GOP takes on a second debate

Donald Trump has now missed both Republican primary debates.
Seven candidates gathered in Simi Valley, CA, in the Air Force One Pavilion of Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library on Wednesday, Sept. 27. It was not the first primary debate this facility has hosted, one would recognize the backdrop of the Air Force One plane that has held five Republican Primary debates since 2007. The moderators were Dana Perino and Stuart Varney of Fox News, alongside Ilia Calderón, a Univision anchor. The debate aired on Fox Business, Univision and Rumble in cooperation with Fox.
The candidates on stage were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Notably, the highest-polling candidate in the Republican field, Donald Trump was absent in addition to one of his vocal critics who attended the first debate, Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson failed to reach the donor threshold of 50,000 people, up from the 40,000 required for August’s debate. The former Arkansas governor did reach 3% in a national poll prior to the Milwaukee debate, but not in one since.
Like last time, Trump arranged another event to coincide with Wednesday’s primary debate. He spoke to a group of current and former union members in Detroit, MI. This speech was likely chosen in the wake of the United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three. Trump won Michigan in 2016 but lost there in 2020. Trump’s counterprogramming may continue as he expressed no interest in debating candidates much lower than him in the polls.
The first section of the debate began with discussion of immigration, foreign policy and government spending. Again, the idea of sending special forces into Mexico to deal with cartels, nothing short of an invasion, was floated at this debate, like last. This idea to me is laughable now, but it would not have carried any water with Republican voters just a decade ago. When asked about this, Ramaswamy said, “Militarize the southern border.” Pence said, “A nation without borders is not a nation.”
Overall, my initial impression after watching was that this debate felt more real, more presidential and more substantial, but do not let that fool you; there was plenty to scoff at. There were many instances in which candidates clamored to answer questions posed to their competitors, not them. Notably, Pence said, “Can I answer the question about mass shootings?” This is not a new phenomenon; the candidates always want to answer the same questions as their competitors. However, what felt so unique about this debate was that the moderators seemed to prefer some candidates answer questions and not the others. According to the New York Times, Burgum spoke for the least amount of time, seven minutes and 35 seconds, and much of that came from his interruptions to answer questions on energy. Burgum spoke over Ramaswamy, to which he replied, “Thank you for speaking while I’m interrupting, thank you for interrupting while I’m speaking.”
Scott and Haley quarreled over her time in the Office of Ambassador to the United Nations. “As the U.N. ambassador, you literally spent $50,000 on curtains.”
I am glad they fought, I think a lot of voters want to see the fields narrowed, but for Trump it is best if all the anti-Trumpers in the GOP split their votes seven ways.
Trump was not at the debate, but the candidates took ever so slightly stronger jabs at the former president. DeSantis said, “Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt.” Christie attacked Trump’s absence, too, saying “You’re not here tonight, not because of polls and not because of your indictments. You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things. And let me tell you what’s going to happen. You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore, we’re going to call you Donald Duck.” Christie joined DeSantis, while most other candidates seemed content to simply attack each other.
One topic that stood out to me was foreign policy, in which Scott went on a diatribe about Russia, “Our nation’s vital interest is in degrading the Russian Military. By degrading the Russian military, we actually keep our homeland safer, we keep our troops at home, and we all understand Article 5 of NATO.” Now, hawkish statements were tossed out plenty of times, but more so regarding China or the Mexican cartels. Intervention and Neoconservative are alive and well in the Grand Old Party, it appears. Haley said, “A win for Russia is a win for China,” and continued saying Biden has not done enough and more aid should be sent to Ukraine. Regardless of their stance on the war in Ukraine, the candidates all worry about driving China and Russia further together.
Perino began the final segment with this question she posed to the candidates: “Candidates, it’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump wins the nomination. None of you have indicated that you’re dropping out. So, which one of you on stage tonight should be voted off the island?”
The candidates rejected her offer, Nikki shot back, “Are you serious?” DeSantis spouted, “I’ll decline to do that. I mean we’re here, we’re having a debate. I think that that’s disrespectful to my fellow competitors.” The candidates’ consensus was to avoid the question. Dana replied, “Nobody wants to participate?” and Ron suggested more questions be asked in the last segment. Perino directed a follow-up that was much more pointed, asking what DeSantis’ “mathematical path” is to beat Trump. DeSantis remarked, “polls do not elect presidents, votes elect presidents.” Christie managed to answer the question, but not as the moderators intended, saying, “I vote Donald Trump off the island right now.” Christie echoed DeSantis’ prior response to Perino’s initial question by saying, “Every person on this stage has shown the respect to Republican voters to come here, to express their views honestly, candidly and directly… I have respect for every man and woman on this stage.” Vivek managed to wring out the last minutes of the two hour debate where he spoke last.

Post Author: James Palke