Key Takeaways From GOP Primary Debate: Trump Pardon, DOJ, & More

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The first primary debate for the 2024 presidential election cycle went down in Milwaukee Wednesday night (August 23), pitting eight Republican candidates against each other over a variety of topics and hot-button issues, from abortion and climate change to supporting Ukraine. Moderated by Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, the presidential hopefuls attacked each other’s credentials, sentiments, and stances on stage.

Former President Donald Trump, who’s the GOP front-runner, declined to show up to the debate, but hat doesn’t mean the night wasn’t full of standout moments. Here are three key takeaways from the debate.

Newcomer Ramaswamy Attacked From All Angles


Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur, was the No. 1 target of his opponents that night, getting assailed over his age, political experience, and stances on certain issues. Gov. Chris Christie insulted Ramaswamy, stating he’d “had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT” during his foe’s opening statement.

When candidates were asked if human behavior contributes to climate change, he called the environmental crises a “hoax” in a swat at his opponents.

“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 stated.

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley slammed him for his position on backing Ukraine in their ongoing war against Russia, forcing him to clarify that he would simply negotiate a ceasefire between the two countries.

“The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is that he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia,” she said as the two exchanged blows. “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows,”

On top of that, former Vice President Mike Pence constantly knocked the youngest candidate on stage for his lack of know-how on international relations.

“We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” Pence said while touting his experience in the Oval Office. “Now is not the time for on-the-job training.”

Tim Scott Calls Out ‘Weaponization’ Of DOJ


South Carolina Senator Tim Scott remained mostly in the background during the debate, but he had some scathing comments about the U.S. Department of Justice. He vowed to stop the “weaponization” of the federal agency amid the ongoing investigation into the January 6 insurrection and Trump.

“We need Lady Justice to wear a blindfold. Without that, no one has confidence in our justice system,” he stated, adding that he would fire U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray if elected.

The longtime Senator claims the DOJ is being used against political opponents, parents attending school board meetings, and “conservative causes.”

While the president has the power to appoint the U.S. Attorney General, there’s no legislative framework around whether the president can give orders to the agency. While both offices are under the Executive Branch, the Department of Justice has been largely seen as an independent investigative body.

Despite these longtime accusations by right-wing pundits and politicians, Biden has remained largely quiet on the criminal proceedings against Trump.

Pence Dances Around Pardoning Trump


One of the most widely talked about moments of the night was Pence’s stance on the January 6 riots and plot to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of election results. During the chaos, the mob almost got their hands on Pence and many have threatened his life for rebuking Trump’s false election claims.

Pence doubled down on his actions that fateful day, saying Trump “had no right to overturn the election.”

“The American people deserve to know that the president asked me in his request that I reject or return votes,” Pence said. “He asked me to put him over the Constitution and I chose the Constitution.”

Many of his opponents that night also commended Pence for pushing back against the 45th president, who’s now facing dozens of indictments over the insurrection. Things shifted into candidates being asked about what they would do as president if Trump was convicted of the crimes.

Pence didn’t give a definitive answer, leading to a quick retort by Ramaswamy.

“Join me in making a commitment that on day one you would pardon Donald Trump,” the entrepreneur demanded.

“I don’t know why you assume Donald Trump will be convicted of these crimes,” Pence responded. “That is the difference between you and me. I have given pardons when I was governor of the state of Indiana. It usually follows a finding of guilt and contrition by the individual that’s been convicted.”

The former vice president added, “If I am president of the United States, we’ll give fair consideration to any pardon requests.”

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