A highlight of the first 2024 GOP presidential debate came when the two faced off against each other, but many political professionals say former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy gave the best performances of the night.
However, few observers think the debate changed the fundamental dynamics of a race still dominated by former President Donald Trump.
“There were a couple of candidates, like Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, who were able to break through the noise and capture some good moments on stage,” said Jim Mantyh with the political firm Firehouse Strategies. “But that’s unlikely to change Donald Trump’s commanding lead over the rest of the field.
“Even the candidates who performed well tonight aren’t going to see the same polling bump or fundraising influx you’d typically expect after a major debate.”
Veteran NHGOP strategist Michael Dennehy declared Haley the winner, giving her a grade of A-.
“Nikki Haley just pulled her campaign out of the fire. She will get a serious look now,” Dennehy said.
He was not as enamored with Ramaswamy’s performance, however.
“He had good, conservative answers, but he lacked sincerity. I give him a C+.”
Ramaswamy was the frequent target of attacks from Haley over foreign policy, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“We don’t need a president who is too old, and we don’t need a president who is too young,” Pence said, clearly referencing 38-year-old Ramaswamy.
Corey Lewandowski, a New Hampshire native who played a key role in Trump’s 2016 surprise victory, said Ramaswamy “started strong but showed some weakness on foreign policy that Gov. Haley exploited.”
Liz Preate Havey, a longtime Republican party official in the suburbs of Philadelphia, was at the debate, and she saw it, too.
The only standing ovation of the night was when Nikki Haley went after Vivek as not being capable of handling foreign policy,” Havey said.
“No real winner here tonight,” Havey added. “This is just the first step in a long process.”
And there was apparently no real loser, either.
For example, Lewandowski believes that while Gov. Ron DeSantis “didn’t win, he didn’t lose, either. He lives to fight another day.”
Some observers, like former White House spokesperson Ari Fleisher, said DeSantis “had the strongest night of any of the candidates on stage,” but most reviews of his performance were more measured. “He did what he needed to do,” wrote Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative magazine National Review.
After Wednesday night’s debate, the lack of a clear loser was another common takeaway from political strategists. Several mentioned Christie didn’t deliver the fireworks many folks were expecting, but he didn’t stumble, either.
Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Burgum (R-N.D.) and former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) were largely afterthoughts on the edger of the debate stage, though Burgum did get a laugh referencing his basketball injury from the day before that nearly kept him from participating.
“I guess I took it too seriously when they told me to ‘go to Milwaukee and break a leg.’”