Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

    OP-ED: The Winners and Losers of the December Republican Debate

    Clay Banks via Unsplash

    The field is thinning in the GOP primary. With just five notable candidates remaining, presidential contenders Ron Desantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Nikki Haley took the debate stage this Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The fifth opponent, former President Donald Trump, did not attend.

    The two-hour long debate included few surprises, with yelling, opposition, and interruptions having made their way onto the stage. Candidates discussed topics ranging from immigration to their attitudes towards absent contender Donald Trump. While the debate allowed some to shine, for others, it established the demise of their candidacy. Here are the winners and losers:


    Chris Christie: At this point, it is fairly apparent that former President Donald Trump will receive the GOP nomination.With over half of polled voters backing the former president, it seems no candidate on the debate stage will be the Republican nominee. Whilst this may be true, Christie proved himself as a viable, distinguished candidate. Clearly skilled at the art of debate, the former Governor of New Jersey made firm points, most remarkably calling Vivek Ramaswamy an “obnoxious blowhard.” More so, he commanded a paternalistic role on stage. As Ramaswamy questioned the intelligence of opponent Nikki Haley by comparing her to his three-year-old, Christie came to her defense by refuting the basis of such a claim. “What we don’t agree on is that this is a smart, accomplished woman. You should stop insulting her,” said Christie. Christie’s paternalism served him well. As candidates yelled over one another and held up cheesy signage calling others “corrupt,” Christie’s ability to remain mature and respond in a sophisticated manner allowed him to come across as competent.

    The Democrats: Perhaps no one on the debate stage helped the democrats more than Vivek Ramaswamy. In efforts to attack leading challenger Nikki Haley, who he referred to as “corrupt” and “fascist,” Ramaswamy stated that perhaps “the only person more fascist than the Biden regime now is Nikki Haley.” In multiple efforts to attack fellow candidates, he constantly pointed out the ways in which they were “far worse” than Democrats. If some of the Republican candidates are worse, then why should we vote for them?

    Donald Trump: For a man who couldn’t even be bothered to show up to the debate, he certainly drew attention. An entire debate segment was dedicated to discussing the former president’s candidacy. While the debate provided an opportunity for candidates to remind the audience that there are alternatives to Trump, spending an entire segment on the former president provided a clear reminder that he is surpassing  his opponents in every polling metric.


    Nikki Haley: The former ambassador had her moments, like stating a response was “not worth her time” after Ramaswamy claimed she used identity politics as a form of intellectual fraud. The attacks by Ramaswamy and Desantis made it clear she was the frontrunner and a clear target among the group. The night wasn’t necessarily a bad one for Haley, but she did not offer a stand out performance. She found herself on the defensive for much of the night, on issues ranging from China to gender-affirming care, which took away from her ability to navigate the conversation in her desired direction.


    Vivek Ramaswamy: The entire debate felt like a last ditch effort by Ramaswamy to establish himself as a leading candidate. Swinging left, right, and all over the place, it appeared as though the entrepreneur was making constant attacks just to see what might stick. In addition, he spewed dangerous support of propagandist ideas such as the “2020 election hoax” and “near fascism” under President Biden. The crowd showed disdain towards Ramaswamy. No one got more “boos” from the audience than him, especially when it came to his attacks on opponent Nikki Haley.

    Ron Desantis: While some claim Ron emerged from this debate victorious, it felt the Florida governor was grasping at straws to try and connect with the audience. Chris Christie called out Desantis for being “afraid to offend,” which felt like an accurate description. His desire to appease the audience through intellectually underdeveloped, simplistic phrases – like equating gender affirming care for transgender minors as “gender mutilation” – felt performative. It seemed as though he was desperate to elicit a positive response from the crowd; whilst this might be the nature of political debate, it came across as inauthentic, especially when candidates like Chris Christie were stout in their convictions.

    NewsNation: While the candidates’ inability to act in a civilized, non-interrupting manner may not be in the control of moderators, it does not reflect well on the network when candidates yell, interrupt, and break debate rules.

    While Thursday’s debate is unlikely to significantly impact the trajectory of the GOP primary, it did offer insight into the candidates’ values, attitudes, and perspectives on the race. With the remaining number of contenders narrowing, it is likely that the candidate pool will slim further over the next few months. As for what’s next, CNN will host the next Republican debate on January 10th, 2024. While it seems unlikely former President Donald Trump will attend, given the successful polling numbers in spite of his absence, the January debate will provide the remaining candidates with yet another opportunity to fight for the nomination.


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    About the Contributor
    Bianca Bays
    Bianca Bays, Senior Editor
    Bianca is a sophomore from Newport Beach, California majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Business. She is passionate about community organizing and political engagement. In addition To VPR, Bianca is involved in Chancellor’s Scholars, Women in Government, and ‘Dore for a Day. In her free time, Bianca enjoys reading, watching Ohio State football, and trying new workout classes in Nashville.