The debate opened with a clip of a country song
A crowded stage of talkative Republican politicians produced a messy debate in the race to be the party's presidential candidate, and also it created a few moments of surprise and curiosity.
The Trump tie?
Donald Trump may have turned down his invitation to join the debate, but his influence appeared to have seeped into the clothing choices of his rivals.
All seven male candidates lined up wearing dark suits, white shirts and red ties -- an echo of Trump's standard attire. In contrast, Nikki Haley wore a white ensemble.
The hit song
The debate opened with a clip of a country song from a previously unknown singer that touches on class struggle in America and has debuted at the top of the US charts.
Oliver Anthony's "Rich Men North of Richmond" invokes the argument that Americans in the south and rural areas have been left behind by rich elites further north.
Ron DeSantis said the song struck such a nerve because "our country is in decline."
Unlikely Thatcher moment
After some verbiage among the male candidates, Nikki Haley stepped in with a sharp quote from late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
"This is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said, 'If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,'" Haley, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, said, earning loud applause.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum participated despite suffering a serious tear to his Achilles tendon while playing basketball with his staff the day before the debate.
"I'm in," the 2024 candidate posted on social media along with a photo of him on crutches.
He told the audience "I'm from a town of 300 people. It's a big deal to make it on this stage with all these folks."
He added that in his home state "they were all wishing me well, and I think I took them a little too literally when they said 'Go to Milwaukee and break a leg.'"
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