The first half hour of Wednesday’s GOP presidential primary debate was largely devoid of fireworks — in part because it was devoid of the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
But of the eight second-tier challengers on stage in Milwaukee, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a notoriously pugnacious debater — landed the night’s first punch when he accused tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy of being an “amateur” whose answers sounded like they were generated by artificial intelligence.
Christie unloads: “I’ve had enough,” Christie snapped after Ramaswamy described the “climate change agenda” as a “hoax.” “I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.”
Then Christie twisted the knife by comparing Ramaswamy — who earlier introduced himself as a “skinny guy with a funny name” — to former Democratic President Barack Obama.
“The last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?’ was Barack Obama,” Christie said. “And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur.”
Why it matters: Most pundits expected Christie — one of Trump’s fiercest and most forthright GOP foes — to focus his fire on the former president. But the fact that he went after Ramaswamy first reflects two realities.
First, Trump is so far ahead of everyone else — he leads by 40 percentage points, according to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll — that it simply makes more sense for a candidate like Christie to try to knock out his second-tier rivals before going after the big guy.
And second, because Ramaswamy is on the rise — he has more than doubled his support to 8% over the last month, and he delivered some of Wednesday’s biggest applause lines — he currently represents the biggest threat to the rest of the party’s would-be Trump alternatives.
“Give me that hug,” Ramaswamy said after Christie mentioned Obama, whom the then New Jersey governor famously embraced in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, just days before the 2012 election. “Give me that bear hug and you’ll help elect me, just like Obama.”
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