Update: Talking Debt and Deficits in the GOP Debates

In the first five Presidential GOP primary debates, the current active GOP candidates have mentioned the deficit or debt a combined 31 times, with former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley responsible for 19 of those mentions. As the winner of the 2024 Presidential election will have to deal with many major fiscal challenges, it is important for them to be honest and direct with voters, make deficit reduction a priority, and put forward proposals to reduce debt and pay for new initiatives.

In a previous analysis, published on December 19, 2023, we counted a total of 35 mentions amongst five candidates. Since that time, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have dropped out of the race, leaving three candidates remaining. This is an update of that analysis.

Mentioning the deficit and debt is of course not the same as committing to address our unsustainable fiscal outlook, but it’s a start.

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US Budget Watch 2024 is a project of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget designed to educate the public on the fiscal impact of presidential candidates’ proposals and platforms. Through the election, we will issue policy explainers, fact checks, budget scores, and other analyses. We do not support or oppose any candidate for public office.

As one way to gauge which candidates have been talking about our fiscal challenges the most, we counted the number of times the words “debt” and “deficit” have been mentioned during the first five GOP primary debates and broke down the results by candidate. Ambassador Haley had the most mentions with 19. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis mentioned “debt” or “deficit” 12 times. Former President Donald Trump did not participate in the first five GOP primary debates and therefore had zero mentions, although he did mention debt seven times during a Fox News townhall prior to the Iowa Caucuses.1

While it’s important for candidates to talk about the problems posed by our national debt and budget deficits, it’s even more important that they have a plan for what to do about them.


Throughout the 2024 presidential election cycle, US Budget Watch 2024 will bring information and accountability to the campaign by analyzing candidates’ proposals, fact-checking their claims, and scoring the fiscal cost of their agendas.

By injecting an impartial, fact-based approach into the national conversation, US Budget Watch 2024 will help voters better understand the nuances of the candidates’ policy proposals and what they would mean for the country’s economic and fiscal future.

You can find more US Budget Watch 2024 content here.

1 Only active candidates who have earned more than 2 percent in national polls within the last three months were included in this analysis.