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Election 2024 | Highlights of the Second Republican Primary Debate
Not sure if there were "highlights" but here are some memorable moments and exchanges
The battle bell rings. Last night was round two of the Republican primary debate season. The debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Hosted by Fox News's Dana Perino, Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney, and Univision anchor Ilia Calderon, the two-hour debate featured seven candidates battling for the Republican nomination or what is looking to be more likely VP or a cabinet position as Trump continues to dominate in the polls. Speaking of Trump, who was again notably absent, still managed to be a topic of the debate. Instead, Trump opted to visit Detroit, where he spoke at a nonunion auto parts company geared toward blue-collar workers amid a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike.
The stage was set and crowded with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. The one person missing from the stage that literally no one noticed was former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not qualify this time. However, he tweeted that despite “falling short of the polling requirement” to participate, he would continue campaigning.
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Scott pivots from the UAW strike to the border
The debate opened with Varney asking Scott about the UAW’s strike and whether he would “fire thousands of striking autoworkers” who have been on the picket lines since Sept. 15.
This was about Scott's comment in Fort Dodge, Iowa, "Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike," Scott said. "He [Ronald Reagan] said, 'You strike, you're fired.' Simple concept to me."
Scott clarified that “obviously, the president of the United States can’t fire anybody in the private sector.”
And he then pivoted the question toward the southern border. “I’ll say this, Joe Biden should not be on the picket line. He should be on the southern border, working to close our southern border, because it is unsafe, wide open, and insecure, leading to the deaths of 70,000 Americans in the last 12 months because of fentanyl,” Scott said. “It is devastating. Every county in America is now a border county because fentanyl has devastated Americans in every state.”
Scott then pointed out that if the President is genuinely committed to addressing this issue, he should complete the border wall construction and reintroduce Title 42, a policy that enabled the swift deportation of undocumented immigrants.
DeSantis Responds to Kamala Harris 'Hoax'
One of the highlights was when Ilia Calderón asked DeSantis about misinformation Vice President Kamala Harris spread regarding Florida's black history curriculum. Harris had accused Florida of teaching how “enslaved people benefited from slavery,” referring to the curriculum’s description of “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” To which DeSantis vehemently responded, calling it a "hoax" and emphasizing the state's focus on quality education.
“First of all, that is a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris. We are not going to be doing that. Second of all, that was written by descendants of slaves. These are great black history scholars, so we need to stop playing these games,” DeSantis said, emphasizing that “Florida represents the revival of American education.”
“We’re ranked No. 1 in the nation in education by U.S. News and World Report,” he explained. “My wife and I, we have a 6-, 5-, and 3-year-old. This is personal to us. We didn’t just talk about universal school choice; we enacted universal school choice. We didn’t just talk about a parents’ bill of rights. We enacted the Parents’ Bill of Rights.”
“We eliminated critical race theory, and we now have American civics and the Constitution in our schools in a really big way, just like President Reagan asked for in his farewell address back in 1989,” he added. “Florida is showing how it’s done. We’re standing with parents, and our kids are benefiting.”
Pile on Ramaswamy for his business with China
Several candidates took aim at Ramaswamy, who ruffled some feathers in the previous debate. Scott set things off by launching a major critique of Ramaswamy right at the start of the debate.
"He accused us of being influenced by external interests, and I thought about that for a moment, wondering how he could make such a claim when he was recently doing business with the Chinese Communist Party and the same folks who funded Hunter Biden with millions," Scott said.
Ramaswamy responded to these attacks by saying, "These are decent individuals who've been affected by flawed systems."
Pence also later took a shot at Ramaswamy. "I'm relieved Vivek ended his business dealings in China back in 2018; I guess that's when he decided to get involved in presidential elections," Pence quipped.
TikTok Debate: Haley vs. Ramaswamy
The most memorable contentious moment arose when Haley criticized Ramaswamy for endorsing TikTok as a platform to reach young voters. She raised concerns about TikTok's ties to China and its data privacy issues. Ramaswamy defended his stance, urging a focus on policy debates over personal attacks.
“I have a radical idea for the Republican Party. We need to win elections,” Ramaswamy said. “And part of how we win elections is reaching the next generation of young Americans where they are.”
“So while the Democrats are running rampant reaching the next generation 3-to-1, there’s exactly one person in the Republican Party that talks a big game about reaching young people, and that’s me,” he added.
However, Nikki Haley slammed Ramaswamy’s take on TikTok, emphasizing privacy and security concerns about the Chinese-owned social media platform.
“This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have,” she said, adding: “I honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.”
The audience booed in disapproval at the insult from Haley to Ramaswamy.
“We can’t trust you,” she told him.
Ramaswamy responded, saying, “I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we’re not sitting here hurling personal insults and actually have a legitimate debate about policy.”
Heated Debate on Ukraine Aid
The candidates also discussed their views on the war in Ukraine. DeSantis cautioned about U.S. funding for Ukraine, emphasizing the need to prioritize American interests and border security. Scott pushed for support, citing NATO obligations, while Ramaswamy pointed out the complexities of the situation.
DeSantis explained why he was cautious about U.S. funding for Ukraine.
“It’s in our interest to end this war, and that is what I’ll do as president,” he said. “We are not going to have a blank check. We will not have U.S. troops, and we’re going to make the Europeans do what they need to do, but they’ve sent money to pay bureaucrats’ pensions, salaries, and small businesses halfway around the world. Meanwhile, our own country is being invaded.”
DeSantis pointed out that we don’t even have control of the southern border, and the last thing we should be distracted with is worrying about what’s happening in Ukraine.
“As commander in chief, I will defend this country’s sovereignty,” he said.
Scott pushed back, saying that “90% of the resources that we send over to Ukraine is guaranteed as a loan.”
DeSantis responded, “We aren’t going to get it back.”
“It’s not actually going to get paid by Ukraine. It’s getting paid by our NATO allies,” Scott said. “Our vital national interest is in degrading the Russian military. By degrading the Russian military, we keep our homeland safer, we keep our troops at home, and we all understand Article V of NATO.”
He said that Article V means that a Russian attack on a NATO country would necessarily involve the U.S. military.
This is when Ramaswamy jumped in while Pence yelled from the side.
“We have to level with the American people on this issue. Just because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. [Ukraine] is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties,” he said. “China is the real enemy, and we are driving Russia into China’s arms.”
Then Haley interrupted, “A win for Russia is a win for China, but I forgot you like China.” While Pence and Scott also tried to cut Ramaswamy off. It basically became a pile on Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy rebutted Haley, “China is the real enemy and we're driving Russia further into China's arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this,” he said.
Parental Rights Bill and Transgenderism
The candidates were asked about supporting a federal parental bill of rights to ensure parents are informed about their children's gender identity changes. Christie and Ramaswamy expressed support for such legislation, with Ramaswamy saying that “transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder. We have to acknowledge the truth.”
“The very people who say that this increases the risk of suicide are also saying that parents don’t have a right to know about that increased risk of suicide,” Ramaswamy said. “I’m sorry. It is not compassionate to affirm a kid’s confusion. That is not compassion. It’s cruelty.”
He said that gender-dysphoric girls are allowed to get double mastectomies, and even hysterectomies, preventing them from having children in the future—which they might later regret—is “barbaric.”
“Affirming their confusion is not compassion to me,” he said. “It is cruelty.”
Pence also weighed in, advocating for parental rights and vowing to ban transgender surgeries nationwide.
The former vice president said, “we’ve got to protect our kids from this radical transgender ideology agenda.”
Crime Control, Not Gun Control
Addressing crime and violence was another recurring topic. Burgum criticized the “liberal left" for their approach to gun control and “prosecuting law-abiding citizens that are gun owners.” Noting that the Democrat-controlled cities are experiencing surging crime and violence and have some of the “strictest gun laws in the country, so we know that’s not what’s working.” He emphasized the need to strengthen families and law enforcement support.
Perino then asked Christie what he would do to end the “revolving door of criminality” plaguing American cities.
Christie, cited his extensive experience as a prosecutor, promised to bring law and order back to American cities and suburbs.
“I’m the only one on this stage who’s done it,” he said.
Christie said that, if elected as president, he would nominate and direct an attorney general to allocate the utmost resources towards restoring order in American cities.
“We’ve got to bring law and order back to this country, not just in our cities,” he said. “We need law and order back in our suburbs. People are threatened there. Back in our rural areas, people are threatened there, and we need it in Washington, D.C., also.”
Trump is not present but not forgotten
Trump may not have been at the debate, but his competitors made it clear that they believed he should have been.
Christie was the first candidate to mention Trump during the debate, but that is to be expected because he is literally obsessed with him. He even delivered the worst dad joke of the night.
"I want to speak directly to that camera right now and say, Donald, I know you're watching. You can't resist," Christie quipped. "You're not with us tonight, not because of the polls or your legal troubles. You're absent because you're avoiding this stage and your track record."
"You're dodging these events. And let me tell you what will happen. If you keep this up, none of us will call you Donald Trump anymore. We'll call you Donald Duck," Christie smirked, laughing at his horrible joke.
DeSantis seized a moment to criticize Trump for contributing to the national debt, which recently reached a historic $33 trillion.
"The folks in Washington are hindering the American dream with their reckless actions. They borrowed, printed money, spent recklessly, and now everything costs more. They're responsible for this. They've left our borders wide open, compromising our national sovereignty," DeSantis argued. "So don't give me the fake sympathy for these folks. They need to change the way they operate. And where's Joe Biden? He's completely absent from leadership. You know who else is missing? Donald Trump should be here tonight."
Vote Someone 'Off the Island'
To conclude the debate, Perino points out that Trump continues to hold a clear polling lead over his opponents and will continue to do so if everyone stays in the race. This then prompted what was the most ridiculous question of the evening. She asked the candidates to pick which candidate to kick “off the island,” Survivor style. The candidates were even given markers and boards to write names and reveal.
DeSantis stepped up and rejected the premise of the question.
“With all due respect, I mean, we’re here,” the Florida governor said. “We’re happy to debate, but I think that that’s disrespectful to my fellow competitors.”
“Let’s talk about the future of the country,” DeSantis added.
Christie, however, predictably, chose to vote off Donald Trump. “He needs to be voted off the island, and he needs to be taken out of this process,” Christie concluded.
Scott attempted to attack Haley over curtains she had in her office when she served as UN ambassador. It was really bizarre to see them bicker over curtains.
“As the UN ambassador, you literally put $50,000 on curtains at a $15 million dollar subsidised location,” Scott said – referencing a 2018 New York Times story that revealed custom curtains installed in the apartment Haley received as the US ambassador.
Haley pointed out that the curtains were put in by the Obama administration to which Scott replied “Did you send them back?”
Haley clearly frustrated replied, “It’s the State Department. Did you send them back? You’re the one that works in Congress. You get it done!”
Then there was the moment that made everyone cringe.
Christie used a question about education to mention that Biden was "sleeping with a member of the teachers' union" - referencing Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher.
Pence later then says, he had to admit that "I've been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years" - a reference to his own wife, Karen Pence. He was attempting to defend good teachers but it was a traumatic moment for everyone.
This debate was a mess. The combination of the candidates interrupting and speaking over one another, along with the vast size of the room, created unintelligible echoes. Moderators repeatedly reminded candidates to allow others to speak and maintain decorum. Everyone was jocking for a moment, and every attempt fell flat.
It is doubtful that this debate will move the polls for anyone, and if the debate were to hurt someone, it would most likely be Haley, as her most memorable moments consisted of a personal insult and eye-rolling.
Trump remains the undisputed leader. A RealClearPolitics poll average shows Trump at 56.6% while DeSantis is at 14.4%, a more than 42 percentage point advantage. Unless something really drastic happens soon, Trump will be the Republican candidate.
Did you watch the debate? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
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