Vivek Ramaswamy’s hand shot up first.
He was followed over the next few long seconds by the surrounding candidates on the debate stage — South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — raising their hands too, some after looking around at their neighbors.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s hands remained at his sides. And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shook his fist.
The question had been whether the candidates who are far trailing former President Donald Trump in the GOP primary would support the former president if he wins the nomination again, and is convicted of a crime. Trump currently faces four separate indictments on charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago and payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Only Christie and Hutchinson indicated they would not support the former president if he was the party’s nominee. All candidates had to sign a loyalty pledge indicating they would support the party’s nominee to participate in the date.
Christie, shaking his fist slightly, spoke up first after the question, side-stepping other Republicans’ criticism of the prosecutions as politicized, but calling attention to Trump’s underlying behavior.
“Someone has to stop normalizing this conduct,” the former New Jersey governor said.
His comments were met with some cheers but louder boos from the audience, which Christie acknowledged.
“Booing is allowed, but it does not change the truth,” he said.
Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur, pushed back, saying Trump was the “best president of the 21st century,” to cheers from the crowd.
“We have to end the weaponization of justice in this country,” he said.
Hutchinson pointed to the possibility of Trump being disqualified for the presidency under the 14th Amendment, a legal theory linked to his actions surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection that has not yet been tested in the courts.
“I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony, or who has been disqualified under our Constitution,” Hutchinson said.