Many of the headlines from the first GOP primary debate focused on the candidates' comments on key issues such as abortion, Ukraine and Jan. 6. But the two-hour debate included many other topics on voters' minds such as climate change, the southern border, mental health and guns, and UFOs.
Candidates on climate change
Climate change was a divisive issue during the debate – and marked one of the first times the candidates clashed on stage.
During the Wednesday debate, candidates fielded a pre-taped question from Alexander Diaz with Young America Foundation, a young conservatives organization, who said polling indicated climate change is "young people's No. 1 issue."
"How would you as both President of the United States and leader of the Republican party calm their fears that the Republican party doesn't care about climate change?" Diaz asked.
Then moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCullum asked the candidates, with a show of hands, if they believed human behavior is causing climate change.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis immediately responded, "Look, we're not schoolchildren. Let's have the debate," in response to raising hands. Instead of arguing climate change's origins, DeSantis criticized President Joe Biden's response to the Maui wildfires.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy criticized the "climate change agenda."
"I'm the only person on this stage who isn't bought and paid for so I can say this: The climate change agenda is a hoax," Ramaswamy said as the crowd reacted.
Human activity is nearly universally accepted as a cause for Earth's warming – with more than 97% of the world's climate scientists in agreement, according to PolitiFact.
Ramaswamy, who said the climate agenda is stifling the American economy, said "more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change."
It is not clear how many deaths are linked to climate-change policies, but there have been millions of deaths linked to the climate crisis. The World Meteorological Organization says extreme weather and climate-related events caused disasters connected to more than 2 million deaths between 1970 and 2021. Climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, according to a WHO report.
Ramaswamy later clarified his remarks in an interview with ABC's Terry Moran, saying he follows the science.
"I said the climate change agenda is a hoax. And I stand by that with conviction," he told Moran. "I mean, look ... climate science wasn't my background, but I do have a background in molecular biology from Harvard. I am tied to the facts, I believe in science."
In a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday, Ramaswamy added that "the real emergency isn't climate change, it's the man-made disaster of climate change policies that threaten U.S. prosperity."
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was the only candidate to acknowledge on stage that climate change is real, but said the work begins overseas.
"If you want to go and really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions," Haley said. "That's where our problem is."
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said the best thing to do to improve the environment is "bring our jobs home from China."
During the debate, Biden took to X to weigh in on the topic.
"Climate change is real, by the way," he wrote.
DeSantis would send troops to border
DeSantis said he would order U.S. troops to Mexico to attack drug traffickers and cartels – an idea he proposed while pivoting away from criticism on his stance on Ukraine aid.
"I am going to declare it a national emergency. I'm not going to send troops to Ukraine, but I am going to send troops to our southern border," DeSantis said after Haley interjected that the U.S. can both send aid to Ukraine and work on border security.
"When these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border, that's going to be the last thing they do. We are going to use force and we're going to leave them stone-cold dead," DeSantis said.
Later, when asked by a moderator if he would support sending U.S. special forces into Mexico itself -- effectively an incursion into another country -- to attack "fentanyl labs" and "drug cartel operations," DeSantis said he would do that on "Day One."
"You want to talk about a country in decline, you have the cartels controlling a lot of ... your southern border. We have to reestablish the rule of law and we have to defend our people… yes, we are going to use lethal force. Yes, we reserve the right to operate," DeSantis said.
Former Vice President Mike Pence also spoke about operations to take out cartels and drug traffickers, but framed it as engaging with Mexico and working with the Mexican military.
"We will partner with the Mexican military and we will hunt down and destroy the cartels that are claiming lives in the United States of America," Pence said.
Ramaswamy on mental health and guns
When discussing gun violence, Ramaswamy connected mental health and violent crime -- adding that he would reopen closed mental health institutions.
"We also have a mental health epidemic in this country. Just over the same period that we have closed mental health institutions, we have seen a spike in violent crime. Do we have the spine to bring them back?" Ramaswamy said. "I think we should; as president, I will."
Republicans have often framed the issue of gun violence in America around mental health, although experts have cautioned that mental health cannot be primarily or solely blamed for mass shootings and gun violence.
Experts have also said that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrate it, and that the discussion of mental illness in relation to gun reform stigmatizes people with mental health disorders.
Ramaswamy's comments on needing more mental health resources echoes some bipartisan views on increasing access to those resources. The Biden administration has devoted funding from an anti-gun violence bill in Congress to mental health care.
Christie on UFOs – and New Jerseyans
This past summer, Congress held a high-profile hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs -- better known as UFOs.
Debate moderator MacCallum, framing the question as something "a little out of this world," asked Christie if he would "level with the American people" about what the U.S. knows about UFO sightings.
"I get the UFO question? Come on, man," an exasperated Christie interjected during the question.
The former governor then quipped that he was getting the question because he and MacCallum are both from the same state – New Jersey.
"Look, Martha, and especially coming from a woman from New Jersey, I think it's horrible that just because I'm from New Jersey, you asked me about unidentified flying objects and martians. We're different, but we're not that different," Christie said with a smile.
MacCallum is originally from Wyckoff, New Jersey and now lives in Summit, a few counties over.
In his more earnest answer, Christie said that "the job of the president of the United States is to level with the American people about everything. The job of the president of the United States is to stand for truth."
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.