You'd be forgiven for missing Wednesday night's first Republican presidential candidate debate, even if you're a staunch GOP'er. For one thing, many feel that the Republican party's fate is inevitable: Despite his legal troubles, Trump is still the guy to beat for the January nomination (yes, it's that soon). He didn't even bother to show up for the debate.
The only other candidate being taken very seriously is Florida anti-woke evangelist Ron DeSantis, who seemed to just be avoiding shrapnel at the debate in hopes of not getting hit. He did not have a strong showing.
But even if you tuned out (or didn't even know the debate was happening), you should at least know who the players are, lest something shocking occur to, say, Trump (hey, he's human, he's 77, and he eats a lot of burgers) and one of them should suddenly be a front runner.
Here's who they are and how they did:
Ron DeSantis: As we mentioned, he did not risk losing face at this non-event, but he was still the highest polling politician on the stage and as such the biggest threat to Trump. In some circles, just by not sticking his foot in his mouth, he won the debate.
Mike Pence: The former vice president who is no longer aligned much with Trump still couldn't promise to pardon or not pardon him given the chance. His noncommittal answer, that he would do whatever's fair in the moment, was not very convincing and won't win over any voters on either side of the Trump divide.
Nikki Haley: David Brooks calls her the best Trump alternative, but that's like saying instead of eating garbage, you should drink expired milk. Analysts feel her debate performance suggests she will continue to base her campaign on her differences with the other candidates, namely gender, and try to appeal to moderate Republican women voters who are done—or never were aligned—with Trump. Will the strategy work? If Trump is ineligible or something else takes him out of the race, it's possible she could stand out amid a sea of mediocre males.
Tim Scott: Who? Oh, right, the U.S. Senator and only Black candidate on stage. He's the guy who used his closing remarks—when he could have talked about any topic in the world—to diss transgender athletes. Pass.
Chris Christie: We know he doesn't like Trump and that became a focal point for former New Jersey governor Christie, who endured boos when he tried to point out that the stuff Trump did that got him indicted was… you know… not great? He's supposed to be a brawler in debates, but he got outgunned in an exchange with the far less experienced Vivek Ramaswamy after getting in a pretty good ChatGPT joke.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Depending on how you view things, he may have been the most successful debater on stage through sheer force of will, devotion to the absent Trump, and being the most targeted by the others. That's because he's gaining in the polls on DeSantis and is clearly seen as a threat. When Christie tried to compare him to Obama, did he not realize that he's comparing a primary candidate to someone who made it to the presidency? Not helping, Chris!
Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum: The former Arkansas governor and the governor of North Dakota made so little of an impression in the debate that pundits are already suggesting they won't make it to the next one. No need to remember these names.
So, who won? In short: With Trump still in the race (we think), they're probably all losers.