Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is not the front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he emerged as a consistent target of attacks from more experienced politicians during the first Republican debate on Wednesday night.
The youngest competitor and millennial outsider was subject to a dozen distinct criticisms from others on the stage, according to a Post tally. Most of the attacks came during notable exchanges with former vice president Mike Pence and former governors Chris Christie and Nikki Haley.
“Vivek, you recently said a president can’t do everything,” Pence said during one tense back and forth. “Well, I got news for you, Vivek. I’ve been in the hallway. I’ve been in the West Wing. A president in the United States has to confront every crisis facing America.”
Pence and others critiqued Ramaswamy’s lack of experience and also his positions on U.S. support for Ukraine and his own support for former president Donald Trump.
Pence, Christie and Ramaswamy managed to talk most over the course of the two-hour debate, according to The Post analysis, with each holding the floor for more than 11 minutes.
The others, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, struggled to retain the spotlight, tallying less than 10 minutes each of talk time.
Trump was not in Milwaukee on Wednesday and was not a central focus of the debate. The front-runner was mentioned by name 18 times by the eight debaters over the course of the night. Even vocal Trump critics did not spend much time attacking him.
Among those Trump mentions were shots by Christie at the former president, including: “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.”
Pence and Ramaswamy were the only candidates who mentioned Trump by name in a positive light, with Trump’s former vice president saying he is “incredibly proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration.”
When they were not attacking one another, the candidates focused their critiques primarily on President Biden, whom they hope to unseat next year.
Among the topics covered during the debate were foreign policy including Russia, Biden’s handling of the economy and the national debt. Haley, a former U.N. ambassador, mentioned China, Ukraine and Russia more than most other candidates.
Some candidates may not have another chance to join a debate as the Republican National Committee set a higher bar to qualify for the next one on Sept. 27.
Kevin Uhrmacher contributed to this report.
The Washington Post recorded every interaction and reference during the Republican debate and categorized them as a mention, attack or alignment. Attacks and alignments were counted once per speech block, unless broken up by an interaction or reference directed at someone else.