The Republican presidential debate Wednesday evening was filled with memorable moments and lines as candidates clashed on stage for the first time of the 2024 election cycle.
The debate featured tense back-and-forths between candidates with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie trading blows.
Here are five of memorable moments from the debate.
1. ‘We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement’
During his answer to the first question, DeSantis argued the nation is in “decline” and suggested it is problematic that Americans are struggling to make ends meet while President Biden’s son Hunter is selling his artwork for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Our country is in decline. The decline is not inevitable. It’s a choice,” DeSantis remarked. “We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement and reverse American decline. And it starts with understanding we must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance to succeed again.”
“We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and you can’t afford groceries, a car or a new home, while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings,” he added. “That is wrong.”
2. ‘We don’t need to bring in a rookie’
Ramaswamy faced fire from several of his fellow candidates during the night.
Among the attacks he faced, Ramaswamy was criticized by Pence for lacking key experience needed to be president. Pence made the comments while touting his own accomplishments as vice president during the Trump administration.
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” Pence said. “We don’t need to bring in a rookie. We don’t need to bring in people without experience.”
Ramaswamy fired back, saying Pence was stating a “memorized, pre-prepared slogan.”
And Ramaswamy was also slammed by Christie, who compared him to former President Barack Obama.
“No, hold on, hold on. Enough,” Christie said. “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like Chat GPT.”
“He stands up here, and the last person in one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here’ was Barack Obama,” Christie continued. “And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur tendencies tonight.”
Ramaswamy then referenced Christie’s greeting of Obama during Hurricane Sandy.
3. ‘Consensus’ vs. ‘leadership’
Haley made waves during the portion of the debate about abortion policy. The former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor said Republicans should strive for “consensus” on the issue, earning rebukes from other candidates.
“[Lawmakers] need to be honest with the American people and say it will take 60 Senate votes, it will take a majority of the House,” Haley said. “So, in order to do that, let’s find consensus.”
“Can’t we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions? Can’t we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can’t we all agree that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t have to perform them? Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available? And can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”
Haley added that, on abortion, Republicans should “humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation.”
However, Pence ripped her remarks, arguing “consensus is the opposite of leadership” and pledging to be a pro-life president.
“When the Supreme Court returned this question to the American people, they didn’t just send it to the states only – it is not a states-only issue,” Pence said. “It is a moral issue.”
4. ‘Morally disqualified’
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson distinguished himself as the only candidate on stage Wednesday to definitively say he couldn’t commit to supporting Trump if he were to win the Republican nomination. Hutchinson said Trump was “morally disqualified from being president again as a result of what happened on Jan. 6.”
“More people are understanding the importance of that, including conservative legal scholars, who say he may be disqualified under the 14th Amendment from being president again as a result of the insurrection,” Hutchinson commented. “This is something that could disqualify him under our rules and under the Constitution.”
“So, obviously, I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony or who has been disqualified under our Constitution and that’s consistent with RNC rules – and I hope everybody would agree.”
5. ‘The climate change agenda is a hoax’
Finally, during the debate, Ramaswamy argued that the “climate change agenda” is a “hoax,” earning rebuke from those joining him on the stage and Biden, who stated, “Climate change is real, by the way,” in a social media post shortly after.
“I’m the only candidate on stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this,” Ramaswamy said. “The climate change agenda is a hoax.”
“The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
The debate crowd appeared to respond to the comments with jeers while other candidates pushed back and argued for policies that would cut emissions while bolstering domestic energy production.