‘The Elephant Not in the Room:’ Absent Trump in limelight at first Republican debate

By Paula Escalada Medrano

Milwaukee, US, Aug 24 (EFE).- After almost an hour of deliberating over policy matters, the Republican presidential hopefuls shifted their focus toward the front-runner, Donald Trump, who was notably absent at the first debate of the 2024 campaign.

Trump made his presence felt, albeit in absentia, at the first Republican primary debate.

The debate turned chaotic when moderators said they would spend just a “brief moment” bringing out “the elephant not in the room.”

The eight White House contenders spent some 15 minutes of the two-hour debate discussing the Republican frontrunner, who faces a series of cases on handling classified documents, trying to overturn the 2020 election, and paying hush money to a porn star.

Fox News organized the event in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

And when it came to making their choices known if they would rally behind if a convicted Trump won the Republican nomination.

In a reminder of the power he wields in the party, most candidates raised their hands to support Trump, but Chris Christie did not.

“Let us just speak the truth,” said tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. “President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second to Trump in the polls, chose to deflect and did not confront the former president directly.

“This election is not about Jan. 6, 2021. It’s about Jan. 20 of 2025 when the next president is going to take office,” he said, apparently cautious that any Trump criticism is a loss of support for him.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the most critical of the former president, was the first to jump in and talk about Trump.

“Someone has got to stop normalizing misconduct. Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of president of the US,” said Christie, a former Trump ally who has now become a fierce critic.

Trump had declined to be part of the debate because he enjoys a commanding lead over other Republicans. And the audience agreed, perhaps.

There was a loud applause from the audience for those who praised him, and boos resonated for those who criticized Trump.

Ramaswamy, 38, the youngest and the only nonpolitician tried to gain ground after he faced a lot of heat with Mike Pence calling him a “rookie” and Christie saying the Indian-origin businessman is an “amateur.”

“We are in the middle of a national identity crisis. Faith, patriotism and hard work have disappeared. Wokeism, climatism and gender ideology have replaced them,” said Ramaswamy.

“We hunger for purpose yet cannot answer what it means to be an American. We long for that answer. That’s why I am running for President.”

Christie criticized his inexperience by saying he is “the same kind of amateur as (Barack) Obama,” while former Vice President Mike Pence responded by positioning himself as “the most prepared conservative, the most tested, the most qualified.”

In the one-minute question-and-answer segments, the candidates discussed topics like abortion, with slight differences of opinion but a common stance: opposition to abortion.

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