▶ Watch Video: 8 Republican presidential hopefuls prep for a debate without Trump

The first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential primary cycle is underway in Milwaukee, where eight GOP candidates are hoping to set themselves apart from a crowded field with less than five months until the Iowa caucuses.

The candidates debating Thursday night include:

The debate is also notable for who isn’t on stage: former President Donald Trump. The GOP front-runner chose to skip the showdown and instead taped an interview with Tucker Carlson, which is being released in tandem with the debate. A CBS News poll released Sunday showed Trump with a wide lead over the rest of the field, earning the support of 62% of likely Republican primary voters. DeSantis was a distant second, earning 16% support.

To kick off the debate, most candidates trained their fire at President Biden over inflation, the national debt, government spending and other economic issues. Haley was the first to criticize a fellow Republican, hitting Trump for his administration’s spending record. Pence then took aim at Ramaswamy, who has been rising in the polls. Pence called the 38-year-old a “rookie” who would need “on-the-job training” in the White House. 

The debate, which is airing on Fox News, gives some of the lesser-known candidates a chance to break through and make their case before the largest audience of voters they have had to date. On the flip side, poor debate performances have doomed many candidates in the past before their campaigns have even gotten off the ground. 

To qualify for the debate, the Republican National Committee required that candidates reach at least 1% in multiple eligible polls, gather at least 40,000 donors and sign a pledge committing to support the ultimate GOP nominee. They were also required to vow not to participate in unsanctioned debates.

We’ll be adding highlights and notable moments from the debate below throughout the night.

Nikki Haley criticizes Trump and other Republicans over government spending

Nikki Haley takes part in the first Republican presidential primary debate at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23, 2023.


Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, came out swinging against several of her Republican opponents over the nation’s fiscal state, singling out DeSantis, Scott and Pence for voting on legislation that raised the national debt. She also took aim directly at Trump for adding $8 trillion to the debt during his only term.

“Our kids are never going to forgive us for this,” said Haley, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration.

She pointed the finger at Republicans for approving a $2.2 trillion COVID relief bill during Trump’s presidency and for bringing back earmarks. In the 2024 budget, Republicans requested $7.4 billion in earmarks compared to Democrats’ $2.8 billion.

“You tell me, who are the big spenders?” Haley said. “I think it’s time for an accountant in the White House.”

Haley has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and served as the chief financial officer of her family’s clothing business.

Pence takes aim at Ramaswamy: “We don’t need to bring in a rookie”

Pence targeted the 38-year-old Ramaswamy early in the debate, calling him a “rookie” who lacks experience to be president.

“I was the first person in this race to say that we’ve got to deal with the long term national debt issues. You’ve got people on this stage that won’t even talk about issues like Social Security and Medicare. Vivek, you recently said a president can’t do everything. Well, I’ve got news for you, Vivek. I’ve been in the hallway. I’ve been in the West Wing. The president of the United States has to confront every crisis facing America.” 

Ramaswamy fired back that solving the country’s economic issues “isn’t that complicated” and listed off a number of his solutions. 

“I’m not sure I exactly understood Mike Pence, his comment, but I’ll let you all parse that out,” he said. 

“I’ll go slower this time,” Pence said. 

“You know, I sometimes struggle with reading comprehension,” Ramaswamy quipped. 

Pence added: “Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We don’t need to bring in a rookie. We don’t need to bring in people without experience”