"We are going to take a brief moment and talk about the elephant not in the room," Baier said, broaching the topic, before asking the candidates if they would support Trump were he to become the nominee. Baier asked for a show of hands.
Vivek Ramaswamy raised his hand immediately, while others took a moment, clearly unsure as to which side of the Trump train they were willing to admit to being on. Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, criticized the former president and current frontrunner, saying Trump's "conduct" has been distasteful.
Ramaswamy said outright and unequivocally that Trump was the best president of the 21st Century. "We're skating on thin ice," he said, "and we cannot set a precedent where the party in power uses police force to indict its political opponents."
Christie was booed down by the audience as he tried to respond. "I know a lot better than you do," Christie said. "You've never done it like you've never done anything to try to advance the interests of this government except to put yourself forward as a candidate tonight."
Tim Scott noted his concerns about the weaponization of the Department of Justice. Ron DeSantis jumped on that point as well, saying "we need to end the weaponization of these federal agencies."
"We've got to focus on reversing the decline of our country," DeSantis said.
Asa Hutchinson did not raise his hand when Baier asked about who would support Trump, later saying that "Trump was morally disqualified from being president again, as a result of what happened on January 6."
Hutchinson raised articles that recently came out in the corporate press, such as The Atlantic, which claimed that Trump should be disqualified under the 14th amendment.
Christie backed Mike Pence, while Nikki Hayley said Americans "don't want a rematch between Trump and Biden."
Ramaswamy appeared content to take on the entire spate of candidates on his own, bringing up his promise to pardon Trump were he to be elected president, while Pence simply reiterated the facts of the US justice system, that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
"Join me making a commitment that on day one, you would pardon Donald Trump," Ramaswamy said. "I'm the only candidate on this stage when the current steps and say move our nation forward."
"President Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence that every American is entitled to," Pence said, "and we will make sure and extend that to him. But the American people deserve to know that the President asked me in his request that I reject or return votes unilaterally power that no vice president in American history had ever exercised or taken.
"He asked me to put him over the Constitution. And I chose the Constitution, and I always will I had to turn the election and Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024," Pence said.
On Ukraine, Ramaswamy said the he's the only "non neo-con" on the debate stage.
When asked if he would support more funding for the war effort in Ukraine, Ramaswamy said "I would not. And I think that this is disastrous." He said he was "against an invasion across somebody else's border when we should use those same military resources to prevent a cross the invasion of our own southern border here in the United States."
Ramaswamy said he had concerns about driving Russia "further into China's hands," and that the alliance of those two nations is the "single greatest threat we face."
"I find it offensive," he said, "that we have professional politicians on the stage that will make a pilgrimage to keep to their Pope Zelensky without doing the same thing for people in Maui or the South Side of Chicago or Kensington. I think we have to put the interests of Americans first because we're secure our own border instead of somebody else's. And the reality is, this is also how we project strength and making America strong."
For his part, Pence was in favor of more funding for Ukraine, saying that "anybody that thinks that we can't solve the problems here in the United States and be the leader the free world has a pretty small view of the greatest nation on Earth. We've done both.
"We've been the leader of the free world, the arsenal democracy for years. The Reagan Doctrine years ago made it clear we said if you're willing to fight the communists on your soil, we'll give you the means to fight them there," Pence said.
He also said that US troops would have to be deployed to Ukraine if Putin isn't stopped now. "And frankly, our men and women of our armed forces are gonna have to go and fight. I want to let the Ukrainians fight and drive out the Russians."
"Vice President," Ramaswamy said, "newsflash: the USSR does not exist anymore. It fell back in 1990."
"The real threat we face today," he said, "is communist China, and we are driving Russia further into China's arms. The Russia China military alliance is the single greatest threat we face but nobody in either political party is talking about it."
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