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Keller @ Large: GOP debate shows glaring weaknesses of Trump's competitors

Keller @ Large: GOP debate shows glaring weaknesses of Trump's competitors
Keller @ Large: GOP debate shows glaring weaknesses of Trump's competitors 01:05

BOSTON - The first GOP presidential primary debate was just seconds old when Ron DeSantis delivered the first in a series of well-rehearsed salvos. "We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline," he shouted.

But his angry energy was quickly eclipsed by Vivek Ramaswamy. "I'm the only person on this stage who isn't bought and paid for so I can say this...the anti-carbon agenda is the wet blanket on our economy, and so the reality is more people are dying of anti-climate change policy then they are of actual climate change."

Cue the fact-checkers, and the outrage from the other candidates.

"I've had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like Chat GPT standing up here," snapped Chris Christie. Even mild-mannered Mike Pence wanted a piece of Ramaswamy. "Vivek, you recently said a president can't do everything. Well, I've got news for you, I've been in the hallway, I've been in the West Wing, a president has to confront every crisis facing America."

On the topic of federal spending, Nikki Haley pointed multiple fingers at once. (Disclosure: I have a close family member who works as a political consultant to the Haley campaign.) "You have Ron DeSantis, you've got Tim Scott, you've got Mike Pence, they all voted to raise the debt, and Donald Trump eight trillion to our debt, and our kids are never gonna forgive us for this."

And on it went. Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson and Scott were mostly bystanders. And when the debate turned to the man who wasn't there, one of only two candidates who said they wouldn't support Trump if convicted took Ramaswamy - who says he'd likely pardon Trump if he were president - down a peg.

"I am not gonna bow to anyone when we have a president of the United States who disrespects the Constitution," said Christie.

What a shame that Trump chose to skip this debate. It would have been fascinating to watch him deal with all the criticism heaped on his administration.

But he probably made the right call to ghost the event. It showcased the glaring weaknesses of his competitors, most notably DeSantis, who robotically barked out his talking points on a night when multiple candidates were yelling much of the time.

By contrast, Ramaswamy dominated the debate at times with his far-right-wing attacks on the party establishment. His red meat was redder than Ron's.

Christie was aggressive and was aggressively booed for his trouble. Pence played up his resume effectively. I'd be surprised if the rest managed to move their numbers.

It's gonna be tough for any one of them to leave the pack behind, and that leaves the man who wasn't there as the evening's biggest winner. 

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