Second Republican Debate: The Biggest Moments From answers on immigration to striking workers to Donald Trump. By Mini Racker and Nik Popli September 27, 2023

On Wednesday, the seven Republicans who qualified for the second primary debate appeared onstage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where they discussed former President Donald Trumpwho once again skipped the debatethe United Auto Workers strike, the border, education, and other key issues. 

Trump still dominates polls, often earning more than 50% of the Republican vote. Since the first GOP primary debate in August, none of his rivals have gotten much closer to displacing him. The rest of the field has reshuffled, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, long viewed as Trumps biggest rival, falling behind former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in some surveys. 

These were some of the highlights of the second Republican presidential debate in the 2024 campaign.

United Auto Workers strike

The debate opened with questions about striking auto workers and whether they should be fired for causing disruptions at several plants and distribution centers.  

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he doesnt have much patience for union leaders but sympathizes with workers, urging them to picket in front of the White House to protest President Joe Bidens economic policies. I understand that hardship is not a choice, Ramaswamy said, citing his parents economic struggles while he was growing up. But victimhood is a choice and we choose to be victorious in the United States of America.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, former Governor from South Carolina and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, SenatorTim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence attend the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, former Governor from South Carolina and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, SenatorTim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence attend the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023.Robyn BeckAFP/Getty Images

Former Vice President Mike Pence chimed in, claiming Bidenomics has failed and that the Presidents economic policies are good for Beijing and bad for Detroit. Joe Biden doesnt belong on a picket line, he belongs on the unemployment line, Pence said. 

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum steered the conversation to foreign affairs, a focus of his campaign, and blamed Biden for subsidizing electric vehicles with batteries sourced from China. 

Haley responded to the question about striking workers by pitching her economic plan to get more cash in the pockets of workers, a plan that includes eliminating gas and diesel taxes and making small business taxes permanent.

Donald Trump

As the other Republican candidates continue to fail to make a dent in Trumps support among primary voters, some of them criticized the former President for skipping the debate and adding to the national debt.

Donald Trump, he hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and wont show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us are up here to answer, Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, earning applause. He put $7 trillion on the debt. He should be in this room to answer those questions for the people you talk about who are suffering. 

DeSantis echoed Christies attack on Trump and claimed that his spending set the stage for inflation: Donald Trump is missing in action, he said. He should be on this stage tonight.

Later, DeSantis invoked the former President in a question about abortion when he argued that pro-lifers were not to blame for Republicans 2022 defeats. The former president, hes missing in action tonight, hes had a lot to say about that, he said. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Drake Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer, in Clinton Township, Mich. on Sept. 27, 2023.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Drake Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer, in Clinton Township, Mich. on Sept. 27, 2023.Scott OlsonGetty Images

Pence did not slam Trump as directly, but drew a contrast between himself and the man with whom he once shared a ticket. My former running mate, Donald Trump, actually has a plan to start to consolidate more power in D.C., consolidate more power in the executive branch, Pence said when asked if Obamacare is here to stay. When Im President of the United States, its my intention to make the federal government smaller by returning to the states those resources and programs that are rightfully theirs under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

But keeping with the central message of his campaign, it was Christie who was Trumps most vocal critic. Donald, I know youre watching, you cant help yourself, I know youre watching, Christie said. Youre 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 the stage and defending your record. Youre ducking these things. No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore, were going to call you Donald Duck.

Southern border

Amid a spike in unlawful border crossings, Haley proposed defunding sanctuary cities, adding 25,000 more border patrol and ICE agents, and implementing a catch-and-deport policy instead of a catch-and-release policy. She suggested no money should go toward addressing the root causes of migration until the border is secure. 

Christie suggested the surge in migrants across the southern border be treated as a law-enforcement issue, vowing to sign an executive order to send the National Guard to partner with Customs and Border Patrol to stop the flow of fentanyl and accusing Trump of failing to complete the border wall he touted in his 2016 campaign.

Ramaswamy said that he agreed with his fellow Republicans, but is going even further by supporting the end of birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. He also advocated for militarizing the Southern border, while DeSantis supported using the military to go after Mexican drug cartels. Those Mexican drug cartels are going to be treated like the foreign terrorist organizations they are, DeSantis said. 

Education

Asked about Floridas new history curriculum, which critics slammed for including a line about slaves developing skills they could use to their benefit, DeSantis said that framing was a hoax perpetrated by Kamala Harris and described his states education system as a template for the nation for eliminating critical race theory and enacting universal school choice. Our country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination, DeSantis said. 

In response, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said that there is not a redeeming quality in slavery and that the controversial line should have been cut from the curriculum. He added that America is not a racist country, never ever, not who we are.

The candidates were also asked about parental rights for transgender youth. Parents have the right to know, Ramaswamy said, claiming that transgenderism is a mental health disorder. Pence went a step further, claiming that he would pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery. We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda, he said.

Attacking Ramaswamy

For the second debate in a row, Ramaswamy got the most criticism from his rivals onstage. He tried to play nice at first, praising each of his opponents on the stage. But then Scott accused the entrepreneur of being in business with the Chinese Communist Party, leading to the nights first heated exchange.

Nonsense, Ramaswamy said, before he, Scott, and DeSantis got caught up in cross talk. 

Im glad Vivek got pulled out of his business deal in 2018 in China, Pence said. That must have been about the time he decided to start voting in presidential elections.

US-POLITICS-VOTE-REPUBLICAN-DEBATE
Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Senator Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence attend the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023.Robyn BeckAFP/Getty Images

Everytime I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say, Haley said to laughter after Ramaswamy answered a question about his recent decision to join TikTok. We cant trust you. 

Nonetheless, Ramaswamy remained less combative than he was in August. I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we’re not sitting here hurling personal insults, he said in response to Haleys comment.


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