Republican candidates during their first debate Wednesday attacked President Biden on a range of policies that included inflation, immigration, Ukraine and the southern border, giving a glimpse into the type of attack lines forming against the incumbent in the 2024 presidential campaign.
The first statement by a candidate, made by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was a direct hit on Biden when DeSantis called the country one in “decline.” Biden was also attacked by entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Here are the top policy criticisms candidates lobbed at Biden.
Inflation and the Economy
So-called Bidenomics, the president’s economic agenda, was brought up early in the debate with every candidate pulling out criticism over the handling of the economy under the Biden administration. The first question of the debate had to do with Americans feeling detached from Washington and continuing to feel the brunt of high prices on goods due to stubborn inflation.
“Our country is in decline. This decline is not inevitable. It is a choice,” DeSantis. “It starts with understanding we must reverse Bidenomics so that middle-class families have a chance of succeeding again.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who notably also went after former President Trump about adding to the national debt, said “it’s time for an accountant in the White House.”
Candidates bashed Biden specifically for his energy policies, blaming that on higher gas prices.
“Biden’s inflation is choking us,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, responding to the final question about people not being extremely proud to be an American. “Our economy is being crushed by Biden’s energy policies.”
Ramaswamy and DeSantis both said they would cut off U.S. funding to Ukraine when asked about Biden’s request to Congress for $25 billion in more aid to the war-torn country.
“I would have Europe pull their weight. I think our support would be contingent on them doing it,” DeSantis said.
Ramaswamy said more aid would be “disastrous” because funding should be used to curb the influx of migrants at the southern border of the U.S. DeSantis agreed, saying, “You’re sending all this money, but you’re not doing what you need to do to defend our southern border.”
U.S. leadership during the war has been a top issue for Biden, and he has vowed to continue to give support to Ukraine amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion into the country. The Biden administration has given billions in money and weapons to help Ukraine fend off attacks from Russia, the latest being a round of F-16 fighter planes from Denmark.
Immigration and the border
Candidates continued to bash Biden on the influx of migrants at the border, a hot-button issue Republicans pounce on Democrats for regularly.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said he would complete the border wall effort that began under Trump. Meanwhile, DeSantis said he supports military action against cartels in Mexico.
“The cartels are killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens,” DeSantis said. “The president of the United States has got to use all available powers as commander in chief to protect our country and to protect the people.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called out Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for not cooperating with the U.S. to stop drug trafficking. But he stopped short of calling for military action.
“We need to use economic pressure,” he said. “The military has to be limited in its use.”
The president’s son Hunter Biden was brought up twice during the debate amid legal troubles that involve tax and gun charges.
DeSantis, early on, referred to expensive artwork Hunter Biden has sold to buyers the White House claims have been kept anonymous while lamenting that Americans continue to feel the pinch on everyday goods.
“We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and can’t afford groceries, a car, or a new home while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings. That is wrong,” the governor said.
Later on, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said if he were president, Hunter Biden would have gone to jail for 10 years under his administration, criticizing the handling of gun charges against him.
“When Hunter Biden fills out a fake application, a false application, for a gun permit, and then is facing a 10-year mandatory minimum — which was mandated by legislation sponsored by his father — and then you have a Justice Department that walks away from those charges, we’re telling people that the law doesn’t apply to everybody,” Christie said.
“And in a Christie administration, he would go to jail for 10 years,” he said.
Hunter Biden was charged with a felony firearm offense related to the possession of a firearm while using drugs, with the charge carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years. A plea deal that would have kept Biden out of prison fell through during an initial hearing in the case.
A couple of candidates took brief stabs at the president’s age. Republicans and some Democrats have questioned if Biden, 80, is up for another four years in office.
Pence said it might be a good idea to have everyone in Washington pass a mental and physical test to serve. The question from the moderates comes after Haley has called for such a test for politicians older than 75 since the start of her campaign.
Pence also took a stab at younger candidates, appearing to target Ramaswamy, who at 38 years old was the youngest candidate on stage.
“Let me say I’m running for president of the United States because we don’t need a president who’s too old, and we don’t need a president who’s too young. We need a president who’s been there,” Pence said during the debate.
Ramaswamy took the opportunity to highlight the benefits of being his age.
“I want to address Vice President Pence’s comment. I think we do need somebody of a different generation to lead this nation forward,” Ramaswamy responded.