The first Republican presidential primary debate concluded Wednesday after nearly two hours characterized by fierce attacks among the candidates.
The eight contenders on the stage in Milwaukee each had their moments, but a few really stood out.
Here are five memorable moments from the first debate:
Haley and Ramaswamy battle over foreign policy
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy clashed in one of the most testy exchanges during the debate.
When the moderators asked the candidates about if they would support providing additional funding to Ukraine to help it defend itself from Russia’s invasion, Ramaswamy was the only candidate to raise his hand and directly state that he would not support it.
Haley fired away, saying that the president needs to have “moral clarity” to know the difference between good and evil, and characterizing Ukraine as a “pro-American country” that was invaded by a “thug” in Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also slammed Ramaswamy for comments he has made concerning U.S. support for Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel.
“The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is that he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don’t do that to friends. What you do instead is you have the backs of your friends,” Haley said.
Ramaswamy said Haley’s claims about his positions were false. Haley was referring to comments the conservative entrepreneur has made that he would end U.S. support for Ukraine and instead negotiate a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia, defend Taiwan from any Chinese aggression only until the U.S. is able to ensure independence on semiconductor manufacturing and cut aid to Israel in a few years.
“I wish you well on your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon,” Ramaswamy told Haley. “You’ve been pushing this lie all week, Nikki.”
Haley responded with one of the most memorable lines of the night: “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,” she said of Ramaswamy.
Pence defends Jan. 6 actions
One of the most significant points of the debate came when the moderators asked most of the candidates if they thought former Vice President Mike Pence had acted properly in overseeing the certification of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.
Every candidate who was asked the question backed Pence, though sometimes with different levels of enthusiasm.
Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) said Pence “absolutely did the right thing,” while former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a notable moment said Pence “deserves our thanks as Americans” for prioritizing the Constitution over Trump.
But following an extended discussion of Trump and Pence’s actions, the former vice president asked the moderators for a moment to address his own actions Jan. 6.
“It’s not about January 2021. It’s about Jan. 20, 2017,” he said, referring to when he was sworn in as vice president. “I put my left hand on Ronald Reagan’s Bible. I raised my right hand, and I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and it ended with a prayer, ‘So help me God.’”
“Every day for four years, I vowed to keep that oath, and everyone on this stage needs to make clear whether they’ll do the same,” Pence added.
“He asked me to put him over the Constitution, and I chose the Constitution and I always will,” Pence said of Trump.
Christie says Ramaswamy “sounds like ChatGPT”
Christie offered perhaps the most memorable insult of the night during an exchange with Ramaswamy, who was a frequent target on stage.
As Ramaswamy was criticizing policies designed to address climate change, Christie cut in and branded him an “amateur.”
“I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here. The last person in one of these debates … who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What is a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama. And I am afraid we are dealing with the same type of amateur standing on the stage tonight,” Christie said.
Ramaswamy fired back, saying Christie should “give me a hug just like you do Obama and elect me just like you did Obama too.”
That was a reference to Christie’s beach walk with Obama in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey.
Earlier in the debate, Ramaswamy had invited comparisons to Obama by introducing himself as an entrepreneur and not a politician — using a line similar to one made famous by Obama.
“Let me just address a question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight. ‘Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name, and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?’” Ramaswamy said.
Obama talked in 2004 about how the U.S. could be a home even for himself, a “skinny kid with a funny name.”
Pence and Ramaswamy argue over experience for office
Christie was not the only person to criticize Ramaswamy for a lack of political experience.
Pence described the 38-year-old as a “rookie” and argued that the next president should not need “on-the-job training.”
“You got people on this stage that won’t even talk about issues like Social Security and Medicare. I mean Vivek, you recently said a president can’t do everything. Well, I got news for you, Vivek — I’ve been in a hallway, I’ve been in the West Wing. A president in the United States has to confront every crisis facing America,” Pence said.
Ramaswamy responded, “This isn’t that complicated, guys. Unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear. Put people back to work by no longer paying them more to stay at home.” He added that he did not “exactly” understand Pence’s comment, but the policies he listed are initiatives a president can do.
“I’ll go slower this time,” Pence responded.
“Joe Biden has weakened this country at home and abroad. Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie. We don’t need to bring in people without experience,” he continued.
“Now that everybody’s got their memorized prepared slogans out of the way, we can actually have a real discussion,” Ramaswamy responded.
Ramaswamy said the “real” question is if people want “incremental reform,” referring to the others on the stage, or “revolution.”
Ramaswamy calls climate change a “hoax”
The candidates largely avoided addressing climate issues throughout the debate, but Ramaswamy came down the hardest against pushes for enacting policies to address climate change, calling the idea a “hoax.”
He argued that he is the only candidate who is able to make that statement because of his position as an outsider and not a politician who is being influenced by money.
“I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this: The climate change agenda is a hoax,” Ramaswamy said.
He received some boos from the audience after saying this.
Ramaswamy has railed against the “climate change agenda” throughout his campaign, arguing that it is one of the “grave threats to liberty today.”