The eight Republican presidential candidates who took the stage last night had a lot going for them. There was a sitting senator and two sitting governors, as well as an entrepreneur, a few former governors, a former U.N. ambassador and a former vice president. Polls show that several of them have high approval ratings among Republican voters. In a different year, the race among them might be a fascinating one.
But the 2024 Republican campaign is shaping up to be unlike any in memory.
Donald Trump remains so popular among Republican primary voters that there is no obvious path for any of the other candidates to displace him. He leads among virtually every Republican subgroup: both men and women; those with household incomes above and below $100,000; evangelicals and non-evangelicals; moderate and conservative Republicans; Fox News devotees and people who get their news elsewhere; and in each region of the country, as well as in rural areas, suburbs and cities.
In every other modern primary campaign that did not involve an incumbent president, candidates had different bases from which to build a winning strategy. Trump looks more like an incumbent president trying to fight off pesky challengers.
He could still lose the nomination, to be clear, especially given his legal troubles. Voting won’t begin for several months. But there don’t seem to be any tactics that his opponents can adopt that would succeed on their own. Their best hope, as Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, suggests, may be positioning themselves as the second choice of Trump supporters in the event that a conviction of Trump upends the campaign.
For more than eight years now, since he declared his 2016 candidacy in New York, Trump has dominated the Republican Party, notes our colleague Shane Goldmacher, who covers politics. Many Republicans — a long and varied list starting with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in 2016 — have tried to displace Trump, without success. Neither Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in 2020 nor the poor performance of his preferred candidates in the 2022 midterms nor the four recent indictments have altered the situation.
In the rest of today’s newsletter, we review the highlights of last night’s debate, which Trump skipped. At least for now, though, we recommend that you remember that this year’s primary debates are unlikely to change the campaign on their own.
Ron DeSantis talked loudly and rapidly, but he spoke less than several other candidates and dodged questions on abortion and Jan. 6. See who had the most speaking time.
The entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy seemed to channel Trump onstage. He cast himself as a businessman outsider and tussled with Chris Christie and Nikki Haley.
Mike Pence defended rejecting Trump’s request to overturn the 2020 election, but struggled to respond to criticisms of the Trump administration’s Covid lockdowns.
The debate largely ignored Trump and his legal troubles. But when the Fox News moderators asked whether the candidates would support him if he was convicted and became the nominee, just two said no: Christie and Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor.
Pence and Senator Tim Scott said they would sign a national abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Haley, the only female candidate, called for a consensus approach.
Candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believed humans were fueling climate change, though there is no scientific dispute on the question. DeSantis objected, saying, “We’re not schoolchildren.” Ramaswamy said, “The climate change agenda is a hoax.” Haley acknowledged climate change was real.
Only Ramaswamy and DeSantis said they opposed more funding for Ukraine, though DeSantis hedged. Haley and Pence called Vladimir Putin a “murderer.”
The candidates attacked Biden over inflation, his son Hunter and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
DeSantis exaggerated his Covid response, Pence misled about the border: Here’s a fact check.
On “The Daily,” Maggie Haberman explains the debate.
“They hardly laid a glove on him tonight,” Kellyanne Conway said of Trump, “because they know that in attacking Trump, you’re alienating his voters.”
“Ramaswamy is by far the closest candidate to Trump in terms of media ability,” Megan McArdle writes in The Washington Post. “He’s good at commanding a stage.”
NPR’s Eric Deggans criticized the Fox moderators for losing control of the debate at times, while The Times’s Frank Bruni praised them for focusing on issues other than Trump.
Times Opinion writers scored the candidates’ performances: Bret Stephens called Nikki Haley “the star of the evening.” Michelle Cottle said she was confident women found Vivek Ramaswamy’s tech bro persona “insufferable.”
Read more commentary on the debate.
THE LATEST NEWS
Russian Jet Crash
The BRICS Group, a club of nations that formed to tilt the international order away from the West, invited six countries to join: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.
More than 350 fires have broken out in Greece in the past week. This is its worst summer for wildfires on record.
India landed a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, becoming the fourth country to successfully complete a lunar landing.
Japan began releasing treated radioactive wastewater from Fukushima into the ocean. China said it would suspend imports of Japanese seafood.
Other Big Stories
A man opened fire at a biker bar in Southern California as a crowd gathered for a rock show and spaghetti night. At least four people are dead, including the gunman.
A gender clinic in St. Louis was overwhelmed by new patients and struggled to provide them with mental health care before landing in a political firestorm.
Terry Funk, the Hall of Fame professional wrestler whose hard-core fighting style inspired decades of bloody brawls and entertaining matches, died at 79.
Hip-hop is now America’s poetry, John McWhorter argues.
Here’s a column by Nicholas Kristof on why Americans are becoming less religious.
Frozen: Whether it’s served flawless as a diamond or in chunky pebbles, ice may be the ultimate luxury.
Jet Ski escape: A Chinese dissident fled the country with a telescope and a compass.
Exclusive invitation: Filmmakers have Cannes. Billionaires have Davos. Economists? They have Jackson Hole.
Lives Lived: During the 800-meter run at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, a runner suddenly sneaked past Tom Courtney and burst toward the finish line. But Courtney had one last surge in him, lunging forward and winning gold by one-tenth of a second. He died at 90.
Demotion: The San Francisco 49ers announced Trey Lance — the starter heading into last season — as its third-string quarterback yesterday.
Arm fatigue: An ailing Shohei Ohtani left in the first inning of the Angels’ loss.
Suit filed: The former U.S.C. star Reggie Bush sued the N.C.A.A. for defamation, over comments made by a spokesperson in 2021.
ARTS AND IDEAS
War games: During their downtime, Ukrainian soldiers sometimes play the video game World of Tanks on their cellphones. The game, which features virtual tanks destroying each other and has long been popular in Ukraine, may seem like a baffling choice for an actual battlefield. But some soldiers said it helped them disconnect from the realities of war, while others found it soothing to play a game they loved before the fighting began.