Seven Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday night took the stage for their second debate, this time at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Fox News Channel host Dana Perino, Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney, and Univision anchor Ilia Calderon co-hosted the two-hour debate, which often turned highly contentious, with the candidates talking over and arguing with one another.
As with the first debate Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, former President Donald Trump was again absent, this time delivering a speech at an auto parts manufacturer northeast of Detroit.
Former two-term Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was also missing from the second debate, but not by choice. Unlike the first debate, Hutchinson did not qualify for the second encounter, but he tweeted that despite “falling short of the [Republican National Committee’s] polling requirement” to participate, he would continue campaigning.
Candidates who did qualify for the second debate were 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 following are some of the most noteworthy answers and exchanges from the debate.
1. DeSantis Responds to Kamala Harris ‘Hoax’
DeSantis was asked by Calderon about misinformation that was spread by Vice President Kamala Harris about both the governor and Florida’s black history curriculum.
Harris had accused Florida of teaching students 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.”
“For descendants of slaves, this is personal,” Calderon told DeSantis. “What is your message to them?”
“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 descendents 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.”
2. Heated Back and Forth on Ukraine Aid
The candidates were asked about their views on the war in Ukraine.
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 said that we don’t even have control over our own border and that we have to defend the American people before we even worry 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.”
But, 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 actually 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.
Ramaswamy joined the exchange.
“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.”
3. Parental Rights Bill, Transgenderism
Perino asked the candidates whether they would support a federal parental bill of rights to ensure that students can’t change their gender identity without their parents being informed.
Christie said that he supported just such a bill the week before the debate.
Ramaswamy prefaced his answer by saying that “transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder. We have to acknowledge the truth.”
The businessman-turned-presidential candidate said that there’s a huge amount of hypocrisy on the issue.
“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 the fact 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.”
Ramaswamy added that states have an obligation to protect parents’ rights.
Pence also weighed in on the issue of parental rights. He said that he would stand up for the rights of parents and that “we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical—surgery anywhere in the country.”
The former vice president said that “we’ve got to protect our kids from this radical transgender ideology agenda.”
4. TikTok: Haley vs. Ramaswamy
Haley attacked Ramaswamy after the entrepreneur defended his presence on the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.
“I have a radical idea for the Republican Party,” Ramaswamy said. “We need to win elections, and part of how we win elections is reaching the next generation of young Americans where they are.”
“This is infuriating,” Haley shot back. “TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have.” She added that every time she hears Ramaswamy, she feels “dumber.”
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing and is subject to Chinese law that requires companies to make user data available to the government.
The Chinese can “get your contacts. They can get your financial information. They can get your emails. They can get text messages. They can get all of these things,” Haley said. “China knows exactly what they’re doing.”
Ramaswamy spoke over Haley as she accused him of wanting “kids to go and get on this social media that’s dangerous for all of us.”
“We can’t trust you,” she told him.
The entrepreneur responded with a call for unity, 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.”
5. Crime Control, Not Gun Control
How to address crime and violence was a recurring topic during the debate. When asked what he would do to address gun violence in America, Burgum said the “liberal Left” is bent on “prosecuting law-abiding citizens that are gun owners.”
The Left’s solution to gun violence is to eliminate the Second Amendment, the North Dakotan said, noting that the Democrat-controlled cities that are experiencing surging crime and violence have some of the “strictest gun laws in the country, so we know that’s not what’s working.”
Instead of imposing restrictions on guns, Burgum said America’s leaders should be focused on strengthening families, addressing mental health, and enforcing the law.
To reduce crime and violence, law enforcement needs support, something that Burgum says he has led the way on in North Dakota. The media have attacked the police, he said, adding there is little appeal for becoming a police officer right now because law enforcement has been labeled as the “bad guys.”
“We have to respect the people who are out there defending us every single day,” he said.
Christie was asked by Perino what he would do to end the “revolving door of criminality” that’s plaguing American cities.
“I’m the only one on this stage who’s done it,” he said.
The former New Jersey governor explained that he spent seven years as a federal prosecutor in the “fifth-largest office in this country,” where he said he set records for prosecutions that “still have not been broken.”
Christie said that, as president, he would appoint and instruct an attorney general to devote a maximum amount of resources to ensuring that American cities are back under control.
“We’ve got to bring law and order back to this country, and 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.”
6. Biden Should Forsake Picket Line for Border
Varney asked Scott about the United Auto Workers strike and whether he would “fire thousands of striking autoworkers,” who have been on the picket lines since Sept. 15.
The question was in reference to a comment Scott made at an event in Fort Dodge, Iowa, earlier this month, at which he said that President Ronald Reagan was right to fire striking air-traffic controllers, who were public employees, in August 1981.
“Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike,” Scott said at the Iowa event. “He said, ‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me.”
But Scott made the distinction that “obviously, the president of the United States can’t fire anybody in the private sector.”
The South Carolina senator said that the first bill passed under President Joe Biden promised $86 billion for union pensions because the administration has continued to “overpromise but underdeliver.” That has left taxpayers on the hook, he said.
“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 single state.”
Since Biden became president in January 2021, there have been an estimated 6 million illegal border crossings, and if the president really wants to fix the problem, he would finish building the border wall and reinstate Title 42, a policy that allowed quick deportation of illegal immigrants, Scott said.
7. Vote Someone ‘Off the Island‘
Perino noted that Trump enjoys a clear polling lead over his opponents in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating race, and she asked the candidates to identify one of their rivals they would kick “off the island,” borrowing a line from the TV reality series “Survivor.”
“It’s now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump wins the nomination,” Perino said. “None of you have indicated that you are dropping out. So, which one of you onstage tonight should be voted off the island?”
“Please use your marker to write your choice on the notepad in front of you, 15 seconds, starting now,” she said.
DeSantis 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.
One candidate did write a name on his notepad, however.
“I vote Donald Trump off the island right now,” Christie said. “And the reason I vote him off the island … every person on this stage has shown the respect for Republican voters to come here, to express their views, honestly, candidly, and directly, and to take your questions.”
“I have respect for every man and woman on this stage because they’ve done it,” he added.
Referring to Trump, he added, “This guy has not only divided our party, he’s divided families all over this country. He’s divided friends all over this country.”
“He needs to be voted off the island, and he needs to be taken out of this process,” Christie concluded.
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