6 takeaways from the second GOP debate
Primary debates are about winnowing the field of candidates to bring in the final major party candidate. That malpractice continued at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where seven Republicans were ready to fight.
Biden, Trump, and attacking each other
Only seven candidates participated in this debate, down from eight last month in Milwaukee, after former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson failed to qualify this time. There are less than four months to go until the first nominating contest in Iowa on Jan. 15, and those months will be crucial in determining whether anyone has a shot at taking on the front-runner, former President Donald Trump. Trump skipped this debate, as well as the first.
That made for a debate that was at times fractious, with the three moderators struggling to keep the conversation under control as the candidates talked and shouted over each other.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, bottom in current polls and the last to qualify to appear in the debate, tried to talk his way into more airtime, jumping in to answer a question about child care for the moderator. Fox News’s Dana Perino interrupted.
The debate ended with a surprising moment of decorum when the candidates refused to answer a question from Perino, who asked each candidate to pick one rival: “Who should be voted off the island?”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declined, saying, “I think this is disrespectful to my fellow competitors.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie visibly indicated his approval.
Christie ultimately said he would “vote Donald Trump off the island right now.”
“Everyone on this stage has shown respect for Republican voters” by appearing, Christie said, adding that Trump has divided the country and divided families.
Haley is on fire, again
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has gained ground, especially in New Hampshire, and surpassed DeSantis in some key polls, showed up with gloves off.
She sparred with both DeSantis and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott over energy policy. During a heated discussion about how to regulate teens’ social media use, Haley told entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy what may be the most memorable line: “Every time I hear you, I feel a little dumber.”
Ramaswamy responded by complaining about the futility of “personal attacks” as the discussion descended into yet another shouting match between the moderators and the candidates.
In a clear sign that Trump views Haley as a potential threat, his campaign released a statement before the debate even ended attempting to diminish her credibility, calling her weak on immigration. The statement also attempted to link her to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by citing a 2012 New York Times article in which Haley said that as a woman she was inspired to run for political office because of the example of Clinton.
The frontrunner was absent but not ignored
Instead of attending the debate, Trump held a rally in Michigan at a non-union auto parts factory.
That visit appeared intended to contrast with President Biden’s decision to join autoworkers at a picket line in Detroit on Tuesday — a move some Republican hopefuls criticized from the debate stage in California. For example, Scott said, “Joe Biden should not be on the picket line; he should be working on our southern border to close our southern border.”
Trump’s Republican rivals have little to lose as they continue to trail him in the polls. That’s likely why some took aim directly at him, including DeSantis, who issued an unusually sharp attack on Trump’s decision not to participate.
“Donald Trump is lacking in action,” DeSantis said. “He should be on this stage tonight.”
Christie accused Trump of skipping the debate not because of his substantial lead in the polls, as Trump has claimed, but because of fear of answering his record.
“You dodge these things and let me tell you what’s going to happen,” Christie said. “Keep doing that, no one here will call you Donald Trump anymore. We will call you Donald Duck.”