Round Two of The GOP Debate: The Who, What and Why 

By Jason Collins

It’s that time again when the Republican candidates step onto the stage, donning their boxing gloves and sharp talons. If there were one word to describe Wednesday’s debate, it would be tumultuous. From the attacks on Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy to the clutter of crosstalk and frustration, here’s everything that happened in the messy two-hour debate. 

The Debate 

The second GOP debate of the year was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. It was a rather fitting venue, considering Reagan was a conservative Republican icon. 

The seven candidates that were at the debate were:

  • Mike Pence 
  • Ron DeSantis 
  • Nikki Hayley 
  • Chris Christie 
  • Vivek Ramaswamy 
  • Tom Scott
  • Doug Burgum  

An Attack on an Absent Trump 

Like last month’s debate, former president Donald Trump chose not to attend and decided his time was better spent visiting Michigan’s working-class voters. Trump’s plan in Michigan is to push for a future that protects American labor over foreign labor, choosing to focus on voters he actually needs to win over and carry the state like he did in 2016 and then lost in 2020. Michigan is currently one of the major states being affected by the UAW strike.  

With an absent Trump, some of the other GOP candidates took the opportunity to lash out their pent-up frustration with attacks against him. Some of the most notable attacks came from the lips of Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, which comes as no surprise after the first debate, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Christie, who has been clear about his dislike for frontrunner Trump, started his tirade against his former boss by saying, “He should be in this room to answer those questions for the people you talked about who are suffering.” Christie then went on to call the former president a series of names and insults trying to goad him into attending a future debate. He told the audience, while clearly speaking to Trump, “And 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 the stage and defending your record.” On a roll, Christie added,

“You’re ducking these things. And let me tell you what’s going to happen. You keep doing that. No one up here is gonna call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re gonna call you Donald Duck.”

DeSantis, who in the past has been relatively supportive of his former benefactor, changed his tune and also launched an attack on Trump, although compared to Christie, DeSantis’s barb was blunt. He 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 we have now.”   

After a slow start to the debate, DeSantis seemed to have found his feet as he sent another attack Trump’s way, saying he “hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won’t show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us are up here to answer.” 

Ramaswamy: The Proverbial Punching Bag 

Newcomer to American politics, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy was once again the target of many insults and attacks from his fellow Republican candidates. Ramaswamy, who managed to talk for 11 minutes, began the debate calmly and confidently, but halfway through, he became frustrated with the direction of the conversation about his business and the candidates talking over him, especially Tom Scott. Scott seemingly came to California with one plan and one plan alone: to go after Ramaswamy for doing business with China in 2018. 

Despite the ongoing insults being thrown around, Ramaswamy stated, “I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we’re not sitting here hurling personal insults.” However, this did not last long, with Ramaswamy snapping at Scott, saying, “Thank you for interrupting while I’m talking.” 

It wasn’t just Scott on the charge. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also had a go at Ramaswamy regarding his use of the app TikTok, which many Republicans believe is a Chinese spy tool. When he responded to her attack, Haley quipped, “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.” 

While Ramaswamy wore a smile throughout the barrage of attacks in the first debate, this time round, the young businessman seemed rattled. 

DeSantis’s Rocky Performance 

While much of the two-hour debate consisted of the candidates talking over one another and the moderators losing control of the stage, DeSantis only got his first word in 16 minutes into the debate, and even then, his answers were unstable at best. He struggled to defend himself against Hayley’s accusation of him blocking fracking in Florida, and when Pence blamed him for preferring life sentences over the death penalty in Florida, a lack of healthcare for Floridians as well as increasing Florida’s budget by 30%, DeSantis struggled to defend his record on these talking points. This does not bode well for DeSantis’s already struggling campaign, where he’s currently sitting with a 14% approval rating in California polls, with Trump at 48%.    

DeSantis did finish the debate off strong by rejecting participation in the moderator’s question on who the candidates would “vote off the island,” like the elimination round in the reality show Survivor. DeSantis told moderator Dana Perino,

“I’m not going to do that. With all due respect, we’re here. We’re happy to debate. I think that that’s disrespectful to my fellow competitors.”

He did, however, answer how he would try to beat Trump, saying, “Polls don’t elect presidents. Voters elect presidents.” 

Doug Burgum Gains Traction

Another candidate who failed to impress at the second GOP debate was North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Throughout the two hours, Burgum struggled to get a word in and only spoke for roughly seven minutes. During those seven minutes, Burgum spent most of his time fumbling and talking too fast. So while his performance at the debate was lackluster, in a surprise move he seems to be gaining a little traction on social media as people become aware there is a person named Doug Burgum. 

It turns out that Burgum is the highest spender on adverts out of all the other Republican candidates including Trump. His Best of America PAC has spent $950,000 on adverts since the first debate in August and that has resulted in a 3% increase in support. This is what secured his spot at the second debate.

Is this enough for a win? No, but it’s still worthy of a mention. 

Heated Discussion About Children 

Although the debate was two hours long, topics like gun violence, climate change, and abortion were overlooked. A useful topic would have been to allow each candidate to address the impending government shutdown and where they came down on the spending fight. Instead, the children of America were a hot topic. What started as a discussion about the level of education in America soon digressed into a culture war about anti-LGBTQ+ learning, book bans, mental health disorders, and transgender care. 

While Pence, Ramaswamy, and DeSantis fought amongst themselves, it was only Hayley who tackled the issue head-on, saying,

“We have to acknowledge the fact that 67% of our eighth-graders are not proficient in reading or math. Recently, they came out and said our 12- and 13-year-olds are scoring at the lowest levels they have been scoring in reading and math in decades.”  

The event took an uncomfortable turn during a discussion about teachers’ unions, with Christie and Pence making bizarre sex jokes that left the audience feeling awkward. Christie said, “When you have the president of the United States sleeping with a member of the teachers’ union, there is no chance that you can take the stranglehold away from the teachers’ union.” To which Pence responded with, “I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years. Full disclosure,” referring to his wife. 

Who Won The Debate? 

As the debate drew to a close, viewers were left to sift through the two hours of crosstalk, insults, name-calling, and moderators who had trouble keeping the candidates in line. Was there a winner? While candidates like Ramaswamy, Pence, and Christie certainly had the most speaking time, there was no real clear winner. As the gap between frontrunner Trump and the other candidates widens, the third debate on November 8, 2023, will be their last chance to impress voters.