By Miriam Raftery

August 25,  2023 (Milwaukee) – Eight Republican presidential candidates squared off in a debate in Milwaukee. Donald Trump, facing indictment on 91 criminal charges in four cases, did not participate but was a topic of discussion among his opponents.  The debate proved lively, with some candidates sharply differering with each other, all criticizing Democrat Joe Biden’s administration, all approving Vice President Mike Pence’s action to certify votes, but only two willing to criticize Trump, the party frontrunner.

The issues ranged from abortion, which all eight candidates support restricting, to Bidenomics, climate change, crime, border security and foreign policy. Clear policy differences emerged–as well as some strong clashes among contenders.

Fox news anchors Bret  Baier and Martha MacCallum posed questions to the candidates shown in the photo, top left to lower right: North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum,  former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie,  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Former United Nations Ambassador and ex-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and  U.S.Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina.

Our coverage includes positions of Trump, despite his absence, and the record and stances of the Biden administration as well to provide the range of options for voters.


Climate Change

Not a single hand went up when candidates were asked if they believe climate change is man-made, with moderator McCallum noting devastation in Maui from fires, record heat across the Southwest and a tropical storm hitting California.’

Candidates were then asked how they would calm fears of young Republicans who perceive that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change.  Their answers were unlikely to assuage those concerns.

. Ramaswamy called climate change a “hoax” drawing boos even from the conservative crowd gathered. Christie fired back at Ramaswamy, stating, “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like Chat GTP standing up here,” but did not lay out his climate change strategy.

Haley later did state that “climate change is real” but wants India and China to lower their emission.  According to  National Public Radio, however, the U.S. has per-capita carbon emissions higher than those nations. Scott noted that America has cut its carbon footprint in half from 25 years ag and blamed other nations for not doing enough. Not a single candidate offered any proposals for the U.S. to address climate change, which 97% of climate scientists worldwide say is accelerating and a serious threat, according to the United Nations.

Trump’s record as president included dismantling majorc limate policies and rolling back nearly 100 environmental rules,  according to aN ew York Times analysis based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia  Law School and other sources.

CNN reports that Pence’s plan would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), tax credits for electric vehicles, Biden’s residential clean energy credit, and more.

Both Haley and Pence supported Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the international climate change accord signed in Paris.

The Biden Campaign has issued a statement criticizing the Republican candidates’ failure to provide plans to combat climate change.

“Families across America are confronting the scary realities of the climate crisis every day,” states Kevin Munoz, spokesperson for Biden-Harris 2024. “This summer alone, communities across the country have experienced the deadliest wildfire in a generation, devastating droughts and dangerous extreme heat, and historic flooding and storms. Despite another record-breaking summer, MAGA Republicans have railed against efforts to take action on climate and some continue to deny its very existence. While these extremists cozy up to Big Oil and Big Gas, President Biden and Vice President Harris are leading the charge in tackling the climate crisis with real action – including the most significant climate and green jobs legislation in American history.” 



Since the Supreme Court, including three justices appointed by Trump, overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to ban or restrict abortion, many states have done so, though polls show most Americans favor keeping abortion legal in most circumstances. Candidates were asked their stances on abortions.

All affirmed “pro life” positions and support limiting or banning abortion, though some want to leave legislating up to the states, while others want a national ban.

DeSantis, who signed a Florida bill banning abortion at six weeks but declined to state whether he would support similar nationwide restrictions. Six weeks is before many women even know that they are pregnant. Burgum signed a 6-week ban as Governor, but said  he believes the Constitution’s 10th amendment means abortion regulation should be left up to the states. Ramashwamy has voiced support for states’ six-week bans.

Hutchinson noted has signed 30 pro-life/anti-abortion bills in Arkansas and believes it is “fine” to address abortion at the national level.  H e also wants enhanced adopton services and maternal care.

 Pence said, “I gave my life to Jesus Christ”  and disagreed with Haley, calling abortion a “moral issue…A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come.” Ultrasounds to show serious birth defects cannot be done until around 15 weeks, meaning some women would be forced to carry such pregnancies to term.

Scott supports “a minimum 15-week limit” at the federal level.

Haley noted that there aren’t enough votes in Congress for a federal ban,but called for banning late-term abortions (which account for only about 1% of abortions and are usually done in situations where a mother’s life is in danger or a fetus isn’t viable). However she wants to keep birth control legal, opposes putting a woman in jail or giving her the death penalty if she has an abortion, and wants doctors and nurses to be able to refuse to perform abortions based on religious objections.

Trump supports national abortion restrictions, USA Today reports, while the Biden administration has maintained a pro-choice stance.

Congressional Democrats have tried to introduce a bill to reinstate Roe vs. Wade, which allowed states to regulate of abortion in the third trimester if a mother’s life or health is not at stake, as well as to regulate abortions in the second trimester if both mother and fetus are healthy; however Republicans in the House blocked the measure from being voted upon.

Biden’s campaign predicts, “Americans have rejected the extreme, anti-choice positions of MAGA Republicans in the midterms and in elections throughout this year. They will again in 2024.”


Foreign Policy

Candidates were asked if they support the U.S. commitment to send nearly $77 billion to Ukraine to aid in fighting the Russian invasion.

Ramaswamy, who supports giving Ukrainian territory to Russia, said, “I would not support it” and said he would send those resources to prevent “invasion of our own southern border.” He touted an “Americans first” policy, echoing Trump.

DeSantis would make support contingent on Europe stepping up to “do their job.”

Christie blasted those views.  “I went to Ukraine” he said, adding that over 20,000 children have been abudcted by Russia “ripped from their mothers and fathers.” Russian soldiers have “gouged out people’s eyes,cut off their ears and shot people in the back of the head, men, and then gone into those homes and raped the daughters and the wives…This is the Vladimir Putin, who Donald Trump called brilliant and a genius.If we don’t stand up against this type of autocratic killing in the world, we will be next.”

Pence said it’s important support Ukraine fighting Russian communists “so our troops don’t have to fight them.” He criticized Ramaswamy, stating, “If we do the give away that you want to give to Putin to give him his land, it is not going to be too long before he rolls across the NATO border.  And frankly, our men and women of our armed forces are going o have to go and fight him.”

Ramaswamy interrupted, “Newsflash. The USSR does not exist anymore.”

Pence noted that Putin has said he wants to reestablish the old Soviet sphere of influence. “He is a dictator and a murderer, and the United States needs to stand against totalitarianism,” drawing applause.

Ramaswamy countered that the Russia-China alliance is the biggest threat the U.S. faces.

Haley said the U.S. needs “moral clarity” to “know the difference between good and evil.” As for Ukraine, she stated,  “Here you have a pro-American country that was invaded by a thug.” The former ambassador added that the U.S. has sent less than 3.5 percent of its budget to help Ukraine, and that 11 European countries have given Ukraine a higher percentage.  “A win for Russia is a win for China,” she added. “Ukraine is the first line of defense for us.  The problem that Vivek doesn’t understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan…Look what Putin did today. He killed Prigozhin,” a former ally who led a coup attempt against Putin and died when a plane exploded. “You are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country,” she said, drawing applause.

DeSantis said he won’t send troops to Ukraine, but would send them to the Mexican border. Hutchinson said we can do both and he wants to use “lethal force” at the border.


With Trump facing 91 criminal counts in four states, including conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, candidates were asked who would support Trump if he wins the primary but is convicted.

All but two raised their hands to support Trump if convicted. Only Christie and Hutchinson argued that Trump is unfit to serve as president

Christie, a formal federal prosecutor, said, “Someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct…Whether or not you believe that the criminal charges are right or wrong, the conduct is beneath the office of President of the United States,” drawing cheers.

Christie added, “I am not going to bow to anyone when we have a president of the U.S. who disrespects the Constitution….Donald Trump said it’s okay to suspend the Constitution,” noting that the president pledges to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.

Hutchinson said Trump is “morally disqualified” due to his involvement in the January 6,2021 insurrection  and noted that conservative legal scholars now say he may be disqualified under the14th Amendment from serving as President again.  “I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony, or who…. Is disqualified under our Constitution,” he made clear.

But Ramaswamy, whose hand shot up first, called Trump the” greatest president of the 21st century.”  If elected, he would pardon Trump “on day one.”

MacCallum asked the candidates if they believe Mike Pence did the right thing as Vice President in refusing Trump’s demands to block certification of electors’ votes in the Senate.

While every candidate agreed that Pence did the right thing, Scott, DeSantis and Ramaswamy denounced the “weaponization “ of the Justice4 Dept.  Ramaswamy wants to shut down the FBI and Scott called the Dept.of Justice “domestic terrorists.”

Christie voiced the strongest support of Pence’s actions, stating, “He deserves our thanks as Americans for putting his oath of office and the Constitution of the United States before personal political and unfair pressure.”

Trump has praised Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and indicated he would cut U.S .support for Ukraine if reelected.

The Biden-Harris campaign criticized MAGA Republicans in the debate for siding with Putin “over the Ukrainian people fighting for their democracy. They made fun of President Zelensky and opposed providing Ukraine with the equipment they need to defend themselves. Those aren’t American values. President Biden has rallied the world to stand up to Putin’s aggression and for the future of democracy, making America aleader standing up to bullies once again on the world stage,” the statement concluces.


Moderators played a clip of the President stating that Bidenomics is working, with anonymous voiceovers noting that prices of gas, food, and mortgage rates remain high.

All candidates voiced opposition to Biden economic policies and most voiced support for reinstating Trump tax cuts, which benefitted the wealthy.

DeSantis wants to cut federal spending and open energy production to lower gas prices. 

Christie says he cut debt in New Jersey, confronting Democrats with “bad ideas” but working with anyone with good ideas.”Truth and accountability are the things we need to do to fight waste.” He denounced the “union system” he blames for “killing the taxpayer.”

Scott wants to cut federal spending and send money to states.  But McCallum noted that the Senator voted for huge spending bills under Trump’s administration, as high as$4.4 trillion. Scott countered that this was during COVID.

Ramaswamy touted his stance as an “outsider” not a professional politician. He blamed Republicans, not Biden, for passing a COVID stimulus bill that put more people on Medicaid and food stamps when millions were out of work. “Republicans asked for $7.4 billions in earmarks. Democrats asked for$2.8 billion. So, you tell me who are the big spenders?”

Hutchinson said he’s cut the federal nonedefense workforce by 10% and touted his past experience as a federal prosecutor,head of DEA and Homeland Security during “timesof crisis.”

Scott called for firing 87,000 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents and hiring more Border Patrol agents.

DeSantis touted Florida’s record of refusing to lockdown its economy, though his state also had one of the highest rates of COVID deaths. He said he would have fired Anthony Fauci.

Pence defended the Trump-Pence administration record that he claimed revived the economy.  He maintained, “I’m the best prepared, the most tested, the most qualified and proven conservative” for the presidency, ”noting that he’s served as a leader in Congress and as a Governor before being Vice President.  He said,, “You got people on this stage that won’ even talk about issues like Social Security and Medicare,” which he wants to cut. Pence also called for deeper tax cuts.

Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement denouncing the GOP candidates’ policies as “extremist.”  She said,” These candidates want to raise costs for working families in order to benefit special interests and the ultra-wealthy. To gut Social Security and Medicare. To strip fundamental rights and basic freedoms from millions of people. And to reverse the Bidenomics strategy that has helped create 13 million jobs, the strongest two years of small business creation in history, and record-low unemployment.

Harris claimed the GOP candidates offered no “affirmative agenda” adding,

“President Biden and I will continue to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out and build a nation in which all people can truly thrive. We are laser-focused on finishing the job we’ve started: to create good jobs, lower costs, fix America’s roads and bridges, create a clean energy economy, protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, keep our children safe from gun violence, and make sure all Americans can dream about their future with ambition and aspiration.”


Though no question on education was asked, several candidates voiced views on schooling, and several expressed extreme positions.

“We’re going to close the federal Department of Education,”said Pence.

DeSantis also supports eliminate the  Dept. of Education, and wants to leave decisions up to the states on schooling.  “In Florida, we eliminated Critical Race Theory from K through 12 schools,” he said,a controversial decision that critics said amounted to whitewashing history of slavery and racism.

,Pence, Burgum and Ramswamy also voiced support for eliminating the Dept. ofEducation, which Ramaswamy called “the head of the snake.”

The Department’s mission, from its website, is to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” The Department is dedicated to:

  • Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
  • Collecting data on America’s schools and disseminating research.
  • Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
  • Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

Haley wants more emphasis on helping kids read and bringing in reading remediation.. She also wants transparency so parents will know what’s being taught to children, thinks parents should choose which schools their children attend, and calls for adding vocational classes back into high schools.

Scott wants to “break the backs of the teachers’ unions.”

Christie spoke of going after teachers’ unions in New Jersey,which he called the “biggest threat to our country.”

Hutchinson says as president, he will make sure that every school has computer science, including those in rural areas, so that “we can compete with China in terms of technology.”

Drugs, crime, and the border

All candidates voiced support for borer security. Pence touted the Trump administration for building the wall and pledged to partner with Mexico to :hunt down and destroy the cartels…”

DeSantis would support sending U.S. Special forces to the border into Mexico to take out fentanyl lags and drug cartel operations “on day one,” though this would constitution an invasion of a foreign country without permission from Mexico.

Hutchinson touted his experience heading up the DEA and wants to both stop smuggling of fentanyl over the border  and also educate young people and provide tools to help those addicted.

Several spoke of spikes in crime. Christie said he’d instruct U.S. attorneys to take over prosecutions of violent crimes if cities are failing to do so. Ramaswamy called for more

cops in the streets” and reopening mental health facilities.  Pence criticized bail reforms and called for more spending on law enforcement.

The Biden campaign notes that House Republicans passed a budget-slashing bill that would have led to 2400 fewer border patrol agents if it had become law. Vice President Harris notes that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which did become law, included hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments that could be used to boost local law enforcement, but that, “Every Republican in Congress voted against it.” Biden also requested $38 billion in his budget for law enforcement and crime prevention, including hiring and training100,000 more police officers.

The Biden campaign blasted Republicans for ignoring gun violence and refusing to consider reinstating the assault weapons ban.  “MAGA Republicans shout ‘crime’ instead of coming to the table with real solutions because they’re more concerned with protecting the NRA (National Rifle Association) than they are with protecting our kids and our communities.” 

Missed the debate? View the video




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