Republican presidential candidates (L-R), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy speak during a break in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on August 23, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Image Credit: AFP

In a sensational showdown at the first 2024 Republican primary debate, candidates threw verbal punches, seized moments, and left their marks. With Donald Trump absent, a surprising underdog emerged as the primary target, while familiar faces sought to reassert their dominance. Here’s a quick rundown of major takeaways from the electrifying event:

Ramaswamy roasted

The unexpected star of the night wasn’t a seasoned politician, but newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy. The entrepreneurial novice faced a barrage of criticism right out of the gate, proving that even political newcomers can’t escape the heat of the spotlight. Ramaswamy’s spirited responses to attacks showcased his outsider status and set him apart from the pack.

DeSantis disappoints

Ron DeSantis, once hailed as a leading contender, struggled to stand out. Despite a center-stage spot, DeSantis failed to deliver the expected knockout performance. His responses left him overshadowed by the Ramaswamy-Pence skirmish, raising doubts about his ability to reclaim his frontrunner status.

This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidates, top row from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy, bottom row from left, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. (AP Photo) Image Credit: AP

Haley’s moves

Nikki Haley, known for her resilience, demonstrated her prowess as a tactician. Fearlessly critiquing Trump’s legacy and offering a general-election focused approach, she carved a distinct path. Haley’s audacity to challenge the status quo might just propel her forward in the race, positioning her for future presidential bids.

Pence’s rekindled fire

Mike Pence, with his experience, rekindled his flame on the debate stage. He capitalized on his familiarity with the setting, engaging in fiery exchanges and defending his constitutional integrity. Pence’s stalwart performance impressed even his rivals, reminding everyone of his political acumen.

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Scott’s gentleman strategy

Tim Scott’s “kill ‘em with kindness” approach may have missed the mark. While he avoided the chaos, his strategy kept him out of the spotlight during crucial exchanges. Whether his authentic demeanor will carry him forward remains uncertain, as his lack of aggression may hinder his chances.

Christie’s reemergence

Chris Christie didn’t disappoint those expecting his trademark feistiness. Targeting both Ramaswamy and Trump, Christie livened up the debate with his direct jabs. While his boldness earned both cheers and boos, Christie’s performance confirmed his determination to be a memorable contender.

Debate’s losers

Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum faced an uphill battle to stand out. Despite last-minute efforts to secure spots on the stage, they struggled to make lasting impressions. Their lack of impact raises questions about their viability in the increasingly competitive race.

In a night of surprises, the 2024 Republican primary debate proved that even without the magnetic presence of Trump, the candidates can bring the drama. While some soared to new heights and others faltered, the battleground for the nomination remains as chaotic and unpredictable as ever. Stay tuned for more twists and turns in this political rollercoaster.