MILWAUKEE (WCBD)- Ahead of Wednesday’s first Republican primary debate, the plan for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott was to find a breakthrough moment that would catapult the South Carolinians on the national stage.
It was a chance for both candidates, who have struggled to climb out of the single digits in national polls, to raise their profiles and position themselves as the best alternative to former President Donald Trump who has maintained a commanding lead.
Haley found her moments, sparring with Republican rivals on several key issues, notably foreign policy. Scott, however, mostly faded into the background, unable to find an opening amid some of the more fiery exchanges between the candidates.
Here are a few takeaways from the first Republican presidential primary debate:
Haley lands the first punch
Nikki Haley came out swinging during Wednesday’s debate, being the first to jab at rivals on stage for contributing to the current state of the American economy.
The attack came during a question about Haley’s poll numbers — she is currently polling in single digits nationally, well below several other contenders. Haley retorted that she doesn’t “care about polls” but rather about the fact that “no one is telling the American people the truth.”
“The truth is that Biden didn’t do this to us; our Republicans did this to us, too, when they passed that $2.2 COVID stimulus bill,” Haley remarked. “You have Ron DeSantis, you’ve got Tim Scott, you’ve got Mike Pence — they all voted to raise the debt and Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt.”
It was the first of many attacks from the former governor who took aim at her opponents, President Biden, the media, and “wokeness” a total of 13 times throughout the night, according to NBC News. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy was the only candidate on stage to deliver more attacks than Haley.
Haley spars with Ramaswamy over foreign policy
In perhaps one of the testier moments of the night, Haley and Ramaswamy got into a heated exchange over a question regarding whether the candidates would support continued funding to Ukraine.
Ramaswamy asserted that he wouldn’t support more funding to the war in Ukraine — the only candidate to outwardly take that position on stage — arguing that it should not be a priority for the U.S.
It drew sharp criticism from Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley contended that the President needed “moral clarity,” while characterizing Ukraine as a “pro-America country” that was “invaded by a thug.” She then criticized Ramaswamy’s comments on U.S. support for other nations including Taiwan and Israel.
“The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is that he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends. What you do instead is you have the backs of your friends,” Haley said.
Vivek shot back that he wished her the best in her “future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon” to which Haley delivered one of the most memorable lines of the night.
“You have no foreign policy experience and it shows,” she said to deafening applause.
Watch the full exchange:
Scott sticks to positivity
During the debate, Sen. Scott, a well-liked figure within the GOP, stuck to the positive persona that he has displayed throughout the early parts of his campaign as many expected him to do.
The issue is that approach kept him ‘on the outside looking in’ in some of the debate’s more heated exchanges. While other candidates traded barbs on abortion, Trump’s indictments, and political experience, Scott remained largely out of the fray.
“What the American people deserve is a debate about the issues that affect their lives,” he said. “Going back and forth and being childish is not helpful to the American people to decide on the next leader of our country.”
He tried, at moments, to interject himself into the conservation with lines about the “weaponization of the DOJ” and a promise to finish the wall at the southern border, but his comments appeared to mostly fade into the background.
Scott also used his affability in an attempt to set himself apart from the bickering happening on stage, something which strategists and supporters argued could be an effective approach for the senator.
“I thought he appeared to be the only adult in the room last night. He was clearly speaking on policy while other candidates were more interested in landing punches or the performative part of the debate process,” State Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Dorchester) said after the debate. “When you did hear from Tim, you heard the real Tim: a genuine guy concerned about the real issues and wanting to deal with the real issues.”
The Republican Party will hold its second presidential primary debate on Sept. 27 in Simi Valley, California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.