Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis both got a bump out of their debate performance Wednesday night, while there was a mixed reaction to the aggressive tactics — some say antics — of entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
And former Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott both fared poorly.
That is according to a survey of New Hampshire Journal readers in the hours after the Fox News debate.
While it is not a scientific sample or a poll, more than 200 subscribers to the NHJournal newsletter — the number one political newsletter in the state — responded to the post-debate survey. It offered a glimpse into the minds of Granite Staters Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who follow politics closely.
Asked to pick who had the best performance, the top choice was DeSantis (31 percent), Ramaswamy (27 percent), and Haley (25 percent).
“I thought Nikki Haley had a great night. She and Mike Pence seemed like the adults in the room,” one respondent wrote in the survey’s comments section. “Vivek came off as one of those smart, know-it-all kids that everybody hates in school.”
In a sign of how polarizing his performance was, Ramaswamy was also their top pick for “worst performance” of the debate. The 29 percent who gave him a thumbs down was far higher than the 18 percent who said the same of former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (Ark.). Christie tied former Vice President Mike Pence in third place for the worst candidate of the night at 17 percent.
When asked to name their favorite moment of the debate, several respondents wrote, “When Chris Christie got booed, ” in a sign of the uphill climb the former New Jersey governor faces.”
And despite his relative lack of support, several respondents picked Pence’s outspoken defense of the Constitution and his actions on January 6 as their favorite moment. “He did the right thing,” one commented.
When it comes to perceptions of who won and lost the debate, the results of this unscientific reader survey generally track a new overnight poll released by The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon.
“A new FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos conducted immediately following the first Republican primary debate finds that Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Nikki Haley are viewed by those who watched the debate as the best performers,” Ipsos reports.
Pollsters surveyed the same group of Republican voters both before and after the Fox News face-off and found the percentage willing to support Haley for the nomination surged from 29 percent to 46 percent. There was also a smaller shift toward DeSantis (from 62 to 67 percent) and Ramaswamy (40 to 46 percent).
“During last night’s dominant debate win, Ron DeSantis laid out a bold plan to secure our southern border, starting with declaring a National Emergency on Day One, deploying our military, and leaving drug smugglers who try to bring fentanyl into our communities stone-cold dead,” Carly Atchison, national spokeswoman for DeSantis for President, told NHJournal. “Ron DeSantis won the night in Milwaukee, and we look forward to continuing to build on this momentum on the ground in New Hampshire and the rest of the early states.”
NHJournal readers also rallied around Haley and DeSantis. Asked who they were most likely to support before and after the debate, Haley’s support soared from 5 percent to 16 percent. DeSantis’s support increased from 29 to 34 percent, and Ramaswamy had a two-point bump (14 to 16 percent.)
Those increases in support came at the expense of Tim Scott (from 10 percent to 3 percent), and, interestingly, Donald Trump’s support among the readers who took the survey dropped from 21 to 16 percent.
However, survey respondents were split on whether Trump’s decision to skip the first debate was smart politics (54 percent) or a political mistake (46 percent).
Trump had his strong supporters among the respondents, of course, several of whom expressed their frustration some in the party aren’t rallying around the frontrunner.
As one put it, “Fox at most had 23 million viewers while Tucker/Trump ‘X’ interview had 74 MILLION! People need to open their eyes and get behind Trump!”
NHJournal also asked readers who they wanted to add to the stage for the next debate — scheduled for September 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. — and who they thought should get the hook.
Nearly half said they wanted Trump added to the debate lineup, but 29 percent said not to add anyone. The only other response above 10 percent was media personality Larry Elder, who has filed a complaint against the Republican National Committee for (he alleges) wrongly keeping him out of the debate.
The candidate NHJournal readers would most like to give the boot is Hutchinson (28 percent), even surpassing Christie (23 percent). And again, Ramaswamy made the list, with 20 percent of readers saying they wanted him gone.
GOP strategist Jim Merrill said the NHJournal survey was another helping of good news for Haley’s campaign.
“Haley’s support is fluid, and she had a big jump. It shows elasticity and some room to grow,” Merrill said. “Her hit on Vivek broke through. Meanwhile, Vivek is polarizing. He’s a ‘love him or hate him’ candidate. Think Ted Cruz 2.0.”
On the other hand, Michael Biundo, a former senior adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign now advising the pro-Ramaswamy American Exceptionalism PAC, said Ramaswamy is on the same page as the GOP’s primary voters.
“Vivek has an unbelievable pulse on where the base is, and it’s coming from a place of conviction. He’s spent a lot of time on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he’s one-on-one with voters and doing these town halls.
“What we saw last night was a master class in communication and a clash of the old guard versus the outsider populist. History tells us how this story ends.”