Inflation, insecurity, abortion…but above all Trump: The Republican candidates for the 2024 US presidential election battled Wednesday on many questions during the campaign’s first debate, minus the former president, surrounded by polls and well-determined to play a spoiling sport.
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The four indictments against the windy billionaire, which have been the subject of staggering media attention, have led to some of the most heated exchanges between the eight people on the platform.
But also to a series of strangers: On the question of whether Donald Trump should be entrusted with the keys to the White House, even if he were criminally convicted in court, all but two of the candidates raised their hands, somewhat hesitantly.
Including Ron DeSantis, the former president’s main rival, but whose status as a rising star on the far right has been called into question in recent weeks.
“It’s time to stop normalizing his behaviour,” said Chris Christie, one of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics who was booed by the crowd.
Donald Trump chose to ignore this meeting, which was organized in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, because of his very large lead in the Republican polls.
And here’s the irony: The former leader has been indicted four times in less than six months, and now he’s crushing all competition in the race for the Republican nomination.
For the former president’s rivals, who are struggling to survive in a political and media world centered entirely around his legal setbacks, this evening was an opportunity to distinguish themselves not to be missed.
Some of the strongest stings were fired when abortion, a politically charged topic for Republicans, came up.
Especially between Nikki Haley, the only woman to win the Republican nomination, and former Vice President Mike Pence, who “dedicated his life to Jesus Christ.”
A staunch fan of Donald Trump, the 60-year-old changed his tune after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — another topic heavily commented on in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Global warming, migration and the war in Ukraine are mentioned briefly, sometimes with confusion.
Other candidates relatively unknown to the general public and potential vice presidential contenders also sought their moment of glory. “Let me answer the question everyone in the house is asking tonight: Who is this skinny guy with a funny last name?” said Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur, eliciting laughter in the gathering.
But the equation has become more dangerous since Donald Trump himself decided to introduce counterprogramming.
The ex-president, willingly provocative, gave Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, an interview broadcast on Channel X (formerly Twitter), voluntarily at the same time as the debate.
During an exchange that lasted about 45 minutes, Donald Trump covered up the death in prison of the late businessman Jeffrey Epstein, or his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
He also doubled down on attacks against Joe Biden, who has been dubbed “the worst president in the history of our country.”
An illustration of the hilarious campaign in which former reality TV star Donald Trump travels to Atlanta next Thursday to present himself to the authorities in the US state of Georgia, where he is accused of trying to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
In practice, Mr. Trump will be formally placed under arrest. And the authorities of this southeastern state should then take his criminal photo, known as the famous “mugshot”, which could have a notorious effect on the Republican candidate.
He will then be released after posting a bail of $200,000.
Among the viewers of the Fox News debate was Joe Biden, who, barring a major surprise, will take on the winner of this Republican primary on November 5, 2024.
The question of the age of the Democratic leader, the first octogenarian president in US history, was also briefly addressed and the president was booed by the audience at the start of the programme.