On September 28, 2023, millions of people tuned in across the globe to watch the second debate between the 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Well, not all of the candidates, as former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner in the election, declined to show for the second time. The debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County, California, and lasted a lengthy (and messy) two hours.
Who won the debate?
The polls are clear: Donald Trump won the debate. But how is this possible if he didn’t even show up? If you go over what each candidate had to offer and take into account the poor decorum and disrespect each candidate showed, Trump winning makes a little more sense. This may have been the messiest debate I have ever watched, and I’ve been tuning into every primary debate since the 2016 primaries. As an avid follower of American politics, I’m no stranger to the crazy energy debates can bring. This debate, however, was off the charts. Candidates were interrupting each other, dodging questions, making digs at each other, and at multiple points, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looked into the camera to address Trump, unironically calling him “Donald Duck” as he stared the camera down. I have never seen anything like this.
Here are my key takeaways from the debate:
Former Vice President Mike Pence dodged most of the questions, frequently going back to old questions or simply going on his own tangents. When asked about whether or not Obamacare is here to stay, he went back to a previous question about gun control and said that mass-shooters should immediately get the death penalty. I guess Pence is unaware of the statistics, as a majority of mass shooters are killed by law enforcement or take their own life (Koerth, 2022). So, how effective would this policy be? He does claim to care about teachers though, saying, “I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years.” When asked how he’d support the LGBTQ+ community as president, he said he’d ban all gender-affirming healthcare.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman with no experience in politics, says that “transgenderism is a mental illness.” Ramaswamy constantly interrupted the others on stage, and frankly, nothing he said is worth sharing. Nikki Haley said it best when she retorted, “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say.”
Contrary to many of the other republican candidates, such as Ron DeSantis and Trump, Nikki Haley supports Ukraine in the war and has stated multiple times that “a win for Russia is a win for China.” Supporting Ukraine is something I can get behind, but nearly everything else she said was, to be frank, insanity. Xenophobia was very prominent in this debate and hearing Haley say we need to “defund sanctuary cities” made me audibly gasp. Sanctuary cities are where immigrants will go when they need protection in, commonly, life or death situations. Why would the “land of the free” suddenly stop funding these legal operations when immigrants are the backbone of our country, doing the jobs no one else wants to do? The false narrative of our border “being under attack” was also prominent in this debate, Haley going so far as to say we need to send troops to Mexico (with or without permission from their government) to “take down the cartel” and end the fentanyl crisis. However, experts don’t credit the fentanyl crisis to illegal immigration as “although the majority of the U.S. fentanyl supply comes from Mexico, which makes it clearly an issue tied to the border, the vast majority enters the country through legal ports of entry” (Owens, 2023).
Tim Scott fuelled this narrative and dissed unions simultaneously by saying Joe Biden doesn’t belong on the picket line with the United Auto Workers in Michigan but at the southern border. Scott is no friend to unions, as the UAW recently filed a complaint against him for saying union workers should be fired (which is illegal, by the way).
Haley had some other takes that concerned me, such as her approach on education, saying parents need to be involved with the curriculum and that the Department of Education should not exist. In fact, most of the Republicans on the stage agreed with getting rid of the Department of Education, reiterating the view that parents should be in charge of what children are learning. She also advocates for banning transgender kids from playing on the sports teams that align with their identity and strongly stated that we need to ban TikTok.
DeSantis had a disappointing performance, leaving me with little to even write about besides the typical nonsense of the “woke ideologies of the radical left.” However, he did not shy away from condoning Trump for not being there, stating, “Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt.” As I mentioned, former Governor Christie was also on the Trump hate train, saying, “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.”
Doug Burgum, have you ever heard of him? No? Yeah, I hadn’t either, and there’s nothing to report here because he made no impressions. The only points he made clear was that he’s the governor of North Dakota and hates Biden.
What’s in store for the republican party?
This debate was gravely disappointing, as Trump is still polling the highest. This opinion piece merely reflects my own big takeaways, so if you want to make up your own mind, the debate can be accessed here. So will the republican nominee be Trump, who was just convicted of fraud and has four indictments, or someone who was on the stage? Only time will tell. The next debate is to be held in November.