Former US President Donald Trump nearly stole the limelight from last night’s RNC-sponsored live FOX TV presidential debate, first in the series in the run-up to the GOP primaries, shocking the nation by calling prosecuting Democrats “savage animals and sick...”, even as eight contestants grappled with each other debating abortion, Ukraine, spending as their focal points in the "elephant's absence".
Trump literally did some counter programming with his well laid out plan, under the advice of his wise legal counsel to skip the debate, by releasing a pre-taped 46-minute interview with recently-fired Fox host Tucker Carlson.
It was released on X (formerly Twitter) at 8:55 p.m., five minutes before the Milwaukee debate. Not to be outdone, Trump’s timing was perfect.
Trump, as expected, complained about mail-in voting, and reiterated that the 2020 elections were rigged, even though he has been indicted twice by a federal jury and a state jury in Georgia of subverting the election process and riding roughshod over the voter’s right to a free franchise, multiple media reports said.
On a question if he (Trump) faces any “Assassination Threats” from protesters and political opponents, the former President sidestepped the question altogether. Instead, he chose to abuse the Democrats, terming them as “savage animals… really sick” -- but there are good people that are Democrats too.
On whether Jeffrey Epstein really killed himself or was killed, Trump said he thought Epstein “probably” committed suicide but “many people (including Carlson) think he was killed,” MO News said the morning news in brief.
Abortion, Ukraine funding, Budget spends of Joe Biden and the border problem of Mexican and other Latin American countries swarming into the country through the porous borders generally dominated the first of the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) presidential debates at Milwaukee at Wisconsin hosted by Fox TV on several of its platforms.
All the eight candidates led by former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sought to outdo each other in the absence of Trump in order to project themselves as the best alternative to Trump, who was described by Fox TV news as “The Elephant is not in the room".
Some other media outlets described him as a "800-pound gorilla" who was missing.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum were all there to fight it out on national issues, sans Trump, who otherwise would have got their attention on his indictments.
"THE ELEPHANT ‘NOT’ IN THE ROOM" -- that is how Fox News referred to Trump, an overwhelming frontrunner for the GOP nominations with 53 per cent supporters backing him against the popular DeSantis, the close second.
What were the big takeaways from the debate? In Trump's absence, focus shifted to novice politician, the young 38-year-old billionaire businessman of Indian origin, Vivek Ramaswamy. He was singularly focused on his election campaign with his main agenda as “America First 2.0".
This led to the most contentious heated exchanges between him and others, particularly Indian-American Nikki Haley, a Trump appointed former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor.
Ramaswamy is the only one of the eight in the field who has come a close third to DeSantis with 11 per cent supporters' backing, against DeSantis' 16 per cent backing as against Trump's massive lead of 53 per cent.
Ramaswamy has successfully projected himself as more youthful and competent, incorporating the aspirations of the youth asking for a change, a New America, with equality and new thinking in the White House, poll strategists think.
However, Ramaswamy found himself under fire from all sides by Pence, Christie and Haley as naive, inexperienced and expressing unrealistic ideas like eliminating the FBI.
He said he would end aid to Ukraine and reestablish ties with Russia. Fellow Indian-American Nikki Haley attacked him saying, “You are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country... You would make America less safe. You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, second in the polls behind Trump, was literally playing second fiddle to Ramaswamy.
With a slow start, he took some time to express his strong feelings about the border issue. He said he would send US Special Forces into Mexico to fight drug cartels, and on abortion, he defended signing his state’s six-week abortion ban.
While swinging and having some breakout moments in the debate, Nikki Haley, the only woman on the stage, called upon her party members for voting on the legislation that raised the national debt. Haley took potshots at former President Trump for adding a trillion dollars to the national debt.
When the other candidates were bickering, Haley interrupted with: “This is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said 'if you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman'.”
On Trump, when Host Baier asked who would still support him as the GOP nominee even if he was convicted on any one of the indictments going to trial, everyone except Christie and Hutchinson raised their hands.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said even conservative legal pundits thought Trump would be disqualified under the 14th amendment, if convicted. Christie said Mike Pence deserves thanks for putting the Constitution above politics on January 6.
Should there be a federal ban on abortion? Most of the candidates seemed to say it should be left up to the states, except for Tim Scott and Mike Pence, who said they support a 15-week federal abortion ban - an appeal to Evangelical voters who make up a big chunk of Iowa caucus voters.
Haley said, as the only woman on stage, “We need to stop demonising this issue. We aren’t going to put a woman in jail if she has an abortion."
On Ukraine funding and support, the Republican divide on the issue was clearly in evidence with Ramaswamy and DeSantis saying they would cut off funding to Ukraine, while the others defended US aid to the battle-torn country against an invading Russia.
US President Joe Biden has been blowing hot and cold on the Ukraine arms supplies issues, taking care not to put any strong weapons into embattled President Zelensky’s hands for fear of misuse, as it’s a former breakaway constituent of the Soviet union.