The seven Republicans on stage at their party’s second 2024 presidential primary debate aimed on Wednesday to convince voters they could be a viable alternative to front-runner Donald Trump, who skipped the event. Here are takeaways from the debate in Simi Valley, California, as reported by the Associated Press:
GOP 2nd Presidential debate is in the books: The Takeaways
Newslooks- SIMI VALLEY, California, (AP)
Donald Trump’s Republican rivals clashed at a chaotic presidential debate on Wednesday, leveling attacks at the absent former president, Democratic President Joe Biden and one another over issues from China to immigration to the economy.
But as the debate ended, no candidate appeared to have secured the sort of breakout moment that would alter the dynamics of a primary contest that Trump has dominated for months, despite his four criminal indictments.
Trump, who led his nearest rival for the nomination by 37 percentage points in the most recent poll, skipped the debate, as he did the first one in Wisconsin last month.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called Trump “missing in action” and blamed him for adding trillions of dollars to the national debt.
“He should be on this stage tonight,” DeSantis said, drawing applause from the audience at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. “He owes it to you to defend his record.”
The dig from DeSantis, whose poll numbers have declined after he had been widely seen as the leading Trump alternative, suggested he was more willing to attack the frontrunner after months of largely avoiding direct confrontation.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a frequent Trump critic, chimed in, saying Trump was “afraid” and mocking him as “Donald Duck” for skipping the debate.
Mike Pence, vice president under Trump from 2017-2021, said he would take an opposite approach to Trump if elected. He said Trump planned to centralize power in the federal government but he would give more power to the states.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the November 2024 election, was also a frequent target for the Republican candidates, who castigated his handling of the economy and the southern border with Mexico.
As in the first debate in August, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – a political neophyte whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is his first run for public office – repeatedly drew the ire of his fellow Republicans.
“Every time, I hear you, I feel a little dumber,” Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, told Ramaswamy after he defended joining TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media site that has raised security concerns among U.S. officials. Ramaswamy said he uses the app to connect with young voters.
All of the candidates vowed to take a muscular approach to immigration and attacked the Biden administration for failing to stem the migrant crisis that has fueled record illegal crossings at the southern border.
The seven candidates are vying with Trump to become their party’s nominee to face Biden in the 2024 election.
Minutes before the debate kicked off, Trump delivered a speech to autoworkers in the battleground state of Michigan, inserting himself into a national dispute between striking workers and the country’s leading automakers a day after Biden joined a union picket line.
“They’re all job candidates,” Trump said dismissively of the seven Republicans at the debate. “Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don’t think so.”
By shunning both debates, the former president signaled he was focused on Biden, his once and perhaps future opponent, rather than the Republican contenders who trail badly in the polls.
With less than four months until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Republican nominating contest, Trump’s rivals are running short on time to weaken his commanding hold on the primary campaign.
Wednesday’s debate loomed particularly large for DeSantis, whose campaign has already endured two staff shakeups as donors expressed concern about his inability to gain on Trump.
DeSantis, 45, made his name nationally by opposing many U.S. government policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He has since become a leading figure fighting what he argues are overly progressive policies favored by educators and corporations.
Haley, meanwhile, was hoping a second consecutive strong debate performance will convince some Republican donors she has the best odds of unseating Trump.
IMMIGRATION IN FOCUS
Immigration took center stage during the debate.
DeSantis promised to deploy the U.S. military against Mexican cartels, while entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he would try to revoke birthright citizenship for the children of those who entered the country illegally.
Even when asked about the expanding U.S. autoworkers’ strike, Senator Tim Scott turned the subject to the border while criticizing Biden for joining the picket line on Tuesday.
“Biden should not be on the picket line,” Scott said. “He should be on the southern border working to close our southern border because it is unsafe, wide open and insecure, leading to the deaths of 70,000 Americans in the last 12 months because of fentanyl.”
Most of the candidates expressed support for continued aid to Ukraine, though DeSantis said he would not offer a “blank check.” Ramaswamy warned that backing Ukraine was pushing Russia further toward China, prompting renewed criticisms from his rivals that he would appease Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The moderators did not ask the candidates about Trump’s myriad legal problems. The 77-year-old businessman-turned-politician has been indicted in four criminal cases, and on Tuesday, a New York state judge found that he committed fraud by inflating the value of his business assets.
Takeaways from the second 2024 Republican presidential debate
DESANTIS ATTACKS TRUMP
It took more than 15 minutes for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to speak, but when he did, he unloaded on former President Trump in a way he has not before.
He said Trump, who was speaking to a crowd of autoworkers in Detroit on Wednesday instead of joining the debate, should have been on the stage with his primary rivals.
“Donald Trump is missing an action. He should be on the stage tonight,” DeSantis said. “He owes it to you to defend his record where they added 7.8 trillion to the debt. That set the stage for the inflation that we have now.”
DeSantis had patiently bided his time as all the other contenders on stage took questions on the economy. It was not an ideal start for a candidate who desperately needs to reverse his fading fortunes.
The most recent poll had him falling almost 40 percentage points behind Trump. In some early-voting states such as New Hampshire, he is in danger of dropping into the middle of the pack.
Whether DeSantis, 45, ultimately will benefit from taking on the most popular figure in the party remains to be seen, but his combativeness toward Trump, 77, was something some of his supporters and donors have wanted to see for months.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had an aggressive start, using his first answer to criticize Trump for skipping the debate and for adding to the national debt while serving as president.
“Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be here on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record,” DeSantis said.
The Florida governor has been slow to attack Trump for most of the campaign, but as he’s struggled to maintain his position as a distant second, he’s started slowly sharpening his critiques of the man whose endorsement he once embraced.
With his position in the race at risk of stalling, DeSantis faced pressure to have a standout and aggressive performance Wednesday.
DeSantis seemed eager to jump in on a question after Trump was criticized by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made hammering Trump a focus of his campaign. DeSantis began speaking at the same time as another candidate and when finally given the floor, he used his answer to hit President Joe Biden and Trump in the same swipe, accusing them of lacking leadership.
The other candidates ignored Trump as they answered their first question about the autoworkers’ strike in Michigan — where Trump was visiting instead of debatin
A HARD LINE AGAINST ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
Asked about the flow of illegal immigration across America’s southern border, the candidates tried to outdo one another by showing how hardline their policies would be.
It was a clear reflection of how illegal immigration and border security are among the top concerns for Republican primary voters.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border “on Day One.”
Nikki Haley, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, promised to create an additional 25,000 Border Patrol and immigration enforcement jobs at the border, keep asylum seekers in Mexico and immediately deport captured immigrants who enter illegally.
Not to be upstaged, biotech investor Vivek Ramaswamy went even further. He pledged universal deportation for all immigrants who enter illegally and their children, the complete militarization of the southern border and the end of birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants who enter illegally born on U.S. soil.
“If the kid of a Mexican diplomat doesn’t enjoy birthright citizenship, then neither does the kid of an illegal migrant who broke the law to come here,” Ramaswamy said.
Experts who have studied presidential debates will tell you: It’s hard to manufacture a moment that voters will remember or that will go viral on social media. They typically come off as inauthentic.
But that doesn’t mean the Republicans on stage didn’t try.
Former Vice President Mike Pence was so eager to use his one-liner, he decided to refer to an earlier question about the United Auto Workers strike rather than one he was asked.
“Joe Biden doesn’t belong on the picket line. He belongs on the unemployment line,” Pence joked before pausing for a roar from the crowd that never came.
Later, when discussing education policy, he noted that he has “been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years.” (Spoiler: It’s his wife, Karen Pence.)
That didn’t stop Christie from trying a little humor himself in blasting Trump for skipping the debate. Addressing the camera, Christie adopted the pose of speaking to the former president directly.
“You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things,” Christie said, his finger pointed in challenge. “And let me tell you what’s going to happen if you keep doing that. No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re gonna call you Donald Duck.”
There were some hoots but more moans from the audience, likely because much of the crowd, like the Republican Party, was comprised of voters who like Trump. Christie’s campaign tried to make it viral by posting it on X, the social media site once known as Twitter. One commenter noted, “We’ve reached new levels of cringe.”
GOP’s shift from Reagan
The debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlighted the way the GOP has drifted from some of the former president’s core values. One of them was highlighted right away — immigration.
A clip of the 40th president calling for “amnesty” for people in the country illegally preceded a question about immigration policy. Christie, who once represented a Democratic state and backed a similar proposal a decade ago, distanced himself from that, saying it was effectively ancient history.
“We’re no longer in a position to do that anymore,” Christie said, calling for “enforcing the law.”
Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants and a former South Carolina governor, went a step further, calling for an end to foreign aid to Latin America until the border is secured.
“Only when we fix the immigration system, only when we make the border secure should we ever put more money into this,” the former United Nations representative said.
The rightward shift on migration was percolating even before Trump’s presidential run began in 2015, but his victory the following year accelerated it. Even entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, also the son of Indian immigrants, jumped in to highlight his proposal to revoke U.S. citizenship for children born in the country to parents who are here illegally.
That’d require a constitutional amendment and has also been embraced by Trump, but it shows how far the modern GOP has drifted from Reagan.
A new tone from Ramaswamy?
Ramaswamy was the bad boy of the first debate, declaring that “everyone on this stage is corrupt” except him because he was a political outsider, a biotech entrepreneur who wrote a book entitled “Woke, Inc.” and decided to run for president.
It got him attention, but also seemed to have gotten under the skins of not only his rivals, but GOP primary voters. Ramaswamy tried a kinder, gentler approach this time.
“These are good people on this stage,” he declared at the start of the debate. Later Ramaswamy repeatedly cited Reagan’s so-called “11th commandment” to never criticize another Republican.
He even tried a little humble pie. “I’m the new guy here so I know I have to earn your trust,” he told the crowd, saying he may seem “a bit of a know-it-all” but he’d be eager to listen to more experienced hands in the Oval Office.
He certainly didn’t defuse the tension onstage — Ramaswamy ended up at the bottom of a political dogpile again as candidates lined up to criticize him.
A more assertive Scott
After delivering a somewhat underwhelming performance during the first debate, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott sought to more forcefully assert himself on Wednesday.
The only Black person on stage, Scott jumped on a question to DeSantis about revisions to Florida’s school curriculum that required teachers to instruct middle-school students that enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
After DeSantis defended the standards, Scott responded that “there is not a redeeming quality in slavery.”
The senator then tried to criticize both DeSantis and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is Black and of South Asian descent. Scott then gave a long answer defending America’s evolution and raised his voice in a crescendo, declaring, “America is not a racist country,” which drew applause.