Eight Republican presidential hopefuls squared off in the first GOP primary debate on Wednesday in Milwaukee, WI. While frontrunner Donald Trump was a no show at the event moderated by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson, and Doug Burgum all made the cut and appeared.
While Megyn doesn’t believe any of the candidates on the debate stage did enough to put a dent in Trump’s double-digit lead, she does believe some of them clarified what their roles are in this race. On Thursday’s show, she was joined by National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke to break down what each GOP hopeful brings to the table.
Where the GOP Candidates Stand
Considering the list of 2024 GOP presidential candidates not named Trump, Megyn said she watched the debate with an eye toward: “What is the justification for each of these candidates?” In some cases, she saw the reasoning. In others, she did not.
- Ramaswamy: “I get it – young, new blood; Trump-y but younger and more vibrant; next generation,” she said. “That’s how he wants us to perceive him at least.”
- DeSantis: “Conservative fighter… but maybe not that traditional,” Megyn noted. “He is different on Ukraine and a couple of things.”
- Christie: “He’s there to… attack Trump,” she explained. “He’s there for the ‘Never Trumpers’ and for the people who hate Donald Trump who aren’t necessarily ‘Never Trumpers’ but are very mad at Trump and not really inclined to vote for him.”
- Pence and Haley: “I think [Pence] and Nikki Haley are both there as a little bit more of the conservative, traditional Republican that we’re used to,” she shared. “But only one of them is really necessary.”
As for the rest of the field that qualified for the first debate: “Burgum has got to go, [Hutchinson] has got to go, and I think Tim Scott is going to go… I think it’s over for him,” Megyn added.
A Closer Look at Mike Pence
While Pence might fall into what Megyn referred to as more of the “traditional Republican” role as far as policy is concerned, she believes the former vice president served an additional purpose in the first debate. “I think Mike Pence is helping the country work out the conscience around January 6,” she explained. “He doesn’t need to stay forever, but… it’s actually important… just to be reminded of what was at stake on that day.”
Megyn acknowledged that the events that transpired on January 6 at the Capitol are “not a deal breaker” for some 70 percent of the Republican electorate, but she still believes “we do need a little bit of closure on what happened with the Republican Party at the end of the 2020 election.”
In her view, the former Indiana governor provided some of that in his answers at the debate:
“You know, it’s not about looking back at January 2021. It’s about January 20, 2017. I put my left hand on Ronald Reagan’s Bible, I raised my right hand, and I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And it ended with a prayer: ‘So help be God.’ It was a promise that I made to the American people. But I also made it, made it to my heavenly Father. Every day for four years, I set out to keep that oath…”– Mike Pence, August 23, 2023
Cooke agreed that Pence represents a position that is otherwise largely absent from the Republican field. “He’s telling the truth about what happened in 2020,” he said. “Trump lost the election, and Trump won’t say that. Unfortunately, many of the other candidates won’t say that either. DeSantis whiffed on it last night, disappointingly.”
As Cooke explained, “it is simply not true” that Pence – as vice president – had “some freestanding power to reverse Congress’ ratification of the election process… even if he wanted to.” Trump has been criticizing Pence “for his refusal to do something that he could never do,” he noted. “Pence hears this from voters quite often and, I think, has been admirable in calmly, politely, and correctly pushing back at it.”
That is why Cooke would like to see Pence’s presence in the primary. “You need someone on the stage – preferably Mike Pence himself – who is going to say that this is not how our system works, that is not what happened in 2020, and if we are going to spend our time re-litigating the past instead of looking forward to the future, then we need to do so accurately,” he said.
Why Ron DeSantis Needs to Be Himself
When it comes to Gov. DeSantis, he largely faded into the background of the debate and looked a bit uncomfortable at times – be it his facial expressions or hand raising – battling between, in Cooke’s words, “who he actually is” and “who he has been told to be.”
At this point in the race, both Cooke and Megyn agreed that DeSantis has very little to lose. As such, Cooke would like to see him be himself – “foibles” and “flaws” included. “Ron DeSantis is a very intelligent man who is clearly irritated by a lot of the machinations that he has to go through as a political candidate,” he explained. “DeSantis does not have the affect that our most electorally successful politicians tend to have… He has his own thing.”
While he may not have Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama’s charisma, Cooke said he has his own lane. “If he’s going to become president, then it will be on the back of [his] own thing,” he shared. “It will be on the back of his saying, ‘Look, I am a middle class kid from Tampa, who became the governor of Florida, did a really terrific job at it, bucked the conventional wisdom, and now I’m running for president to deliver for you.”
Given the state of the polls, Cooke admitted the strategy may not work at this point. Even so, more authenticity from DeSantis can’t hurt. “He’s caught in the middle, and you can see it over and over again,” he concluded. “When he made that emphatic statement and then tried to do that little smile, he was caught between who he actually is – which is a guy who likes to machine gun the opposition and then get things done – and who he’s been told he should be, which is a politician who smiles at people and has a softer side.”
You can check out Megyn’s full analysis with Cooke by tuning in to episode 614 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.