Charlie Spiering: With Donald Trump Absent, the ‘Rookie’ Takes the Heat in First GOP Debate 

Columnist Charlie Spiering writes, "Candidates were furious when Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old newcomer, accused them of acting like 'Super PAC puppets' that were 'bought and paid for' by their donors."

Charlie Spiering

August 24, 20233 min read

GOP debate 8 24 23

As I predicted, establishment Republican candidates targeted Vivek Ramaswamy during the first presidential debate on Fox News after former President Donald Trump announced he would not attend. 

Candidates were furious when Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old newcomer, accused them of acting like “Super PAC puppets” that were “bought and paid for” by their donors.

"Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don't need to bring in a rookie,” former Vice President Mike Pence fired back during the debate.

Observers were surprised that the former vice president appeared provoked by Ramaswamy’s insistence that it was time to move on from establishment Republicans.

Former Gov. Chris Christie joined the fight, saying that he “had enough already” of Ramaswamy dismissing him as a “ChatGPT” candidate fueled by artificial intelligence comparing him to former President Barack Obama. 

“Come over and give me a hug!” Ramaswamy grinned, referring to Christie’s embrace of Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. “You'll help elect me just like you did to Obama. Give me that damn hug, brother." 

Christie might have had enough, but polls show that Republican voters are growing more interested in the energetic young candidate who describes President Donald Trump as the “best president of the 21st century.”

It's surprising to see veteran politicians punching down on an inexperienced candidate, but it's clear that they view him as a threat. Also without Trump present, they had no other foil. 

But even Christie’s attack lines went too far, as the debate audience turned on him when he decided to attack Trump and booed him until he stopped talking. It was a rare moment for Christie, who delighted in combatting angry mobs of New Jersey leftists. 

With Ramaswamy taking the heat, DeSantis, one of the frontrunners for second place, skated by without any contentious moments with is Republican colleagues that threatened his candidacy.

He successfully got his political points across, even though he was upstaged on speaking time by former Pence. Ramaswamy was smart to ignore the questions about January 6th, 2021, and focus instead on the presidential candidate getting sworn in in January 2025.  

The logical conclusion of the debate is that President Donald Trump won by skipping it and watching all but one of the candidates on stage raise their hands when asked if they would support him as the nominee even if he was convicted of any of the 91 criminal indictments against him. 

Ramaswamy raised his hand instantly, followed by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, and former North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looked over to see who else was raising their hands and followed suit, doing it and raising his hand, followed by Pence, and ultimately a begrudging Christie. 

Ramaswamy’s enthusiastic support for Trump followed by everyone else’s begrudging realization demonstrates that Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party. Even without showing up. 

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Charlie Spiering