Held at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, the second debate among the candidates vying for the 2024 GOP nomination proved to be more entertaining than the first—even if, given Donald Trump’s massive lead in the polls, rather purposeless. Once again Trump disdained showing up so the seven rivals that made the cut duked it out in a last-chance attempt to emerge from the field. They all knew they were fighting for second place, Trump is leading in the polls by as much as 50 points.
In what is being called a “spirited debate”, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley came out swinging, striking aggressive stances, lashing out at their opponents on stage and even at Donald Trump, the elephant who wasn’t in the room.
Ron DeSantis, whose campaign has been confoundingly torpid, finally went after Donald Trump by name during Wednesday’s debate in an exchange of repartee, saying he has been “missing in action” in addressing the nation’s problems – and in debating his Republican rivals. For the Ron DeSantis that we have been accustomed to seeing up to now, this passes for wit and verve.
Nevertheless, DeSantis seems to be caught in a time and space warp loop, still building his national platform around the issues that have played well in Florida but that fail to resonate with the US population at large: critical race theory, the repression of LGBTQ+ rights (as in his “don’t say gay” push) and open carry gun law.
DeSantis said during the debate at the Ronald Reagan library, “Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be here.” Perhaps he has finally understood that hiding behind indirect allusions and general circumspection instead of attacking Trump head-on is what has drained his initially promising position as the leading opponent of any chance to come out on top. This newfound willingness to call out Trump for his failures may be a case of too little too late for the Florida governor.
Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy engaged in a stimulating debate on his recent embrace of TikTok. Ramaswamy, who did surprisingly well in the first debate—indeed, many pundits claimed he won it—neatly connected a number of crucial issues: social media, China, and the GOP’s failure at winning elections.
The charismatic pharmaceutical founder defended his decision to join TikTok earlier this month, saying he was making a bid for the younger voters.
Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney asked the entrepreneur why he decided to join the Chinese-owned platform that has been banned on federal government devices.
“I have a radical idea for the Republican Party. We need to win elections. Part of how we win elections is reaching the next generation of young Americans where they are,” Ramaswamy said.
Ramaswamy said the only way the country could “declare independence from China” is if the Republican party wins the presidential election. He added that he is the only candidate of the GOP who emphasizes “waking up people.”
That answer did not play well with Haley, who declared that she found Ramaswamy’s justification for using the platform “infuriating”.
“TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps,” Haley said. “Honestly every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you said.”
Haley, a former South Carolina governor, reminded Ramaswamy and the audience that the 150 million U.S. TikTok users are susceptible to having their contacts, emails and financial information stolen.
The two then clashed over foreign policy, after Ramaswamy said that the candidates need to “level with the American people” on the issue of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“Just because…Putin’s an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good,” he said, referencing the country’s ban on 11 political parties with ties to Russia.
Haley retorted that, “A win for Russia is a win for China,” then adding, “but I forgot you like China.”
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott also engaged with Ramaswamy on this issue, blaming him for having done business with China.
Nikki Haley also sparred with Scott, when she told him to “bring it” on the debate stage. As the only female candidate on the stage, Haley made sure not to give an inch to her male rivals, something for which she was praised after the first debate as well.
In the meantime, Donald Trump was in Michigan, trying to steal the thunder not only from the debate, but from Joe Biden who, in an unprecedented move for a sitting President, had on the previous day, joined UAW workers in Detroit on the picket line, backing the union’s demands for higher pay, as he bolsters the Democratic Party’s ties with organized labor.
Will this second GOP presidential debate change anything for the race? Will one candidate finally emerge as the leader of the pack? The truth is that even if one does, they will have won second place in a contest that Trump will win hands down.