President Joe Biden was mentioned by candidates at the first GOP debate more than former President Donald Trump was, according to a real-time analysis.
On the debate stage, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy faced the most attacks from the other GOP candidates at the debate. That was followed by Florida Gov. DeSantis and former Vice President Pence, according to the count.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum faced no direct attacks from the other candidates, according to the count.
That appeared to be part of Fox's strategy as debate co-host Martha MacCallum told The Associated Press last week about how Fox News would handle President Trump's indictments when she said it would be brought up, but, with so many other issues to talk about, “it’s certainly not going to be the lion’s share of the night.”
“Of course we’ll bring it up,” she told AP at the time. “I expect that the candidates will bring it up in part as well. And to the extent that there’s indictment fatigue, there are so many other issues we’re going to be talking about on the stage, it’s certainly not going to be the lion’s share of the night.”
During the debate, moderators appeared apologetic about even raising the issue of a potentially incarcerated nominee, saying they would spend just a “brief moment” discussing the man they called “the elephant not in the room,” which drew boos from the audience.
Then, the Republican candidates were asked if they would continue to support the former commander-in-chief if he is the Republican Party's nominee—even if he's convicted.
“You all signed a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. If former President Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party’s choice? Please raise your hand if you would," Fox News host and debate moderator Bret Baier asked the eight candidates. His question came about an hour into the debate and a day before President Trump was set to surrender in Fulton County, Georgia.
All of the GOP candidates eventually raised their hands—except for former Mr. Hutchinson, who previously said he wouldn't support President Trump.
Mr. Ramawamy and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley appeared to be the first to do so, while Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum followed. Some conservative commentators on social media said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to hesitate to raise his hand and appeared to look around before doing so.
After Mr. DeSantis raised his hand, he ultimately claimed that Mr. Pence “did his duty” on Jan. 6, 2021, when he would not go along with a plan to refuse to count the vote during the Joint Sessions of Congress. President Trump has previously expressed his disdain for Mr. Pence's actions on Jan. 6.
“This election is not about Jan. 6, 2021. It’s about Jan. 20 of 2025 when the next president is going to take office,” Mr. DeSantis said.
“We spent an hour talking about policy,” Mr. Baier said to DeSantis. “Former President Trump is beating you by 30, 40 points in many polls. So it is a factor in the GOP primaries.”
Mr. Baier's question was referring to the Republican National Committee's (RNC) rule that candidates must sign a pledge to back the ultimate winner of the GOP primary in order to attend Wednesday's debate. President Trump, who wasn't there, said he would not sign the pledge because there are candidates he would not support.
“Let’s just speak the truth,” Mr. Ramaswamy said during the debate. “President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact.”
After the round of hand-raising, Mr. Hutchinson was asked about his move not to raise his hand. Previously, the former governor has stated he wouldn't pardon President Trump or support him.
While the candidates were debating, a pre-recorded video interview between former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and President Trump was released on Twitter, racking up more than 150 million views on the platform.
“Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president? Should I be doing that at a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?” the former president told Mr. Carlson about why he wasn't attending the debate.