8 moments that stood out from the second GOP 2024 presidential debate
Updated September 27, 2023 at 11:42 PM ET
Candidates vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination met at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, Calif., Wednesday night for a second debate, and though former President Donald Trump was not present, he loomed large over the event.
Several candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said Trump — who currently has a sizable lead in the crowded field — should have been on stage defending his record. Trump has missed both Republican debates so far.
Seven candidates qualified to take the stage due to slightly stricter qualifying rules from the Republican National Committee: DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Trump, however, was in Michigan during the debate speaking at an auto parts manufacturing plant. That plant, owned by Drake Enterprises, is a non-union shop, according to the AFL-CIO. Other sources familiar with the situation say it is not affiliated with the UAW or the ongoing strikes.
Here are some of the night's more memorable moments from the 2024 presidential hopefuls.
Attacks on Trump more welcome at second debate
While focusing more on Republican priorities and attacking President Biden, the Republican candidates also attacked Trump.
Christie addressed Trump directly, accusing him of skipping the debate out of fear. He said Trump deserves a new nickname: "Donald Duck."
"You're not here tonight because you're afraid of being on the stage and defending your record," Christie said. "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."
Unlike at the last debate in Wisconsin where his attacks on Trump were shouted down, Christie actually received a few giggles to his critical comments.
DeSantis also took an early swipe at Trump for skipping the debate.
"You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action," DeSantis said. "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. That set the stage for the inflation that we have now."
Trump has missed the last two debates because of his refusal to sign an RNC pledge stating that he will support whoever primary voters chose as their nominee in 2024.
DeSantis also partially blamed Trump and his policies for the looming federal shutdown. DeSantis playeda key role in the 17-day shutdown in 2013.
Abortion and the meaning of 'pro-life'
Abortion continues to be what Trump recently called a "very delicate" issue for Republicans. More than a year after a Supreme Court that included three justices chosen by Trump rolled back abortion rights, Trump has been warning Republicans to be cautious about the way they discuss the issue.
During the debate, DeSantis pushed backed on Trump's recent comments that anti-abortion politicians often lose elections because they "do not know how to discuss this topic," and his criticism of DeSantis'' decision to sign a six-week abortion ban as a "terrible mistake."
"I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats," DeSantis said, repeating his earlier criticism of Trump for skipping the debate and calling on Trump to address the issue directly on the stage. Christie used the abortion question to pivot to a discussion of the fentanyl overdose epidemic, calling for more focused government efforts to respond to that challenge: "If you're pro-life, you've gotta be pro-life for the entire life," Christie said.
At a time when polls show voters largely support abortion access in most or all cases, many of his rivals for the Republican nomination have struggled to stake out positions on questions including whether they'd support a national abortion ban and what gestational limits they'd endorse. Trump can largely rise above those questions by campaigning as the former president whose Supreme Court picks overturned Roe v. Wade.
Ramaswamy calls out Republican silence with young voters
In response to a question over his recent decision to make a TikTok account, Ramaswamy chalked up the decision as part of his effort to engage with young Americans — given TikTok's popularity among Gen Z and Millennials.
"While the Democrats are running rampant, reaching the next generation three to one. There's exactly one person in the Republican Party which talks a big game about reaching young people. And that's me."
The 38-year-old businessman is the youngest candidate in the GOP primary race and the first millennial.
And ahead of the 2024 election, millennial and Gen Z voters (people under 42) are expected to continue growing as a portion of the electorate and will make up nearly half next year. Both generations have also decidedly votedfor Democratic candidates in recent major elections. Ramaswamy also supports a controversial policy raising the voting age to 25.
Republican candidates say they support 'parental consent' laws for students who change their gender identity
Many of the candidates said they want schools to notify parents if their child were to change their gender identity.
Ramaswamy said "parents have the right to know" if their child is seeking to affirm their gender. He also made incendiary comments about families who support their transgender children, and called gender affirming medical care "barbaric."
Candidates were also asked about the rising amount of violence aimed at LGBTQ Americans. Pence was asked what he plans to do about it, but he mostly sidestepped the question to state his support for "parental rights" laws, which he says is an effort to "protect our kids from this radical gender ideology."
In the past few years, there has beena rise in the number of bills introduced in mostly Republican-led states that restrict access to gender affirming care for children. A small percentage of those bills have passed so far and some have been blocked by the courts. However, advocates say legislation that has been instituted so far have made medical care harder for young people to access — which they say could have a serious impact on their mental health.
Pence wants an 'expedited' death penalty for mass shooters
When asked about the scourge of mass shootings in America, many of which continue to take place in schools, the former vice president said he wants to expedite criminal penalties against perpetrators of these mass killings.
"I am sick of these mass shootings," he said.
Pence said, if elected, he would push for a federal expedited death penalty for mass shooters. He said this would ensure they would "meet their fate in months, not years."
Ramaswamy: Revoke birthright citizenship for undocumented immigrants
During a discussion about curbing illegal immigration, Ramaswamy called for ending the practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States, in cases where the parents were in the country illegally at the time of the birth.
Ramaswamy warned that Democrats would "howl" at this idea and complain that it violates the U.S. Constitution. He argued that there is precedent for denying citizenship to some people born on U.S. soil, given that children of diplomats are not given citizenship. It's important to note, however, that birthright citizenship is denied to those children as a specific carveout, because diplomats generally aregiven immunity under international law. Diplomats therefore are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States as outlined in the Constitution, and their children are not automatically eligible for citizenship.
Ramaswamy was also in the hot seat during the debate as several candidates raising concerns about his business ties in China. The businessman and political newcomer had one of the standout performancesduring the first debate and is polling third behind DeSantis in some national polls.
Scott accused Ramaswamy of previously being in business with "the Chinese Communist Party" and even accused him of sharing business ties with Hunter Biden.
Pence added that it was "a good thing" Ramaswamy pulled out of business in 2018 which he claimed was probably around the time Ramaswamy started voting for the first time. Ramaswamy has admitted to participating in U.S. elections later in his adult life.
Trump taunts Republican rivals over debate
Trump went 30 minutes into his speech to Michigan autoworkers before mentioning the second GOP debate.
He pointed to his lead in the polls and ridiculed his Republican rivals, suggesting that they were competing for a job in his future administration.
"We're competing with the job candidates. They're all running for a job," Trump said. "They're all job candidates. They'll do anything, Secretary of something. They even say VP. Has anybody seen a VP anywhere?"
It's another sign that Trump is looking ahead to the general election and focusing on Biden. Trump's visit comes just a day after Biden was in Michigan where he joined union autoworkers on the picket line.
Michigan voters helped both Trump and Biden win the White House — Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. Those elections were largely clinched with union voters.
Candidates weigh in on President Biden joining auto worker picket line
Republican presidential hopefuls took aim at Biden for walking the picket line on Tuesday with UAW workers. This week, Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to join a picket line.
Scott said the president "should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border."
Pence commented that the president instead belongs on the "unemployment line."
Ramaswamy instead focused on the workers. He said he blames the White House for their financial woes, but he understands why workers are upset. Ramaswamy said he doesn't "have patience with union bosses but sympathizes with the workers."
He did, however, accuse some of the striking workers of playing the role of victims and said "victimhood is a choice."
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