: She began by identifying as pro-life but then segued into the need for what she called a “consensus” on the issue with a little something for everyone. That may be magic to moderates’ ears – and may even mimic something Trump has said in the past – but Haley should remember this isn’t the general election. And she isn’t sitting where Trump is in the polls. Calling for a national Kumbaya moment on abortion won’t win her many GOP primary votes.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Tim Scott: Serious politicos don’t expect South Carolina’s junior senator to win the presidential nomination, but there is very serious talk about him as a possible running mate or landing a high-profile position in the next Republican administration. For that to happen, Scott must practice the admonition found in doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” After spending two hours largely flying under the radar as other candidates on the stage soaked up the spotlight (notably Ramaswamy and Haley), it was “mission accomplished” for him in Milwaukee.

Scott deftly handled his first question of the night about his record on spending (an odd choice to single him out on this given the sketchy fiscal history of some other candidates standing on stage). From there Scott was on solid footing for the rest of the night, steering clear of the mud-slinging while staying firmly in safe territory.

For example: “…the best thing to do is bring our jobs home from China.”

Scott didn’t razzle-dazzle anyone – but he didn’t have to. That was all he needed in order to fight on another day and continue positioning himself for future possibilities.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Mike Pence: Perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise was how the genial, soft-spoken former Veep turned into a pit bull. He was so aggressive it seemed he only took breaks from talking about God to attack other candidates. For example, he lit into Ramaswamy by calling him a “rookie,” adding, “this is not the time for on-the-job training.”

Then, it was back to God again a little later. Pence may see himself as a Biblical warrior – because on Wednesday night in Milwaukee, he came to the stage with an Old Testament level of ferocious vengeance.

Did it resonate? Not really. Shedding his “kinder, gentler” impulses seemed about as effective for Pence as his previous milquetoast persona.

Which is to say “not very …”

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Fox News/ YouTube

Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor went into the debate at a disadvantage. His arch nemesis, Donald Trump (his reason d’etre for running in the first place), wasn’t there. And let’s face it: What fun is it taking swipes at a no-show? So Christie focused his ire (which he always keeps stocked in abundance) on Ramaswamy instead.

At times, he got downright snarky, moaning, “I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough, already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here.”

Booed repeatedly by the GOP faithful, by the end of the evening viewers had had enough of Chris Christie, too.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Asa Hutchinson: The former Arkansas governor is “Christie Lite,” in the race solely as a foil for attacking Trump – who again, wasn’t there. Hutchinson didn’t seem completely there either, though. As one observer told us, “He looks pale, like he’s been bitten by a zombie but hasn’t completely turned yet.” Ouch!

Hutchinson would have made an ideal presidential candidate — in 1988. Frankly, his few comments sounded like they came from that era, too. Deprived of his foe’s presence, the hosts paid him only perfunctory attention – which is all he’s getting here as well.

Hutchinson is unlikely to qualify for next month’s second debate in California, meaning he is likely to become one of the first victims of the GOP “field winnowing.” Assuming the Zombie apocalypse doesn’t get him first.

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Fox News/ YouTube

Doug Burgum: North Dakota’s billionaire techie governor was so thrilled to be out of Bismarck that he wouldn’t even let a last-minute tear of his Achilles tendon keep him from being on the debate stage. Sadly, his injury was the most interesting thing about Burgum’s appearance. He got a good laugh with the self-deprecating line, “I guess I took it too seriously when they told me to ‘go to Milwaukee and break a leg.’” His lasting legacy to presidential politics will most likely be: Never play a game of basketball with your campaign staff on debate day.

As for his performance on the stage, Burgum – like Hutchinson – was underwhelming. Also like Hutchinson, he will struggle to qualify for the second round of debates.

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Donald Trump: Though he wasn’t there in the flesh, he was certainly present in spirit. Most of the GOP candidates talked surprisingly little about the man they hope to defeat – even when prompted to do so with direct questions from moderators. Yet he was very much present in the mind of everyone in Milwaukee last night, candidates and audience alike.

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to concede this about Donald Trump: While the show must go on, it isn’t as entertaining when the show’s star attraction is missing. And Trump knows it, too.

Worth noting? Trump held his own show during the debate – with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. As of 9:00 a.m. on the morning after the debate, it had received a staggering 169.3 million views.

Trump did engage on social media following the debate, giving props to Ramaswamy for his answers and – as expected – slamming Christie.

Founding editor Will Folks contributed to this report. For much more feedback and fallout from the debate, stay tuned for a very special edition of our ‘Palmetto Political Stock Index‘ this coming Sunday morning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at mark@fitsnews.com.

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13 comments

Nanker Phelge August 24, 2023 at 12:08 pm

Spoiler:

They are all losers.

Reply
Squishy123 (the original) August 24, 2023 at 1:23 pm

The Outlaw Jersey Whale

Reply
CorruptionInColumbis August 24, 2023 at 2:33 pm

LMAO! Good one!

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All Are Worthless August 24, 2023 at 2:37 pm

I listened to some of this train wreck debate last night on the radio while driving home. As with 2020, none of them are worthy of my vote, to include turncoat Trump. I will be leaving my Presidential ballot blank again in 2024. All candidates, all sides, totally Deep State.

Reply
Ralph Hightower Top fan August 26, 2023 at 1:29 pm

If Trump wanted Hillary locked up, then he should have hired her.

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Lord Barfington August 24, 2023 at 3:25 pm

Hey Timbo! Was the Justice Department “weaponized” against Timothy McVeigh? Was it “weaponized” against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? Was the L.A. District Attorney’s office “weaponized” against Charles Manson? Do you have any idea how fucking stupid you sound? Of course you don’t.

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Jack August 24, 2023 at 4:58 pm

My take. Overall, Nikki surprised me by being far less awful than the others. Scott, Ramaswamy, and Burgum want to be Trump’s VP running mate; and DeSantis would take that at this point.

Regarding DeSantis, there are those who think Ron DeSantis can be President and those who have met Ron DeSantis. Now everyone has met Ron DeSantis, and he is as awful and dull as most of us thought he would be, and he lied about being a Navy Seal.

Hutchenson and Christy are going nowhere, because the Republican party does not want to hear that they spent the last 8 years duped by an obvious grifter who cares nothing for the country, other than what he can grab for himself. So they will be drowned out by the fingers in the ears and shouts of nah, nah, nah from the GOP.

Nikki, won last night in my view. She got points from me for being honest about who ran up the deficit and why it is important we support a pro-American country attacked by a murderous war criminal who wants to re-establish the Russian Empire and if left unchecked will attack Eastern Europe next. But, who could support someone who says they would be willing to vote for a man for President who was convicted of stealing classified nuclear secrets, sharing classified information with anyone who asked, and who tried to overthrow the US Government? Certainly not me.

Mike Pence will never be forgiven by the people who planned to kill him on January 6. So he will go nowhere in the party of treason. Oh, and he better say out of Airplanes if Trump wins.

In the end, the big winner last night was Joe Biden. First, he got all of his potential opponents to double down on a national ban on abortion and on forcing people to give up their abortion rights (even those in red states who just fought like hell to protect them.) Second, he got every one of his potential opponents to tell young people they did not believe climate change was real. Third, he got everyone except Hutchenson and Christy to say they would support the most disliked politician in America for President, even if it is proven he stole classified nuclear secrets and tried to overthrow the government. Fourth, he got every person up there to say that America was horrible, that we were in dark awful times, even though almost every aspect of this country is better than when Trump was President.

Finally, not one person on stage offered on policy idea or plan, that is not a reiteration of tired old Republican trickle-down economics talking points. They said nothing about protecting Social Security and Medicare, nothing about lowering educational expenses, and nothing about lowering drug and insurance costs.. They did not even say they had a plan to accelerate our falling inflation rate.

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Ralph Hightower Top fan August 25, 2023 at 8:45 am

Instead of the black Chevy Suburban that politicians and the Secret Service prefers, Trump should have arrived at the Atlanta courthouse in a white Ford Bronco.

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Ralph Hightower Top fan August 25, 2023 at 11:22 am

About Scott calling on God. Here’s an excerpt from John F. Kennedy when asked about his Catholicism:

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president,” JFK declared in 1960. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.”

BTW: Biden is Catholic also.

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VERITAS Top fan August 26, 2023 at 9:45 am

O’Biden SAYS he’s Catholic, but as a Catholic myself, I state with 100% certainty that O’Biden is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT Catholic. No way, no how. O’Biden is a (c)atholic in name only. And the suspected homosexual Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. needs to be kicked out.

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You don’t say August 26, 2023 at 12:57 pm

Yes, Biden isn’t one of the child molesting Catholics that you are so fond of…REAL Catholics, as you say.

Catholics are one sick bunch of scumbags, for sure!

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VERITAS Top fan August 26, 2023 at 10:10 pm

You really believe that faithful Catholics think child molestation is just fine? You actually believe your assinine stupid statement? I think homo predator priests should be castrated and flayed. Does that make things clear for you, you f–k–g ignorant a–h—e?

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Ralph Hightower Top fan August 25, 2023 at 11:27 am

It appears that the moderators need an air horn to signal the second warning that their time has expired.

Reply

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