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Highlights and key moments from the first Republican presidential primary debate

Eight Republican hopefuls — but not Trump — debated tonight, with Vivek Ramaswamy drawing and dishing out the most attacks.
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Highlights from the first Republican primary debate:

  • Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy — who called the climate change agenda a “hoax” — took the most heat, especially from former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called him “a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.”
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was seen as a likely target but managed to largely remain out of the fray. He sustained little criticism from his fellow candidates.
  • Here are some other key takeaways from the debate.
  • Former President Donald Trump, easily the front-runner in this primary race, skipped the debate — he instead taped an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He was surprisingly ignored during the first 45 minutes, then was largely handled in a single question about his indictments.
  • Eight candidates participated in the first Republican presidential primary debate: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Christie, DeSantis, Haley, Pence and Ramaswamy.
41d ago / 3:59 AM UTC

Scott, Christie, Ramaswamy: Wisconsin voters debate who won first debate

41d ago / 3:58 AM UTC

Biden campaign sends 'key messaging points' to surrogates after the debate

TJ Ducklo, the Biden campaign's senior adviser for communications, sent "key messaging points" to campaign surrogates and their teams after the debate, emphasizing that "the only winner tonight was Joe Biden."

The talking points, obtained by NBC News, repeatedly referred to the GOP candidates as "MAGA" candidates and referred to their agendas as "extreme."

"The candidates spent more time shouting over each other than attacking the President because they know their extremist agenda can't hold a candle to the President and Vice President's record of accomplishment," Ducklo wrote.

41d ago / 3:55 AM UTC

'There's a level of hatred I've never seen,' Trump says in Tucker Carlson interview

41d ago / 3:46 AM UTC

Haley: Trump will spend more time in a courtroom than campaigning

In a post-debate interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Haley took a shot at Trump's legal troubles, saying, "Trump is going to spend more time in a courtroom than campaigning" next year. She argued that would leave little time to focus on beating Biden.

41d ago / 3:37 AM UTC

Marjorie Taylor Greene says she was blocked from the spin room


Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said she, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and other Trump surrogates were blocked from the spin room, where candidates and allies get to give their postmortems of the debate performances.

“They just blocked us out. They would not allow myself, Matt Gaetz, any other surrogates to go into the spin room," Greene said.

Gaetz was in the spin room for at least part of the evening, however, and she spoke to NBC News. Trump senior adviser Jason Miller was also there.

Fox News had said that it would limit automatic credentials for the spin room to candidates who qualified for and participated in the debate but that others could gain access if they were the guests of media organizations.

"We argued with them, talked to them, we showed the correct credentials, we had spin room credentials, and they would not let us in. So this is censorship from Fox News," Greene said. "This is censorship not allowing surrogates for President Trump to go into the spin room.”

41d ago / 3:30 AM UTC

Harris calls GOP candidates 'extremists'

Harris laid into "extremist Republican" candidates in a statement reacting to the debate, saying "no one on stage 'won.'"

"One by one, each extremist Republican candidate laid out a vision for an America that is less fair, less free, and less safe," she said.

She referred to the candidates as extremists three times in her statement.

"These extremists focus on unnecessary debates meant to divide our nation in hopes that the American public will not notice they have no affirmative agenda," she said.

41d ago / 3:27 AM UTC

DeSantis stays out of the fray in the first debate

Even though he was the highest-polling candidate on the stage, DeSantis largely avoided conflict. He was attacked only twice, once by Haley and once by Ramaswamy, and he did not attack any other Republican candidate, per the NBC attack tracker.

41d ago / 3:24 AM UTC

DeSantis campaign declares 'a win' after first debate

“What you saw tonight in a lot of the chirping back and forth was a battle for third place — a distant third place,” said DeSantis' deputy campaign manager, David Polyansky.

41d ago / 3:21 AM UTC

Biden adviser points out topics not discussed by candidates

A 2024 Biden adviser listed five points to NBC News that "you didn't hear from the Republicans tonight."

The list included a "vision to bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas," a "plan to lower prescription drug costs for the middle class," mentions of gun violence and plans to address climate change and "our student debt crisis."

41d ago / 3:16 AM UTC

Trump-backed Rep. Matt Gaetz: 'This race is functionally over'


Gaetz, a major supporter of Trump's, wasn't impressed by tonight's debate, saying in the spin room: "This race is functionally over."

He also hit Haley on her foreign policy. Asked why Trump appointed her to the U.N., then, Gaetz responded, "He wasn't always great at HR."

41d ago / 3:14 AM UTC

Young Republicans see Ramaswamy, Haley and DeSantis as winners

NBC News is at a watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.

Of the 10 young Republicans who stayed for entire two-hour debate, five say Ramaswamy won, three say Haley won, and two say DeSantis won.

A watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.
A watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.Alexander Tabet / NBC News

As for who lost, eight students say Christie lost, and two students say Ramaswamy lost.

Sophie Claus, a junior business student and president of Students for Life at the University of Iowa, said Haley won the debate in her eyes when she stood for the sanctity of life. “When she started talking about her pro-life views, that’s when I really started backing her," Claus said.

Sophie Claus, a Junior business student and President of the Students For Life at the University of Iowa.
Sophie Claus.Alexander Tabet / NBC News

Sophomore Kyle Clare said Ramaswamy “showed his inexperience” tonight.

41d ago / 3:11 AM UTC

Pence, Ramaswamy spar in heated Republican debate

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41d ago / 3:09 AM UTC

Swing voters 'likely' to be put off by candidates' abortion messaging

Swing voters may be influenced by the debate if Democrats find an opening to exploit candidates' vulnerabilities, for example on abortion, said Rich Thau, the moderator of the Swing Voter Project.

"Most of these swing voters are pro-choice, and tonight's messages will likely put them off when Dems highlight it," he said.

41d ago / 3:09 AM UTC

Chart: The most-targeted candidates on the stage

Ramaswamy commanded the most attacks in the debate, with 11. See the full debate attack tracker here.

41d ago / 3:06 AM UTC

Young voters sour on Ramaswamy as debate continues

NBC News organized a debate watch party at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, with eight independent voters ages 18 to 22. Seven of them lean Republican and one more to the left (but will be voting in the GOP primary).

Six of the eight voters at a watch party in New Hampshire organized by NBC News liked what Ramaswamy had to say at the beginning of the debate.

As the debate continued, none of them had a favorable impression of Ramaswamy.

“I don’t really like him. He just went downhill so fast,” said Kay Donahue, 19.

Molly Bentley, 18, echoed that opinion, saying, “He’s digging himself a lot of holes.”

Ethan Dupuis, 19, said, “Vivek is really starting, based off his opinions, is giving strong wannabe Trump vibes.”

Other voters agreed Ramaswamy sounded Trumpian. “He was trying to act too much like Trump,” said Max Bedard, 20.

Josh Paul, 21, did not like what Ramaswamy said about mental health.

“He said that mental health issues can be solved by faith. I’m on antidepressants. I go to therapy. A lot of my friends do. People struggled during Covid,” Paul said. “To say that you can just pray away your mental health problems is probably the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen a politician say, especially when you’re trying to appeal to a youth vote in a country that has struggled so much with mental health over the last few years.”

41d ago / 3:03 AM UTC

Ramaswamy says the 'climate change agenda' is a hoax

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41d ago / 3:02 AM UTC

Vance: Stop wasting Republican money

Sen. JD Vance of Ohio says that while “a lot of the people onstage are nice,” none of them are Trump, and none of them can win the primary.

“Let’s end this charade and stop wasting Republican money attacking our inevitable nominee. Donald Trump for president,” Vance posted on X. He has endorsed Trump.

41d ago / 3:01 AM UTC

The UFO question was a missed opportunity

It's too bad the UFO question didn’t have a more specific policy ask or really move the ball forward at all. Fox just kind of lobed the topic in Christie’s general direction for no apparent reason.

41d ago / 3:00 AM UTC

Christie invokes Jon Corzine

Christie pointed to an accomplishment that does distinguish him on the debate stage — that he defeated Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine to be elected governor of New Jersey.

Incumbents aren't unseated often, particularly Democrats in blue states. And Christie's pointing to his surprising win in 2009 was an attempt to capitalize on that.

41d ago / 2:56 AM UTC

Christie finds UFOs ... an unusual question

Christie was almost stumped when he was asked whether as president he’d tell the American people the truth about UFOs, but he managed to pivot to education — saying the teachers union is the biggest threat to education, not UFOs.

41d ago / 2:55 AM UTC

Not all of Trump's allies are panning DeSantis

Sure, Trump's campaign wants everyone to think DeSantis is having a terrible night, but not all his allies agree.

At least one ally offered a positive review of DeSantis: “Good lines. Hasn’t been attacked hard. Sticking to experience and policy.”

41d ago / 2:47 AM UTC

Trump camp keeps focused on DeSantis

Kneecapping DeSantis has been job one of the Trump campaign, and the campaign and their allies have been almost singularly focused on attacking DeSantis throughout this debate.

The Trump war room and Donald Trump Jr. have led the way on X, formerly Twitter, and Trump aides have been passing along praise for Ramaswamy and regular attacks on DeSantis all night long.

“Ron DeSanctimonious’ campaign died tonight as he was leapfrogged by Vivek Ramaswamy,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller texted. “He needed a break-out performance and he failed.”

41d ago / 2:46 AM UTC

DeSantis skips 'woke' talking points

A notable omission for DeSantis so far tonight: the word “woke.”

He touched on some of his biggest culture war issues in his answer about education — banning critical race theory, prohibiting instruction on “gender ideology” and promoting “education, not indoctrination” — but no mention of one of his signature catch phrases.

Haley gets the first mention in her answer on education.

Image: Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis pauses during the debate in Milwaukee.
Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis pauses during the debate in Milwaukee.Win McNamee / Getty Images
41d ago / 2:46 AM UTC

Candidates have avoided at least one major GOP talking point ...

If you had “woke” on your debate bingo board tonight, you still have an empty space.

41d ago / 2:39 AM UTC

Three big debate takeaways so far

1) DeSantis is relatively unscathed.

2) Ramaswamy is the story so far, but it’s already clear, anecdotally, that his performance is polarizing.

3) Fox seems to care more about desperately respecting the Trump base than asking the most relevant questions for the campaign.

41d ago / 2:38 AM UTC

Chart: Who's made the most attacks at the 90-minute mark

Ramaswamy and Haley have lodged the most attacks in the debate so far, DeSantis and Scott the least. Follow along with the debate attack tracker.

41d ago / 2:37 AM UTC

DeSantis shows some emotion

DeSantis showed a rare moment of emotion when he shared an anecdote about a mom who lost her child to fentanyl. He has shared this story previously on the campaign trail. Tonight, though, he seemed to get choked up when he spoke about this “angel mom.”

It’s notable especially because his team has struggled to push him to show more emotion and vulnerability in public appearances.

41d ago / 2:34 AM UTC

Haley missed China discussion

Surprisingly, Haley didn’t jump in on the China conversation. China is her biggest campaign talking point on the trail.

41d ago / 2:33 AM UTC

Ramaswamy winks at Obama's viral 2012 Russia swipe at Romney

Telling Pence, “I have a newsflash: the USSR does not exist anymore,” Ramaswamy cued up another nod at Obama, whose insurgent candidacy he mimicked earlier in the debate with a reference to “skinny kid with a funny name.”

In a viral moment during a 2012 presidential debate, Obama mocked GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for calling Russia America’s biggest geopolitical foe, telling him, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

41d ago / 2:33 AM UTC

Trump isn't posting through this

An hour and a half into the debate, Trump remains silent on Truth Social by not adding any real-time commentary as the candidates talk about him onstage. His Tucker Carlson interview is long over.

41d ago / 2:33 AM UTC

DeSantis wants to invade Mexico?

DeSantis supports sending U.S. special forces into Mexico to take out the cartels. How does that work without declaring war against a U.S. ally and major economic partner unless the U.S. is invited in by Mexico?

Invading Mexico as Desantis suggested sure is radical on Day One. American presidents always went to Mexico or Canada as first foreign visits after being sworn in as signal of importance of closest neighbors. (Except for Trump who snubbed allies and went to Saudi Arabia first...)

41d ago / 2:32 AM UTC

Fox News moderators struggle to take control of debate

These moderators are struggling to keep the audience under control and the candidates in check.

They failed to get a hands up or down on climate change. 

Candidates are talking over moderators — and sniping at one another. 

The audience booed over Christie. Cheers and applause have drowned out candidates as they try to answer questions.

It led Baier to talk to the candidates like schoolchildren, telling them to listen for the bell and the bell meant their time was up. 

Finally, in a recent exchange, Baier snapped at Pence, who relented as he tried to interject. “Vice President Pence, it really doesn’t help," Baier said. "I’m asking a question.”

41d ago / 2:32 AM UTC

Young voters think Republicans should stay out of abortion policy

NBC News organized a debate watch party at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, with eight independent voters ages 18 to 22. Seven of them lean Republican and one more to the left (but they will be voting in the GOP primary.)

Seven of the eight young voters at a watch party in New Hampshire organized by NBC News believe it is a woman’s right to choose when it comes to having an abortion. Those seven voters all said Haley’s response to abortion resonated with them the most.

“I think she’s really sharp, and she has a really good, nuanced approach,” said Ethan DuPuis, 19.

Michael Barnard, 20, believes it’s a losing argument for Republicans to say abortion is a “faith-based issue.”

Malcolm Mahoney, 18, who is anti-abortion, liked Scott’s response to the abortion question.

“I think that’s one of the big dangers of taking a state-by-state approach is that you will have, you know, havens in the United States where the act will continue to go up until birth, which I think is absolutely vile,” Mahoney said.

NBC News organized a debate watch party at New England College in Henniker, N.H., with eight independent voters, ages 18-22.
NBC News organized a debate watch party at New England College in Henniker, N.H., with eight independent voters ages 18 to 22. Emma Barnett / NBC News
41d ago / 2:31 AM UTC

Scott ally: This debate is a 'car crash'

We still haven't heard much from Scott tonight. An ally of his just called the debate “a car crash," given the bickering among all the candidates and lack of control of the conversation.

But as they say, when you’re criticizing the moderators and the lack of rules …you’re losing.

41d ago / 2:29 AM UTC

Republicans watching at home cheer Ukraine answers


NBC News is also doing something a bit different tonight — watching the debate with four Republicans at a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a suburban area with the most Republican voters in the state.

The family we’re with got fired up when the conversation turned to Ukraine.

They all raised their hands — almost joining the televised debate — when candidates were asked about ending future funding for Ukraine.

This is easily the most animated our group has been.

41d ago / 2:27 AM UTC

DeSantis liked Biden's disaster response until he didn't

DeSantis hammered Biden on his response to the Maui wildfires, saying the president was “on the beach while those people suffered,” a reference to reporters’ asking Biden about the tragedy while he was on the beach in Delaware.

“Are you kidding me?” DeSantis said. “As someone who has handled disasters in Florida, you have to be active, you have to be there, you have to be present, you have to help people.”

In 2021, DeSantis praised Biden’s disaster response to the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, that killed nearly 100 people.

DeSantis said at the time that Biden “recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one, and you’ve been very supportive.”

41d ago / 2:26 AM UTC

The two most popular targets aren't on the debate stage

Trump and Biden have been attacked the most tonight — Biden 16 times and Trump 10 — so far. Among those on the debate stage, Ramaswamy has delivered and received the most attacks.

41d ago / 2:25 AM UTC

DeSantis is sticking close to his stump speech

Leaving cartel members “stone cold dead” is a popular line for DeSantis on the trail. From his opening answer’s “Anthony, you’re fired," a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, to saying he’d be a “pro-life president” when he was asked about a federal abortion ban, these are all lines we hear on the trail all the time.

41d ago / 2:25 AM UTC

What was that tangle between Ramaswamy and Haley on Israel about?

Haley's been telegraphing this punch for days, planning to criticize Ramaswamy for recent comments he made about Israel.

What did he actually say? On a recent podcast with actor Russell Brand this month, Ramaswamy was asked about U.S. aid to Israel.

"There's no North Star commitment to one country other than the United States of America," he replied. While he said Israel's relationship with America advances American interests, he said he wants to negotiate new normalization between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries so that come 2028, "additional aid won't be necessary in order to still have the kind of stability."

41d ago / 2:24 AM UTC

DeSantis tries to redirect


DeSantis tries to redirect the foreign policy conversation to immigration — a common tactic for him on the campaign trail.

Immigration is a hugely popular issue among GOP voters. Seventy-seven percent of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers said they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to use the military to secure the southern border, per our Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll.

41d ago / 2:24 AM UTC

Swing voters won't be moved by the debate, source close to the Biden campaign says

No swing voter will be moved by tonight's debate, a source close to the Biden campaign said, calling the GOP candidates "out of touch."

"Fighting over which abortion ban is best or not. Yelling, fighting. No solutions on crime. No mention of guns," the source said.

The only thing the debate changes, the sourced added, is that it makes the Republican field look divided.

41d ago / 2:23 AM UTC

Ramaswamy gets cheers for opposing aid to Ukraine


Asked by moderators whether they would end ongoing aid to Ukraine, Ramaswamy was the only candidate to raise his hand. He was met with cheers. His stance is not uncommon in the Republican Party.

A June NBC poll found that 52% of Republican primary voters would be less likely to back a candidate who supports providing more funding and weapons to Ukraine. A recent NBC News Iowa poll found that 43% of likely GOP caucusgoers were less likely to support a candidate who supported continuing U.S. aid to Ukraine.

41d ago / 2:22 AM UTC

DNC hits Ramaswamy, GOP on climate: 'Out of their depth'

The Democratic National Committee took aim at Ramaswamy and the GOP field at large over answers on climate change.

The field wouldn’t raise their hands one way or another to say whether they believed in climate change. Meantime, Ramaswamy returned to talking about the need for more drilling.

“The country is on fire and Vivek and 2024 Republicans deny climate change and want to pour fuel on the fire. Out of their depth,” DNC spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement to NBC News.

41d ago / 2:21 AM UTC

Debate whistles past Trump as quickly as possible


Trump is the biggest thing in the Republican primary and Republican politics, but he was handled in a single question — roughly the same amount of time as was spent discussing a viral country song at the top of the debate.

After Trump went largely ignored during the first 45 minutes of the debate, the Fox News moderators raised the topic of his indictments almost apologetically, speaking of it as a box they felt obligated to check rather than a critical issue that needed to be tackled. And most of the candidates were not eager to dwell on Trump, either.

We apologize, this video has expired.

The treatment of Trump was a microcosm of how the GOP field, and most of the entire party, has been trying to speak about the former president's problems — as little as possible.

41d ago / 2:21 AM UTC

Haley points to Prigozhin

It is notable that Haley brings up Prigozhin before the Russian was asked about.

41d ago / 2:20 AM UTC

Haley to Ramaswamy: 'You have no foreign policy experience and it SHOWS'

The aid-to-Ukraine conversation may not be popular with the GOP base, but it does give candidates with actual diplomatic experience a chance to show their world-stage bona fides. Pence and Haley both tried to capitalize here.

“You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows!” Haley told Ramaswamy, earning big applause.

41d ago / 2:17 AM UTC

Scott hasn't played a big role so far tonight

Despite a lot of talk about Scott surging and being one to watch tonight, he has barely gotten into these exchanges and created openings for himself.

41d ago / 2:16 AM UTC

Candidates train focus on Ramaswamy

Pence, Christie and occasionally others are practically tripping over themselves to mix it up with Ramaswamy. Of the two front-runners center stage, the other candidates have clearly calculated they have more to gain from taking the newcomer down a peg than from trying to take on DeSantis.

Image: Pence and Ramaswamy gesture at one another during the debate on Wednesday night.
Pence and Ramaswamy gesture at each other during the debate on Wednesday night.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
41d ago / 2:16 AM UTC

Christie goes full anti-Trump — and gets booed for it

Christie arguably had a breakout moment when he refused to raise his hand to support the GOP nominee if it is Trump.

Christie pushed to “stop normalizing” Trump’s conduct — and he was booed for it.

Christie pushed on regardless, pausing many times as the crowd booed as he outlined why he believes Trump cannot be president again.

41d ago / 2:15 AM UTC

This is who's attacked Trump so far

More than an hour into the debate, Christie has attacked Trump four times and Hutchinson three times, followed by Haley, with two attacks, and Pence, with one attack. Follow all the attacks with the NBC News debate attack tracker.

41d ago / 2:14 AM UTC

Hutchinson booed for saying Trump is morally disqualified

Hutchinson got boos from the audience when he said Trump is morally disqualified from being president again as a result of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and that he may be disqualified under the 14th Amendment.

“I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony," he said.

41d ago / 2:14 AM UTC

DeSantis Jan. 6 answer similar to Georgia response

DeSantis' telling the moderators that Pence “did his duty” on Jan. 6 is reminiscent of an answer he gave on Fox News radio last week about whether the 2020 election in Georgia was stolen.

He told radio host Guy Benson that Gov. Brian Kemp is “the authority on that. I think he was overseeing it. I think they’ve looked at this a lot of times, and I think Brian has done a good job.” DeSantis rarely says explicitly that claims of election fraud in 2020 were unfounded and comments on the actions of other election officials, instead.

41d ago / 2:12 AM UTC

Hutchinson floats not supporting Trump, but he signed a pledge promising he would

Hutchinson just delivered a broadside against Trump, arguing he could be disqualified from serving as president under the 14th Amendment, and said he wouldn't support Trump if he's convicted of a "serious felony."

That's something he has echoed on the campaign trail, but it creates an uncomfortable tension with the pledge he signed to appear on the stage in the first place.

A copy of the Republican National Committee's pledge for candidates, released by Haley's campaign, has candidates promise, "I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the 2024 Republican presidential nominee."

41d ago / 2:12 AM UTC

Ramaswamy keeps going to bat for Trump

Ramaswamy has been the most effusive defender of Trump so far tonight. He jumped in to stand up for Trump against Christie’s criticism; he later demanded that Pence promise to pardon him if he’s convicted of crimes. (Pence refused to make such a promise.)

41d ago / 2:11 AM UTC

Ramaswamy digs at Pence

Ramaswamy’s calling the former vice president “Mike” seems like an intentional attempt to demean him.

41d ago / 2:11 AM UTC

Moderators reprimand the audience after their boos

At the outset of the debate, Fox News moderators introduced ground rules, which didn’t include any prohibitions on audience reactions.

Now, in the debate’s second hour, moderator Baier had to reprimand the audience as it booed Christie’s views on Ramaswamy and Trump.

“So listen, the more time we spend doing this, the less time they can talk about issues you want to talk about, so let’s just get through this section,” Baier told the audience.

Image: Attendees stand for the national anthem at the Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Attendees stand for the national anthem at the Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
41d ago / 2:10 AM UTC

Haley avoids directly criticizing Trump, a pattern for her

Haley always comes close to a direct Trump criticism and then seems to pivot away. She does so again here, saying that Pence did the right thing but that she trusts the American people to decide whether Trump can serve.

Some Republicans, both affiliated with other campaigns and not, have wondered in the past whether the approach is too cute by half.

41d ago / 2:08 AM UTC

DeSantis dodges on Jan. 6

Desantis' dodging the question on whether Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6 was an attempt not to alienate Trump voters, but it runs the risk of looking inauthentic in the eyes of others.

41d ago / 2:08 AM UTC

Chart: Who and what's getting attacked the most

Biden has been attacked the most often in the first hour of the first presidential primary debate, having been the target of nine of the 34 attacks made. Pence and Trump are the next most popular targets.

Follow along with the debate attack tracker.

41d ago / 2:07 AM UTC

Pence tries to put the rest of the stage on the spot

Pence tried to press the other candidates to say whether what he did upheld the Constitution on Jan. 6.

Christie took the offer, praising him. "Mike Pence stood for the Constitution, and he deserves not grudging credit" but the thanks of the American public.

Asked directly, Haley also agreed that Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6.

41d ago / 2:07 AM UTC

Scott's answer on Pence not a surprise

Scott’s answer that Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6 shouldn’t be a surprise. Here’s what Scott said on Jan. 5, 2021: “There is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election wherein the states have certified and sent their electors.”

41d ago / 2:06 AM UTC

Trump goes after Biden's fitness in Tucker Carlson interview


Trump wasted little time criticizing Biden in his interview with Tucker Carlson, saying: "I don't think he's going to make it to the gate. But you know, you never know."

Trump also went after Biden's physical demeanor. "He can’t lift his feet out of the grass, you know, it’s only 2 inches at the White House, right? That’s not a lot. But you watch him and it looks like he’s walking on toothpicks. And then you see him on the beach, where he can’t lift a chair."

Trump often goes after Biden in stump speeches and on social media, but rarely with such detail and rigor.

41d ago / 2:04 AM UTC

Most candidates happy to sit out Trump fight

Six candidates seem more than happy to let Christie and Ramaswamy, who represent opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Trump, duke it out, while they wait for the next, less radioactive question.

41d ago / 2:03 AM UTC

Christie undeterred by booing

Christie walked right into this eyes open and getting booed but still not backing down despite Ramaswamy attack.

41d ago / 2:03 AM UTC

Haley impresses a group of Wisconsin voters


NBC News is watching the debate with four Republicans at a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a suburban area with the most Republican voters in the state.

So far Haley is impressing, Ramaswamy is getting some laughs and applause, and one person said Hutchinson reminds her of former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — and that wasn’t fully a compliment.

"He’s going to make everybody yawn, even though he’s completely correct," she said.

“Nikki Haley, I think impressed me the most so far,” said Stacey. “I had some interesting points of view, and she got her Margaret Thatcher comments in there, which I thought she was holding on to, of course. That was one of her cards. … She’s very poised. She’s very eloquent.”

“Vivek is fantastic simply because he’s, he’s what the American people want,” said Mike, another Wisconsin voter here. “That’s why Trump won in 2016. He is not beholden to anybody.”

Image: Republicans watch the debate at home in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday. NBC News spent time talking to the family and their impressions of the candidates on stage.
Republicans watch the debate at a home in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday. NBC News spent time talking to the family and their impressions of the candidates onstage.NBC News
41d ago / 2:01 AM UTC

'Too robotic' ... 'a fighter': Ramaswamy getting mixed reactions from GOP lawmakers

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., watching the debate from home, says, “Christie is right about Ramaswamy. Too robotic.” It's an observation echoed by other congressional Republicans.

“Chris Christie is an eloquent wrecking ball. Christie is destroying Ramaswamy,” said Cramer.

But one senior House GOP lawmaker is praising Ramaswamy's performance tonight. "Vivek is doing the best.”

"He is really coming across as an outsider that is fed up and a fighter," the lawmaker said.

41d ago / 2:01 AM UTC

Unusual hand-raising question

I’ve seen a lot of hand-raise questions at presidential debates, but never on this topic: Would you support a front-running candidate (Trump) if he’s convicted on his indictments?

The first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
41d ago / 2:00 AM UTC

DeSantis team pleased with debate

About one hour into the debate, the DeSantis campaign is pleased. “The rest of the candidates are focused on attacking each other. ... RDS is staying on his message, has gotten great lines in on the economy, Fauci, and Biden’s Hawaii debacle,” per the campaign.

41d ago / 1:59 AM UTC

Dem official says abortion exchange shows support for extreme ban

A Democratic official weighs in: They keep making the same mistake Republicans did in the midterms by racing to embrace extreme positions that please with their base at the expense of swing voters. The abortion moment was defining. Competing to see who would endorse the most extreme ban.

41d ago / 1:58 AM UTC

Biden campaign: GOP views on abortion 'wildly unpopular, extreme'

The Biden campaign has sought to portray the GOP views on abortion as “wildly unpopular, extreme, and out of step,” according to a memo dated Friday. The end of Roe remains unpopular with voters: Sixty-one percent disapprove of Roe’s overturn, according to an NBC News poll.

41d ago / 1:58 AM UTC

New York GOP seems to be loving Ramaswamy, Santos stops by

NBC News is at the New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan.

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., arrived promptly at 9 p.m. ET in a black hat and a gray polo, and he backed away after this reporter introduced himself, saying, “I don’t do NBC.”

The New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan on Aug. 23, 2023.
The New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan on Wednesday.Ben Goggin / NBC News
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., right, seated, attends the New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan on Aug. 23, 2023.
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., right, seated, attends the New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan.Ben Goggin / NBC News
The New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan on Aug. 23, 2023.
The New York Young Republicans watch party in Manhattan.Ben Goggin / NBC News

As the debate started, boos erupted as DeSantis introduced himself. Ramaswamy has reaped the most cheers of any candidate. Jokes about his name are mixed with cheers of “we love Vivek.” But most candidates are getting boos from a pro-Trump crowd.

41d ago / 1:57 AM UTC

DeSantis' camp is happy so far

Reaching the one-hour mark, DeSantis' campaign is feeling good about his performance: "The rest of the candidates are focused on attacking each other. ... RDS is staying on his message, has gotten great lines in on the economy, Fauci, and Biden’s Hawaii debacle."

41d ago / 1:57 AM UTC

Trump who?


About 45 minutes into the debate and Trump has barely come up. The name of the front-runner, who skipped tonight's debate, has been mentioned only five times so far, according to an NBC News tally, and they include cursory references, like Pence's referring to the "Trump-Pence administration."

Meanwhile, Trump's interview with Tucker Carlson already has 75 million views on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, according to its counter.

But that may be about to change, because moderators teased that the next segment will be about Trump's legal woes.

41d ago / 1:56 AM UTC

Pence has 'good command,' says source close to him

For months — even before Pence announced his candidacy — those close to him saw his opening in the race as the seasoned, competent vet. Now, near the midpoint of this debate, a source close to him feels satisfied about his “good command” and his not allowing the “loud ones” to dominate.

41d ago / 1:55 AM UTC

Hutchinson offers one of the first big criticisms of Trump

"It starts at the top with respect for our justice system, that a former president who’s under indictment has undermined by attacking judges, by attacking prosecutors, by attacking the system, and saying he’s aggrieved," Hutchinson said.

41d ago / 1:54 AM UTC

Trump not providing real-time commentary

We are 52 minutes into the debate and no word from Trump on Truth Social. His campaign has been sending out emails that align with the topics discussed onstage. The Tucker Carlson interview has now fully aired.

41d ago / 1:52 AM UTC

Little mention of Trump is 'the story'

“That’s the story,” a source inside the debate hall told me of Trump’s barely being mentioned. “He’s been largely absent from the discussion.”

41d ago / 1:51 AM UTC

Pence not alone on Education Department axing

Pence is not the only candidate who wants to shut down the Education Department. Ramaswamy and DeSantis have also called for the department to be shut down, along with other federal agencies. And Haley recently said that services such as education need to be moved from the federal government to the states.

41d ago / 1:51 AM UTC

DeSantis on the periphery

Interesting dynamics here — lots of Pence and Ramaswamy sparring. Not hitting DeSantis as he was signaling he was bracing for.

There were expectations that candidates onstage would be hitting DeSantis. But so far, no one’s really attempted a punch. Combine that with his minimal attempts to insert himself, and DeSantis has largely been outside the fray.

41d ago / 1:50 AM UTC

Haley hits conservative points on abortion

We apologize, this video has expired.

Haley took the conversation of abortion back to what some conservative advocates want Republicans to focus on — asking Democratic leaders where they stand.

“I would love ... for someone to ask Biden and Kamala Harris, are they for 38 weeks? Are they for 39 weeks? Are they for 40 weeks? Because that’s what the media needs to be focusing on.”

41d ago / 1:48 AM UTC

Chart: Attacks made in the first 30 minutes of the debate

Ramaswamy took a swipe at everyone on the stage over corporate donations and made the most attacks in the first half-hour of the debate. Follow along with the debate attack tracker here.

41d ago / 1:48 AM UTC

Some context on this abortion debate


Scott rallies against “abortion on demand.” Only six states — Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, New Jersey, Vermont and Alaska — have no gestational limit on abortion, per an NBC News analysis.

And few abortions are performed late-term. Just 0.9% of all abortions performed in 2020 were after 21 weeks of gestation, per the CDC.

41d ago / 1:48 AM UTC

Defund the police rhetoric

Pence says Dems are talking about defunding the police … but most Dems aren’t talking about defunding the police and realized it was politically unpopular in 2020.

41d ago / 1:47 AM UTC

Pence on the attack

I don’t think many people expected Pence to be the feistiest candidate onstage. And yet here he is, knocking Ramaswamy and Haley and coming out swinging. He’s brought the sharp elbows.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday in Milwaukee.Morry Gash / AP
41d ago / 1:45 AM UTC

Haley and Pence face off

Haley's going after Pence hard on how they will never get the Senate to vote for a federal abortion law is quite a split-screen faceoff.

41d ago / 1:44 AM UTC

Burgum: No federal abortion ban

"I am on the record and I stand behind that we should not have a federal abortion ban," Burgum said in response to a question from the moderators as he pulled out a pocket Constitution. "We should not, and the reason why we shouldn’t is very simple. It’s the 10th Amendment in the Constitution."

Pressed by Bret Baier about the restrictive abortion bill he signed into law in North Dakota, Burgum emphasized he believes it's a state issue: "What is going to work in New York will never work in North Dakota, and vice versa."

41d ago / 1:44 AM UTC

Anti-Trump candidates have avoided him so far

It strikes me that the two “anti-Trump” candidates on the stage — Christie and Hutchinson — have barely, if at all, talked about Trump. Do they want to be known as the Trump rivals or GOP policy guys?

41d ago / 1:43 AM UTC

Iowa college student takes issue with climate change question

NBC News is at a watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.

Joseph Woitach, a sophomore studying economics and history, thinks Fox News’ question about the importance of climate change misrepresented the views of young conservatives.

"I feel that a lot of climate change is blown out of proportion, and a lot of people are misinformed." he said.

Joseph Woitach, a sophomore studying economics and history at the University of Iowa.
Joseph Woitach, a sophomore studying economics and history at the University of Iowa.Alexander Tabet / NBC News
41d ago / 1:43 AM UTC

Pence tangles with Haley on abortion, calls for federal 15-week ban

Pence (accurately) notes that the Dobbs decision sends abortion not just to the states, but also to Congress. He calls for a federal restriction at 15 weeks. “Can’t we have a minimum standard in every state in the nation?” Pence asked. “A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come.”

It was part of a clash with Haley, who declined to say what she supports in terms of a federal restriction and instead vaguely called for "consensus."

41d ago / 1:42 AM UTC

DeSantis said he was 'proud' to sign Florida abortion bill he approved in rare overnight announcment

DeSantis said he was "proud" to have signed legislation creating a six-week abortion ban in Florida.

He signed the bill shortly after the Legislature passed it in April but did not announce it until 11 p.m.

A governor’s announcing having signed legislation in the overnight hours is highly irregular in Florida and generally a signal they do not want a lot of attention on that issue.

41d ago / 1:42 AM UTC

This abortion debate highlights the difficulty of the issue for Republicans

Haley is calling for finding a consensus. But listening to Pence, Haley, and Hutchinson, it’s clear there is not a consensus for how to address abortion rights on this stage.

41d ago / 1:41 AM UTC

Jan. 6 was full of 'love' and 'unity,' Trump tells Tucker Carlson

Meanwhile ... Trump — the man Tucker Carlson privately referred to as "a demonic force" on the day of the Capitol attack — said in an interview with the former Fox News host posted on social media during tonight's debate that Jan. 6 was a beautiful day full of passion and love.

"People in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they’ve ever experienced," Trump said. "There was love and unity. I have never seen such spirt and such passion and such love, and I’ve also never also seen — simultaneously, and from the same people — such hatred for what they’ve done to our country."

Tucker Carlson sits down for an interview with former President Donald Trump.
Tucker Carlson sits down for an interview with former President Donald Trump."Tucker on X"
41d ago / 1:39 AM UTC

Abortion bans are popular among GOP primary voters, our poll shows

Just 36% of voters approved of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and 61% disapproved in our June NBC News national poll.

Among Republican primary voters, though, abortion bans are popular. Our NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll found that 54% of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers say they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions.

41d ago / 1:39 AM UTC

Haley explains Senate procedure to Pence

Haley’s explaining how the Senate works to a former president of the Senate, while a current senator looks on, is a moment for her. Maybe only to political nerds, but she’s correct.

41d ago / 1:38 AM UTC

Biden tweets, appearing to refer to debate

Biden tweeted, "Climate change is real, by the way," appearing to refer to the candidates' being asked about whether they believe in climate change.

41d ago / 1:38 AM UTC

Christie strikes with 'ChatGPT' jab at Ramaswamy

Christie landed a punch on Ramaswamy, painting him as a political lightweight.

"I've had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT," Christie said.

Christie then compared Ramaswamy unfavorably to former President Barack Obama, noting he used a similar line about being a "skinny guy with an odd last name."

A GOP strategist supporting one of the other candidates in the race reveled in Christie's attack.

"Christie for the win for defanging Vivek," the strategist said.

41d ago / 1:38 AM UTC

Pence recites scripture from the podium

Scott and Pence have both made their faith central to their campaign narrative and to their stump speeches. Pence seems to be doing a much more effective job making a faith-based case to evangelical voters in this format.

41d ago / 1:36 AM UTC

Haley's path on abortion

Haley has really tried to take a moderate tone on abortion without putting forward any specifics. She often talks about “finding consensus” but has not said whether consensus is at 15, 21, 24, etc. weeks.

41d ago / 1:35 AM UTC

Candidates dodge young voter's sincere question about climate change

Republicans had a chance to address a young conservative voter concerned that the GOP isn't making a good enough case that it's taking climate change seriously: “Do you believe human behavior is causing climate change?” he asked.

And (aside from Hutchinson) they refused to participate in a hand raise if they thought the issue was real.

DeSantis quickly interjected, asking not to be treated like “schoolchildren," while Ramaswamy called climate change a hoax — and got booed. It’s an issue Republicans need to make the case they care about but for which they have different answers than Democrats. But that’s not how this answer played out.

41d ago / 1:35 AM UTC

30 minutes in and no Trump question

It’s worth noting we’re half an hour into this debate and there hasn't been a question about Trump or the news of the day: Prigozhin’s presumed death in Russia.

41d ago / 1:34 AM UTC

GOP consultant: DeSantis needs to be told 'not to yell at the camera'

Image: Presidential Hopefuls Square Off In First GOP Debate
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the first debate of the GOP primary season Wednesday in Milwaukee.Win McNamee / Getty Images

From a veteran Republican consultant not aligned with any presidential campaign: “Ron seems prepared in everything but style. Good lines, good message. But someone forgot to tell him not to yell at the camera.”

41d ago / 1:32 AM UTC

Al Gore once had the same injury as Burgum. He was out for months.

Burgum joked about taking advice too literally about going to Milwaukee and breaking a leg, but it’s got to hurt to stand for hours on stage without crutches after he tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball last night.

When VP Al Gore tore his playing basketball in the House gym in August 1994, he had surgery and was on crutches for a long time.

41d ago / 1:30 AM UTC

Ramaswamy: ‘The climate change agenda is a hoax’

Asked whether he believed in human-made climate change, Ramaswamy replied that “the climate change agenda is a hoax.”

The statement appeared to be met with boos.

We apologize, this video has expired.
41d ago / 1:29 AM UTC

Scott trying to showcase likability

Whether you talk to Democrats or Republicans they all say they “like” Scott — he’s trying to showcase that likability by urging other candidates not to be childish.

41d ago / 1:28 AM UTC

Haley leaning into 'identity politics'

Haley is doing something fascinating here: While Republicans typically shy away from “identity politics,” she’s leaning in. But we’re watching her use it as a glancing selling point.

41d ago / 1:28 AM UTC

Ramaswamy knocks super PACs, but he has one, too

Despite Ramaswamy’s broadside against super PACs (a personal topic considering the recent opposition research dump about him and others from a pro-DeSantis group), he has gotten some help from a super PAC, too. 

As my colleague Sahil Kapur noted this afternoon, Ramaswamy has benefited from a super PAC’s spending on his behalf this race — the American Exceptionalism PAC.

41d ago / 1:27 AM UTC

GOP strategist says Ramaswamy won clash with Pence

A veteran GOP strategist weighs in on Pence's decision to go after Ramaswamy: “Pence clearly picks Vivek because he [Ramaswamy] has a bit of juice and thought he could school him.”

Ramaswamy, the strategist added, has “great energy,” and he believes the young newcomer got the best of his exchange with the former vice president.

41d ago / 1:27 AM UTC

Mike Pence comes out swinging

It's telling how much Pence's political standing in the GOP has fallen that the former vice president felt the need to take a big swing at newcomer Ramasawamy right out of the gate.

“Let me explain it to you. I’ll go slower this time,” said Pence, who received silence from the audience when he boasted that he is the best-prepared and most qualified candidate on the stage. "Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie," he continued.

41d ago / 1:26 AM UTC

Pence's plan to cut entitlements isn't popular among GOP voters

Following Ramaswamy and Pence's sparring over cutting entitlements, Americans and Republican primary voters don't support plans to cut Social Security and Medicare.

In our June NBC News national poll, just 12% of all respondents say they would be more likely to support a candidate who wants to reduce entitlements, with just 19% of GOP primary voters saying the same.

41d ago / 1:26 AM UTC

Candidates start bashing each other for 'consultant created' lines

We've got Pence and Ramaswamy hitting each other for using consultant-created lines ... with lines that sounded oddly rehearsed and practiced.

41d ago / 1:24 AM UTC

Fox News asks a climate change question

Fox News featured a young Republican who asked the candidates to address concerns that the GOP doesn't believe in climate change.

41d ago / 1:22 AM UTC

Moment for Ramaswamy

Just struck by how much this elevates Ramaswamy — before this a relative unknown — to be in a split-screen with the former vice president.

41d ago / 1:21 AM UTC

DeSantis, Scott lodge the first attacks of the night

DeSantis and Scott both attacked Biden on the issue of economy in the first five minutes of the debate. Haley was the first to target those on the stage, attacking DeSantis, Scott and Pence on government spending.

Follow the action with NBC News' presidential primary debate attack tracker.

41d ago / 1:20 AM UTC

Audience quiet with Pence so far

Very telling: After DeSantis and Ramaswamy got loud applause with their first answers, Pence got silence — and, at the end, a smattering of applause — after he described himself as the best tested, best prepared and most qualified candidate on the stage.

41d ago / 1:19 AM UTC

Pence mispronounces 'Vivek'

Pence — and the moderators — mispronounced "Vivek," rhyming it with "heck." Ramaswamy has said it sounds like "cake."

41d ago / 1:19 AM UTC

Scott hits Biden on inflation

Scott just ticked off a list of rising prices during the Biden administration, blaming its fiscal policies for inflation.

While inflation rose significantly in 2022 — at one point eclipsing a 9% increase year over year — the rate of inflation has dropped in recent months. In July, prices increased 3.2% year over year, still an increase, but a smaller one than in previous months.

You can see how prices overall, and for major categories of goods, have changed over the last year with NBC News' inflation tracker.

41d ago / 1:16 AM UTC

Ramaswamy channeling Obama

Ramaswamy introduced himself to the audience by describing himself as "a skinny guy with a funny last name."

It's a direct throwback to Obama, who would describe himself as a "skinny kid with a funny name."

41d ago / 1:16 AM UTC

The debate stage: So far an attack-free zone

We're 15 minutes into the debate, and no candidate has made any direct attack on any of their rivals onstage. We'll see how long that takes to change.

41d ago / 1:15 AM UTC

Ramaswamy leans on his stump speech


For a guy who says he did very little prep and said he wanted to remain unscripted, Ramaswamy sounds ... pretty scripted.

Much of his first statement in this debate was taken from his stump speech on the campaign trail.

41d ago / 1:12 AM UTC

Ramaswamy's team sends out a debate bingo card

Ramaswamy's team sent out a campaign text encouraging people to sign up for their own debate bingo card — and, presumably, his email list.

41d ago / 1:12 AM UTC

Scott aides warned he wasn't comfortable behind the podium

Advisers warned us that Scott wasn’t comfortable behind a podium — he’s often the guy who wades into the crowd at events — and we’re seeing that stiffness off the bat. This isn’t the charismatic, back-slapping Scott we often see; it’s talking points.

41d ago / 1:11 AM UTC

Burgum injury highlights focus on athleticism in GOP primary

Burgum is competing tonight with a basketball injury but is hardly the only candidate to make his athletic endeavors part of this campaign.

Ramaswamy posted a video of himself playing tennis shirtless this week, Scott regularly posts selfies from the gym, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is not debating tonight, posted his 5K race times.

That might be an effort to draw a contrast with the front-runners in both parties, President Joe Biden and Trump, who are 80 and 77 years old, respectively. (Biden attended a Pilates and spin class on vacation today.)

41d ago / 1:10 AM UTC

Viral country song gets a shoutout before Trump's name is mentioned

Didn’t have on my bingo card that the moderators would mention “Rich Men North of Richmond” before they would mention “Trump.”

The song, which calls out the powerful in Washington, has become a viral hit among conservatives online.

41d ago / 1:07 AM UTC

Boos for Christie and Hutchinson during debate intro

The audience at Fiserv Forum booed as Christie and Hutchinson — two candidates known for their anti-Trump rhetoric — were introduced at the start of the debate.

The six other candidates onstage received polite cheers.

41d ago / 1:07 AM UTC

Burgum portraying 'strength' by showing up

NBC News is at a watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.

Evan Deal, a sophomore political science student, says Burgum’s taking the debate stage without crutches demonstrates strength.

“It shows that he has strength and that he’s not going to back down,” Deal said. “Hopefully, he can handle the heat tonight.”

Evan Deal, a sophomore Political Science student at the University of Iowa.
Evan Deal, a sophomore political science student at the University of Iowa.Alexander Tabet / NBC News
41d ago / 1:06 AM UTC

Surprised by the stage? Look at the polls


For viewers at home surprised to see Ramaswamy center stage alongside DeSantis: Look where they were the day DeSantis jumped into the race.

On May 24, Trump polled at 54%, DeSantis at 21% and Ramaswamy at just 4%. Now? Trump’s still the front-runner, but DeSantis is at 15%, and Ramaswamy is at 10%.

41d ago / 1:03 AM UTC

Critical moment for DeSantis

NBC News is at a watch party organized by the University of Iowa College Republicans in Iowa City.

Kyle Clare, a 20-year-old political science student at the University of Iowa, supports DeSantis. He said this debate is critical to the governor's keeping his presidential hopes alive.

"If he doesn’t do good at this debate, it may not end well. I think he really does need to have a standout moment," he said.

Kyle Clare, a 20-year-old Political Science student at the University Of Iowa.
Kyle Clare, a 20-year-old political science student at the University of Iowa.Alexander Tabet / NBC News
41d ago / 1:03 AM UTC

And they're off

The first Republican primary debate has officially begun.

41d ago / 12:57 AM UTC

Thinking back to an awkward debate entrance ...

With the candidates walking onstage before the official broadcast, no risk of a sequel to this instant classic entrance from 2016 — proof the most memorable moments can happen when you least expect them.

41d ago / 12:56 AM UTC

Burgum takes the stage with no crutches

Burgum tore his Achillies' tendon playing basketball yesterday, as sources close to his campaign said, and required crutches. And yet here he is on the debate stage, standing with just a boot on his injured leg.

41d ago / 12:54 AM UTC

Trump ally MTG: He doesn’t need to make his case


Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., spent debate day buzzing around Milwaukee, arguing Trump has already done all the debating he needs to do to claim the GOP nomination.

“I told him last week there was no reason to come to Wisconsin, because everyone knows who they want to be our Republican primary nominee,” Greene told NBC News. “It’s Donald J. Trump.”

Greene also undercut one of Trump’s own talking points about the debate he would be skipping — that he might watch to vet possible vice presidential candidates.

“I don’t think there’s a vice president standing on that stage tonight,” Greene said. She has been floating her own name as a possible VP contender in recent interviews.

Greene told The Guardian today: “It’s talked about frequently, and I know my name is on a list, but really my biggest focus right now is serving the district that elected me.”

41d ago / 12:54 AM UTC

Trump can't help himself, keeps posting pre-debate programming

Despite the Trump campaign and outside allies’ best attempts to draw attention away from the debate tonight, Trump himself can’t help but elevate it.

In the hour leading up to the debate's start, he posted about the pregame programming on Fox News three times, even tagging the moderator and another Fox News personality.

41d ago / 12:29 AM UTC

Who is debating tonight? These eight candidates qualified

The candidates who qualified and opted to participate are:

  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis 
  • Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson 
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence 
  • Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina

Trump has refused to sign the RNC’s pledge to support the eventual nominee and announced he would skip the debate. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, businessmen Perry Johnson and radio host Larry Elder were left out.

41d ago / 12:09 AM UTC

What to watch on Pence: Can he make the case Trump was wrong?

No one has a tougher job tonight than the former vice president. He’s got to convince voters who believe Trump did nothing wrong that Trump, in fact, did do something wrong.

But he also has to prove he’s of the Trump movement.

In my last interview with him, Pence wouldn’t align himself directly with the MAGA movement; is that a non-starter for a majority of the GOP electorate?

Curious tonight to see how the MAGA movement is treated onstage.

In theory, Pence should be well-positioned to do well in the more socially conservative Iowa caucuses. But not only does he have a Trump problem with some voters — the kind of voters who may be inclined to praise how he behaved on Jan. 6 might also find his views on abortion to actually be too far to the right. The most anti-abortion voters also appear to be the most pro-Trump in our most recent poll. Tough combo for Pence to navigate.

41d ago / 12:09 AM UTC

Will Burgum come for DeSantis over Covid response?

DeSantis has made pandemic response a main part of his political story and DNA. But does Burgum have the upper hand?

North Dakota, after all, also did not close up shop at the height of the pandemic.

"We know that Vivek and Christie are coming loaded for bear on DeSantis, but the question is whether Burgum can wield the blade and cut through DeSantis' gaslighting of his Covid record, since North Dakota pretty much never closed down," a Republican pollster said.

41d ago / 11:48 PM UTC

What to watch on Burgum: How does he bounce off his injury?

Given the injury he suffered yesterday, Burgum is now officially the least prepped of the debate participants.

Could that be a good thing?

The more natural the newcomer can act on stage, the better. His Midwestern mild-mannered demeanor would have been perfect for Iowa in 1980, 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2008.

But in 2012, we started to see the more mild-mannered candidates not catching fire the way they used to in Iowa. This is a GOP electorate that once picked George H.W. Bush over Ronald Reagan.

Burgum is hoping the Republicans who elected the Terry Branstads and supported the Mitt Romneys are the ones voting on caucus night.