‘Cringe’ GOP debate brings ‘sad people’ to the stage in Milwaukee

Aug 25, 2023, 7:04 AM | Updated: 7:08 am

GOP Debate...

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 23: Republican presidential candidates (L-R), former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum are introduced before a debate hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023 at the Fiserv Forum. Republican presidential contenders, minus former president Donald Trump, will face off tonight in their first debate of the primary season. (Photo by Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Republican presidential candidates vying to be the leading alternative to front-runner former President Donald Trump fought — sometimes bitterly — over abortion rights, U.S. support for Ukraine and the type of experience needed to manage an expansive federal government during the first debate of the 2024 campaign Wednesday night.

But when it came to, arguably, the most consequential choice facing the party, virtually everyone on the debate stage in Milwaukee lined up behind the former president, who declined to participate, citing his commanding lead. Most said they would support Trump as their nominee even if he is convicted of crimes.

Trump, who has been indicted four times this year and must contend with dozens of felony charges, faces a series of cases that range from his handling of classified documents to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in making hush money payments to a porn actress and other women.

More on Trump: Ex-president surrenders in Georgia on charges he sought to overturn 2020 election

“Cringe,” is how KIRO Newsradio’s Jack Stine described it on “The Gee & Ursula Show” Thursday. “It was maybe one of the most uncomfortable displays of like, vague Americana with populist rhetoric mixed in there. It was really uncomfortable. I can’t vibe with any of these people. Not a single one of them.”

“Let’s just speak the truth,” tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said during the event. “President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact.”

The first question of the debate was, “What are you going to do to make America better?”

“And then it was just populist rhetoric,” Jack said. “And we got to get these big wigs out of Washington, which is appealing.”

Jack wondered how you write that into law. “Can someone tell me the legalese of that?  The president is not a king,” he said. “These people are saying they’re going to come in, and do a bunch of extra executive measures in order to right the country and I as someone who really likes the Constitution, I say to myself, I don’t like any of this.”

The debate itself demonstrated how much power Trump still wields in the party and the reluctance of most Republican White House hopefuls to directly confront him or his norm-breaking activity. And it spoke to the struggle of any single candidate in the crowded field to emerge as a credible counter to Trump with less than five months until the Iowa caucuses formally jumpstart the GOP presidential nomination process.

From former AG McKenna: Unclear if Trump could be banned from ballot

That challenge was particularly acute for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced his campaign in May to great fanfare but has since struggled to gain traction. He was sometimes eclipsed on Wednesday by lower-polling candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, a generally understated politician who demonstrated an aggressive side as he positioned himself as the most experienced candidate on stage.

Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sparred frequently with Ramaswamy. The goal for almost every candidate was to use the event, hosted by Fox News, to displace DeSantis from his distant second-place standing and introduce themselves to viewers who are just tuning into the race.

“Someone’s got to stop normalizing misconduct. Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States,” said Christie, a one-time Trump ally who has since become a fierce critic.

While the candidates repeatedly tangled, most refused to oppose Trump as the nominee, even if he became a convicted felon.

“I saw a bunch of sad people who don’t have the political charisma or the political ability that Donald Trump has, and I saw them effectively raising their hand saying I will be your vice president. That’s what I saw,” Jack said.

“If you are if you are that spineless to say that if someone is duly convicted in the court of law, that you will then based solely on partisanship, pardon that person, then you are no better than anybody that you accuse of tampering with the Hunter Biden investigation. Tampering with the Hillary Clinton investigation,” Jack added. “There is no moral consistency.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the only person who clearly refused to raise his hand, indicating he would not support Trump as the nominee if he was convicted.

For his part, Pence defended his decision not to overturn the election in Trump’s favor, a move that ended their strong partnership, saying he upheld his oath to defend the Constitution.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Gee and Ursula Show

KIRO Newsradio Opinion

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‘Cringe’ GOP debate brings ‘sad people’ to the stage in Milwaukee