Who won the first GOP presidential debate of the cycle? That’s obviously going to depend on who you ask and to be sure, many had their talking points ready to go before the event even started. Sometimes, those talking points have to be reshuffled in the aftermath, though, and that offers a clue as to who actually did pretty darn well.
For example, before the debate, there was a general consensus among the pro-Trump wing of the party that Vivek Ramaswamy would rhetorically dominate and deliver an embarrassing takedown of Ron DeSantis. Instead, the young rookie found himself on the defensive amidst several major stumbles, including plagiarizing Barack Obama in perhaps the oddest moment of the night.
So while the pro-Trump wing still rushed to declare Ramaswamy the winner for obvious reasons (they see him as a Trump surrogate, though they have zero intention of voting for him), they weren’t able to do so with the original framing they had been hoping for.
I ran into @DonaldJTrumpJr and asked him who he thought was tonight’s biggest loser in Milwaukee.
Here’s what he had to say: pic.twitter.com/GtUnttBWc3
— Rebecca Brannon (@RebsBrannon) August 24, 2023
We went from pre-debate proclamations that DeSantis was going to hilariously faceplant because he’s an awful debater to proclamations that he’s the big loser because he didn’t do enough to stand out. Convenient, right?
The same was true of the far-left media. Rachel Maddow joined the MSNBC panel to let it be known that DeSantis did “absolutely terrible.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) August 24, 2023
Many of you reading this watched the debate. Does that ring true to you, even if you think he wasn’t the outright winner? Or does it sound like petty cope from people who are upset that DeSantis acquitted himself well and didn’t have the viral fumbles they all predicted he’d have?
Who actually won the debate? I think there’s an argument that Nikki Haley won on points, as much as I personally don’t like her as a candidate. But there’s also a strong argument that DeSantis won because he did exactly what he needed to do, including avoiding the debate turning into a slapfest about Donald Trump.
Any claim that he was “terrible” or was somehow the big loser of the night simply isn’t reality, and when you note where those hot takes are coming from, it’s pretty easy to see what the motivation is behind them. To put it simply, certain people want DeSantis out of this race now. I don’t think they are going to get their wish, though.
With that said, is this debate going to move the needle? I have no idea. As I’ve said before, there may be nothing any candidate can do to overtake Trump now that the indictments have become such a rallying cry for Republicans. But that’s a different issue than how each candidate objectively performed at the debate. DeSantis did well, and who is doing the hand-wringing over him offers more than enough evidence of that.