Nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates vying to be the leading alternative to front-runner Donald Trump said they would support the former president if he is the party’s nominee even if he is convicted in a court of law as they gathered on stage for the first time.
The question came nearly an hour into Wednesday night’s first primary debate hosted by Fox News Channel in Milwaukee and a day before Trump, who declined to participate, is set to surrender in Georgia on charges of trying to overturn the state’s 2020 election.
Moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum said they would spend just a “brief moment” discussing what they called “the elephant not in the room,” drawing boos from the audience.
“Someone’s got to stop normalizing misconduct. 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,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has emerged as one of Trump’s harshest critics and was one of only two candidates who did not raise their hands when asked if they would support him. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the other, and both were promptly booed.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is polling a distant second to Trump, was among those who did raise his hand. He said former Vice President Mike Pence “did his duty” on Jan. 6, 2021, when he refused to go along with Trump’s scheme to overturn the vote, but DeSantis nonetheless pressed the hosts to move on.
“This election is not about Jan. 6, 2021. It’s about Jan. 20 of 2025 when the next president is going to take office,” he said.
With less than five months until the Iowa caucuses jumpstart the GOP presidential nomination process, the debate is a critical opportunity for lower-polling candidates to introduce themselves to millions of voters, many of whom are just beginning to pay attention to the race. The pressure is greatest for DeSantis, who announced his campaign in May to great fanfare but has since struggled to gain traction and is now fighting to maintain his distant second-place status.
From today’s Daily Herald