Republican debate candidates criticized each other in second debate

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Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence and, Nikki Haley participated in the 2024 Republican Presidential debate.

Donald Trump’s Republican opponents engaged in a tumultuous presidential debate on Wednesday, where they launched attacks on the absent former president, Democratic President Joe Biden, and each other, covering a wide range of issues from China and immigration to the economy.

However, at the conclusion of the debate, none of the seven candidates on the stage seemed to have achieved a defining moment that could shift the dynamics of the primary race. This race has been predominantly dominated by Trump for months, even though his four criminal indictments were barely mentioned during the two-hour broadcast. Trump, who maintained a commanding lead over his nearest rival by 37 percentage points, chose to skip the debate, as he did the previous one in Wisconsin the month before.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took the opportunity to criticize Trump for his absence and for contributing trillions of dollars to the national debt during his first response. DeSantis stated that Trump should have been present on the stage that night to defend his record, drawing applause from the audience at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. DeSantis, who had previously avoided direct confrontations with Trump, has recently become more willing to challenge the frontrunner, which has led to a decline in his poll numbers.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a frequent Trump critic, joined in by suggesting that Trump was afraid and humorously referred to him as “Donald Duck” for skipping the debate. Mike Pence, who served as vice president under Trump from 2017 to 2021, mildly criticized Trump’s inclination to centralize power in the federal government and pledged to return power to the states. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley criticized Trump for focusing exclusively on trade with China, rather than addressing broader security concerns.

Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee for the November 2024 election, was a frequent target of criticism from the Republican candidates for his handling of the economy and the situation at the southern border with Mexico. Despite these issues, the candidates, most of whom were polling in single digits nationally, spent most of the evening attacking each other.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a political newcomer running for the Republican presidential nomination, repeatedly drew the ire of his more experienced opponents. Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, told Ramaswamy that listening to him made her feel less informed. Ramaswamy defended his use of the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, which raised security concerns among U.S. officials, as a way to connect with young voters.

In the final segment of the debate, moderator Dana Perino suggested that Trump’s nomination was inevitable as long as the field remained divided among multiple candidates. Ron DeSantis responded by pointing up that it is the voters who elect presidents, not polls.

Minutes before the debate began, Trump addressed autoworkers in Michigan, inserting himself into a national dispute between striking workers and major automakers. He dismissed the Republican candidates at the debate as “job candidates” and questioned their potential as vice presidents. By skipping both debates, Trump signalled that he was primarily focused on Biden, his potential opponent, rather than the Republican contenders who were lagging behind in the polls.

The debate moderators did not raise questions about Trump’s legal troubles. Trump faced indictments in four criminal cases, and a New York state judge recently found him guilty of inflating the value of his business assets.

With less than four months until the first Republican caucus in Iowa, Trump’s rivals have limited time to challenge his dominant position in the primary campaign. The debate held particular significance for Ron DeSantis, whose campaign had already undergone two staff shakeups due to concerns from donors about his inability to gain ground against Trump. DeSantis gained national prominence by opposing various U.S. government COVID-19 policies and continued to fight against what he viewed as overly progressive policies favoured by educators and corporations.

Meanwhile, Nikki Haley hoped that a strong performance in two consecutive debates would convince Republican donors that she had the best chance of unseating Trump.

Immigration was a central topic during the debate, with all candidates pledging to take a tough stance. They criticized the Biden administration for its handling of the migrant crisis at the southern border. DeSantis even proposed deploying the U.S. military against Mexican cartels, while Ramaswamy suggested revoking birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Most candidates expressed support for continued aid to Ukraine, though DeSantis called for a more measured approach and Ramaswamy advocated for cutting off assistance, raising concerns from rivals that this could push Russia closer to China and appease Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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