By Jack Phillips
Former President Donald Trump revealed who he believed won the first GOP presidential debate on Wednesday night.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy effusively praised the former president in the first debate, coming about an hour after it started.
“I’ll just speak the truth. President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century,” Mr. Ramaswamy said as the crowd cheered. “Your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible,” he told former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, “if your campaign were not based on vengeance and grievance against one man,” referring to President Trump.
On Truth Social, the former president posted a clip of Mr. Ramaswamy’s comment and wrote: “This answer gave Vivek Ramaswamy a big WIN in the debate because of a thing called TRUTH. Thank you Vivek!”
Mr. Ramaswamy’s defense of the former president came in response to an attack from Mr. Christie on the debate stage. Mr. Christie had said that “someone’s got to stop normalizing this conduct … the conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States.”
Later, Mr. Ramaswamy posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “if folks at home want to watch a bunch of people blindly bash Trump, they can just flip the channel and watch MSNBC right now. But I’m not running for President of MSNBC, I’m running for President of the United States.”
The former president opted out of the debate and instead held a pre-recorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, where the two discussed a range of topics. As of Friday morning, the Carlson-Trump interview, which was posted on X, had generated more than 250 million impressions.
“Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president? Should I be doing that at a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me?” President Trump said.
After-debate polls showed that Mr. Ramaswamy was viewed as one of the top-performing candidates during the event, often fielding attacks from several candidates. He also promoted what some have described as a Trump-like agenda and was one of the few candidates to openly criticize the multiple Trump indictments.
Mr. Ramaswamy was also the first GOP candidate to raise his hand when asked if he would support President Trump as the party’s nominee—even if he is convicted on the charges that he’s facing. Ultimately, all of the candidates—except for former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson—raised their hands.
“Join me in making a commitment that one day you would pardon Donald Trump,” Mr. Ramaswamy told former Vice President Mike Pence at one point.
It appeared that in President Trump’s absence, several of the candidates appeared to go after him, and he spent a significant amount of time in the spotlight. At one point, he called the other candidates “Super PAC puppets” and claimed that he was “the only one on the stage that isn’t bought and paid for.”
He also sparred with other candidates and moderators about whether the United States should provide more funding to Ukraine and Israel. “Ukraine is not a priority for the United States of America,” he said.
That drew a response from former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who asserted: “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”
But President Trump’s debate comment came hours before he was booked into the Fulton County Jail on multiple charges. His mugshot was taken and was posted across nearly every U.S. media outlet.
About an hour later, the former president used the mugshot to make his very first post on X, or Twitter, in more than two years. It’s not clear if he will continue to use the platform often as he has previously said he would continue to use his Truth Social.
President Trump has 86.6 million followers on what is now known as X, dwarfing his rivals in the 2024 race. He returned to Facebook in March, posting, “I’M BACK!” weeks after his personal account there was reactivated.
President Trump was released on $200,000 bond and headed back to the airport for his return flight home to New Jersey, flashing a thumbs-up through the window of his sport utility vehicle as his motorcade left. Unrepentant but subdued after the brief jail visit, he again insisted that he “did nothing wrong” and called the case accusing him of subverting election results a “travesty of justice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.