Even the contestants who were spectators at the first debate – Sen. Their rivals — including Tim Scott (SC) and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — stymied their rivals and ignored pleas from Fox Business moderators to stick to the rules. The debate turned into a shouting match at times, with neither candidate being heard.
DeSantis entered the night as a distant runner-up in early states. Many big donors who hoped to support a strong alternative to Trump — and who initially saw DeSantis as a more promising contender — have been dismayed by Trump’s strength, despite his mounting legal problems and skids over the Florida governor’s missteps.
DeSantis was at least 15 minutes into the debate when he got his first question, but he became angry, attacking both Trump and President Biden during a discussion about the government shutdown.
“Where’s Joe Biden? He’s completely absent from leadership,” DeSantis said, blaming leaders of both parties for profligate spending in Washington. “You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight. He’s added $7.8 trillion to the debt. He owes it to you to protect his record.
DeSantis criticized Trump for calling six-week abortion bans in some states, including Florida, “a terrible thing.” The former president should be on stage, he said, “to explain his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a frequent critic of Trump, accused Trump of cowardice for skipping the first two presidential debates.
“Donald, I know you’re watching,” Christy said. “You’re not here tonight – not because of the polls, not because of your allegations – you’re not here tonight because you’re afraid to stand on stage and defend your record. You ignore these things.
Trump, who led the field by an average margin of 40 points and said there was no reason to participate in the debates, tried to create a split screen by addressing workers in Michigan who are on strike for higher wages.
Polls show former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley benefited most from her performance in the first debate, with business executive Vivek Ramasamy at the center of the sparring, following DeSantis and others.
“Every time I listen to you, I feel a little sleazy,” Haley teased Ramasamy. “We can’t trust you.”
Ramasamy responded, “I think we would do a better job as a Republican Party if we didn’t sit here and make personal attacks.”
Few new policy positions emerged from the evening, as the candidates blamed “union bosses” for the UAW strike, Biden for the economy and liberals for crime. While some policy differences emerged, such as over aid to Ukraine, most of the attacks were personal in nature.
Here are the highlights of the discussion.
Haley takes aim at her rivals
Haley seized opportunities to challenge the records of both Scott and DeSantis. But she relished the opportunity to mingle with the other contestants, again heaping scorn on Ramasamy.
DeSantis accused the former South Carolina governor of supporting a ban in Florida, which he said was wrong. He also mocked his claims about what DeSantis would do on his first day as president. “He always talks about what happens on the first day. You better take care of the second day,” she said.
When Scott began launching attacks on Haley’s record in South Carolina, he responded: “Bring it on, Tim!”
Haley “never saw a federal dollar she didn’t want,” Scott alleged. He pressed her to explain why the State Department paid more than $50,000 for mechanized curtains in the official residence of the ambassador to the United Nations, a role she held during the Trump administration.
Plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016 during the Obama administration, and while Haley’s aides said she had no say in the purchase, Scott demanded why she didn’t return them as the two shouted at each other.
In a sign of Haley’s rising profile, Trump’s team blasted an email to reporters amid a heated debate about “The Real Nikki Haley.”
Ramasamy continued to be a primary target on the platform for the other candidates, but took a more conciliatory approach than he did in the first debate, initially praising some of the other Republicans’ comments as “good people tainted by a broken system.”
Other candidates have criticized Ramasamy for his controversial plans to end birthright citizenship, and inconsistencies in his positions, such as joining TikTok after previously criticizing the app.
The first-time candidate sought to deflect criticism of him and his campaign, saying he was “a young man in a bit of a hurry, maybe a bit too ambitious”.
He admitted, at one point, that some people see him as a “know-it-all”.
Candidates vary in immigration
The candidates criticized Biden for not securing the border, invoked deaths from fentanyl to argue the need for action and insisted they only welcome immigrants who enter the country legally.
Some avoided specifics in response to pointed questions from Univision anchor Ilia Calderon. Former Vice President Mike Pence did not directly say whether he would work with Congress to address “Dreamers” who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
Scott and Ramasamy split on the concept of birthright citizenship, leading to a heated back-and-forth. Although the 14th Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are American citizens, Ramasamy argued that he could terminate birthright citizenship.
Scott denied that the 14th Amendment was written to protect previously enslaved people.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for his part, mocked Trump for not completing the wall along the southern border. “What we need to do now is treat it like a law enforcement problem first,” Christie said of illegal immigration. “Our laws are violated every day along the southern border.”
A very determined Scott commands attention
Scott, who had receded into the background during the first debate, swung Wednesday evening. He repeatedly sparred with Ramasamy in the last debate, citing statements from tech entrepreneurs that his rivals were “bought and paid for.”
“I thought about it for a while and said, ‘You know, I can’t imagine how you can say that knowing that you’re doing business with the Chinese Communist Party and the same people who financed Hunter Biden.’ He refers to allegations that he tried to benefit financially from his father’s role.
Ramasamy dismissed the allegation as “nonsense”. The two repeatedly interrupted each other, which detracted from Scott’s usually genial demeanor.
Scott also renewed his criticism of DeSantis’ policy decisions after evaluators asked the governor about an aspect of Florida’s curriculum that “enslaved people developed skills that, in some cases, could be used for their personal benefit.”
DeSantis replied, “That was a hoax by Kamala Harris. We’re not going to do that.”
Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, said, “There is no redeeming quality to slavery. He and Kamala should have gotten the same sentence.
Scott used the moment to broaden his lens on race in America, saying, “Black families survived slavery. We survived poll taxes and literacy tests. We survived discrimination enshrined in the laws of our country. And despite the discrimination he faced, he reiterated, “America is not a racist country.”
Blaming Biden for Auto Workers Strike
Several candidates said they sympathized with the demands of the United Auto Workers on picketing in Michigan, but they also sought to blame Biden for the economic woes of workers in the Midwest.
The debate highlights the divide within the GOP between traditional conservative and populist factions. Scott said, “One of the challenges we have in the current negotiations is that they want four-day French work weeks, but they want more money – they want more benefits from working fewer hours.”
“He doesn’t have much patience with workers,” Ramasamy said.
Pence blamed spending by Democrats during the Biden administration on the pinch many American workers are feeling due to inflation.
“Joe Biden is not a picket fence. “He’s on the unemployment line,” Pence said.
Attempt to score points on shutdown
Many candidates sought to highlight their governing style in contrast to the current dysfunction in Washington.
The debate comes days before a government shutdown on Sunday, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) battles hard-line members of his caucus who continue to block spending bills calling for funding cuts and border security measures. and other provisions.
When asked about the shutdown, Christie tried to use the opportunity to blame both Democrats and Republicans in Washington and highlight the national debt.
“Voters should blame everyone in Washington, DC,” Christie said. “They’re being sent there to do the job, and they’ve been failing to do the job for a long time. Let’s be honest with the voters about this: During the Trump administration, they added $7 trillion to the national debt, and now the Biden administration has added $5 trillion. They’ve failed.”