The first Republican debate is rapidly approaching. More importantly, this debate is the first true test for the many hopefuls who seek the party nomination. Former President Trump confirmed that he would skip the first debate. This decision is definitely unsurprising and it will surely give the spotlight to candidates such as Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy to make their case.
President Trump decided to skip the debate for one specific reason. He is dominating the polls. Indeed, Trump has been consistently leading in the polls among Republican voters, so he may not see the need to debate his opponents. He may believe that he is already well-known and liked by voters, and that he does not need to give his rivals a platform to attack him.
The debate is, therefore, the platform and the opportunity for all the Republican candidates to make their case as to why they are a better alternative to President Trump. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have the biggest stakes in this first debate for very different reasons.
Ron DeSantis’ political survival in this presidential bid is at stake. His consistent decline in the polls has raised questions about his ability to become an effective leader on the national stage. Prior to entering the race, Ron DeSantis was the main alternative and direct threat to President Trump’s rule over the party.
The Florida Governor has been praised for his leadership during the pandemic, which led him to an overwhelming reelection in 2022. His leadership of the state of Florida brought him to national prominence and many Republican voters saw him as Trump’s successor with a less-controversial ethos than the Former President. Since DeSantis entered the presidential race, his campaign staff accumulated strategic mistakes, which weakened his status as the defacto runner-up candidate and direct rival to President Trump. Thus, with Trump not participating in this first debate, DeSantis has a chance to make his case; to reassure the Republican voters he is still the best alternative to President Trump. However, his agenda is not that fundamentally different from President Trump but one major difference is that he takes the cultural war to a level that President Trump has never done it, and this could be an important differentiator.
This first debate has a very different outcome for Vivek Ramaswamy. He has been experiencing a meteoric rise in the polls over the last few weeks. When he entered the race, many political experts considered him a long-shot candidate due to his inexperience in politics and public administration.
He never held any political office at any level of government and holds positions that are considered quite extreme on the political spectrum. For example, Ramaswamy has said that he will eviscerate the federal government, raise the voting age to 25, and make fossil fuel consumption a foundational value of his campaign. He has also called for the use of the US military against Mexican cartels and for the NRA to help arm every Taiwanese family with AK-47s.
However, Mr. Ramaswamy was able to slowly gain the trust of many Republican voters, who now see him as a complementary candidate to President Trump. Ramaswamy capitalizes on the fact that the Republican Party needs a change in generational leadership and to select candidates who are not career politicians. This message directly undermines his two rivals; President Trump and Governor DeSantis whose one is soon to be an octogenarian and the other has been a career politician most of his adult life.
Ramaswamy is now tying DeSantis up in the polls. This shows that his message resonates with many Republican voters as he presents himself as the embodiment of the American Dream.
It is now clear that DeSantis and Ramaswamy are playing two different games. While one is trying to stay afloat, the other is trying to cement his position as one of the leading hopefuls of this presidential bid. The first debate will be a very decisive moment for both men.