After the dust settled, what did we learn from the first GOP presidential debate

As with most things in politics, there was so much anticipation in the lead up to the first GOP presidential debate, then the big show happened in Milwaukee, but now what? What did it all mean?

Two weeks after the debate, the world has moved on but in a slightly new world order. There appears to be three different tiers as we move into September.

  • Ron DeSantis didn’t get the debate bounce he probably wanted, leaked audio shows his strategists pleading for money the day of the debate and he suspended his campaign to manage Hurricane Idalia. Now he’s back on the trail but there’s still inflighting in Tallahassee.
  • Donald Trump was in a lose lose situation after losing some ground with his decision to not appear on stage. And now we have a better picture of Donald Trump’s legal schedule for the next year.
  • Vivak and Tim Scott started taking more arrows from the press and opposing campaigns – Vivak because of his aggressive posture at the debate and Scott because he underperformed expectations.
  • Nikki Haley (disclosure, we work on her Super PAC SFA) is being taken more seriously with the Trump team using her ascent to mock DeSantis’ lack of ascent after the debate. Now she’s enjoying a bump in polls, especially in head to heads against Biden.
  • Chris Christie and Mike Pence are somewhere in the middle, needing to have a moment at the next debate.
  • Bergum and Hutchinson are going to have a hard time making an argument they should be there.

So what have we learned over the last couple of weeks about presidential debates?

They are an expectations game. How each campaign manages them and the spin you put out after the debate is really what matters. Here are a few different tactics we saw.

Spin machine:

Ron DeSantis had the most to lose and while he had a par performance at the debate, it wasn’t anything special and didn’t outperform others in the expectations game. However, his team did a good job spinning a winning performance aggressively the day of and day after but unfortunately for them, sometimes that is not enough. The polling showed that spin didn’t match up with the voters’ take on the debate.

Shock and awe:

Vivak Ramaswamy had been rising prior to the debate but no one expected he would come out swinging as aggressively as he did in the debate. He set the tone of the debate and had people buzzing the night of and next day, but it also turned off a lot of people and that limited his upward mobility.

Exceeding expectations:

Nikki Haley had been pretty understated and frankly underestimated prior to the debate. The high expectations were on DeSantis and not on her. That combination likely helped her exceed expectations that night with a strong performance. As a result, she began rising with media and in the polls.

Side show:

Donald Trump tried to steal the show with his Tucker Carlson interview but unfortunately for him, it didn’t work. People either didn’t watch or it wasn’t enough to overtake the main show. He actually lost a little ground after the debate (he, of course, is still up by a significant margin).

-Kirsten Kukowski