Wisconsin panelists break down first GOP primary debate: Winners, losers, and standouts

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The day after the first GOP presidential debate, analysts and conservatives recapped big moves from the candidates.

A roundtable was hosted by the Tommy G. Thompson Center of Public Leadership on Thursday at UWM’s Zilber Center, reviewing the big night in Milwaukee.

“The fact of the matter is the eyes of the nation were on here. They saw a beautiful city, a city that’s growing,” said former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson.

Thompson attended the debate roundtable, which included five panelists from Wisconsin.

Thompson believed DeSantis came out on top Wednesday night.

“I think it stopped him from going any further down in the percentage between he and Trump, so I think he was a clear winner,” Thompson said.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll, disagreed, saying DeSantis didn’t seem to outshine the others, but the numbers will tell.

“Let’s watch polling over the next three weeks, and do we see his decline start to come back up?” Franklin said.

Instead, he noted Vivek Ramaswamy’s personality was an attention-getter, which could show in polls later on.

The premium was on being noticed, and I think Ramaswamy clearly one that battle,” Franklin said.

A hot topic was how Donald Trump’s absence opened up the playing field.

“They’re watching their debate to find their candidate, and if he’s not on the stage, that’s a problem,” said Scott Jensen, senior strategist at the American Federation for Children.

Many panelists agreed that his absence allowed others more time to speak.

“It made it less of a spectacle, but kind of a more clarifying debate. I thought we learned more about the other candidates than we would have learned,” said Craig Gilbert, the now-retired Washington bureau chief for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A crucial piece for the primary: who will appeal to independent voters.

All panelists were wowed by Nikki Haley’s performance.

“If anybody scored with independent voters last night, it was Nikki Haley. Haley’s answer on abortion last night was a home run,” Jensen said.

With so many candidates, State Senator Julian Bradley said it’s too early for endorsements.

“Everybody’s got the opportunity to still earn my vote,” Bradley said, noting he wants those who are “in it to win it” on the stage.

Wednesday’s debate led most panelists to agree that Trump might not be an easy win.

“There’s a lot of consideration for alternative candidates right now,” said Megan Novak, the Wisconsin director of Americans for Prosperity.

Panelists noted the key discussions moving forward, especially for Wisconsin, will be the economy, inflation, and abortion.

The next Republican debate is Sept. 27 and will likely have a narrower playing field, as candidates need at least 3% in poll showings to qualify.

-Jenna Wells from CBS58 News

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