UPDATE: Moderator Dana Perino tried to finish off the debate with a Survivor-style question: Write down their choice on who should drop out of the race, given that none of them would get the nomination over Donald Trump unless the field was thinned.
“Which one of you, tonight, should be voted off the island?” Perino asked.
Ron DeSantis, however, put a stop to it. “I think that is disrespectful to my fellow contenders.”
Chris Christie, however, seized on the question to argue that Donald Trump should be voted off the island.
“This guy has not only divided our party, he has divided families all over the country,” Christie said.
PREVIOUSLY: Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — thou shall not speak ill of another Republican — has been cited during the debate but surely not followed.
As if realizing time was running out to make a mark, candidates came prepared to attack the others. With about 15 minutes left, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) engaged in a long exchange with Nikki Haley after he claimed she was responsible for spending $50,000 on curtains when she was ambassador to the United Nations. “Do your homework because Obama bought those curtains,” Haley said.
After talking over each other, moderator Stuart Varney put a stop to it when he told them they had to take a commercial break.
According to The New York Times, the State Department spent $52,701 for the ambassador’s residence. But the decision was made during the Obama administration.
PREVIOUSLY: There has been much acrimony and disagreement on the debate stage, but what has unified many of the candidates is their irritation at Vivek Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy, 38, seemed aware that he can come across as a know-it-all, but his answer to a question on TikTok elicited a particularly brutal exchange with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
After moderator Stuart Varney asked Ramaswamy about his appearance with TikTok star Jake Paul. While boasting about his ability to reach young people, Ramaswamy then suggested that kids under the age of 16 should not be able to use social media.
That apparently triggered Haley, who said, “This is infuriating, because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have.”
Ramaswamy then tried to interrupt, before Haley stopped him and said, “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.”
Ramaswamy responded by saying that the debate would be “better served” if candidates were “not sitting here hurling personal insults.”
Strangely enough, TikTok ads have been running during the debate, as the social media platform has tried to counter calls for it to be banned in the United States.
PREVIOUSLY: As much as moderators are trying to focus on issues like healthcare and the border, candidates are determined to get in attacks on rivals.
Moderator Dana Perino asked former Vice President Mike Pence whether Obamacare is “here to stay,” but in his answer drifted to an apparent attack on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for presiding over the state when the Parkland mass shooter got sentenced to life in prison, not the death penalty.
Perino then asked her question again, before Pence answered with an attack on Donald Trump, saying that the former president is seeking to “consolidate more power” and expand the size of the federal government. Pence said that he wants to shrink it.
Pence also got in a zinger at Vivek Ramaswamy as the focus turned to China. “I’m glad Vivek pulled out of his business deal in China. That must have been the time you decided to start voting in presidential elections.”
Ramaswamy got into an extended argument over China with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), lasting more than a minute, with their remarks almost unintelligible as they talked over one another. “Thank you for speaking while I am interrupting — interrupting while I am speaking,” Ramaswamy said at one point.
Later in the debate, when it looked like the interruptions would continue, Varney said to the candidates, “If you talk over everybody, you lose time.”
PREVIOUSLY: The second Republican presidential debate opened with candidates bashing Joe Biden and Bidenomics, but perhaps the most notable moment was a seemingly greater willingness on the part of Ron DeSantis to attack Donald Trump.
After criticizing Biden for not taking a greater role in trying to prevent a potential government shutdowm, DeSantis said, in a clearly rehearsed line, “You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight.”
Chris Christie, who has staked much of his campaign on his criticism of Trump, also bashed the former president for not showing up.
At one point, Christie looked at the camera and spoke to Trump directly, “I know you are watching. You are not here tonight because you are afraid of being on stage and defending your record.” Christie then tried a cringeworthy, contrived line, “Nobody up here is going to keep calling you Donald Trump. We’re going to call you Donald Duck.”
The moderators of the debate, however, seemed intent on directing the candidates to address Biden, not Trump. In a prelude to their first question, they each ran through a host of polling figures and other stats, suggesting the sorry state of affairs in the country. Fox News host Dana Perino, Stuart Varney and Univision’s Ilia Calderón each took turns on running through the figures, including one that two out of three people think the country is on the wrong track.
The question ultimately went to Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) about his comment that striking UAW workers should be fired. Scott had been talking about President Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire government air traffic controllers, telling voters, “He said, ‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me.” At the debate, however, he acknowledged that as president he wouldn’t have that authority over the private sector.
Candidates also were more aggressive in trying to get their moment in the sun, with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum talking over the moderators as they tried to move the debate to another topic.
Varney had a bit of a slip up at the outset of the debate, as he stumbled over introducing Calderon of Univision.
PREVIOUSLY: Donald Trump once again is skipping the second Republican presidential debate, but his presence was apparent at the venue, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA.
Along Madera Drive, about a dozen of his supporters waved large campaign flags and banners — including signs that read “Save California, Save America,” while another posted an apparently outdated “Recall Newsom” sign.
That said, the debate, to air Thursday on Fox Business and Univision, was being billed as a way for a Trump alternative to break through, and for some a make-or-break moment as donors get antsy as their campaigns languish in the low single digits.
Seven candidates qualified: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who qualified for the last debate, did not this time.
Even though Fox Business built up the event in the hours before, with some pundits suggesting that voters are open to a Trump alternative, one of its star anchors, Larry Kudlow, predicted “that Donald Trump will once again be the winner,” as his former boss maintains a wide lead in national and early state polls. The former president has said that he does not plan to attend any of the debates, and was due in Detroit for some counterprogramming: a speech to union members.
Another bit of counterprogramming will come from Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, who planned to feature Bill O’Reilly as his guest on his X/Twitter show starting a half hour before the debate is to begin. It was Carlson who took O’Reilly’s time slot after he was fired in 2017.
“How did you keep yourself from being bitter?” Carlson, who himself was dropped from Fox News’ lineup in April, asked in a preview clip.
“I’m just bitter about everything anyway,” O’Reilly said. “How much bitter can you get.”
The candidates will appear tonight in the large pavilion at the Reagan Library underneath the museum’s featured attraction: Air Force One. Much of the media was about a block away on the library grounds, in a large tent where big screens were set up playing the Fox Business feed. Fox News host Dana Perino is moderating with Stuart Varney and Univision’s Ilia Calderón. Although Fox Business is focused on financial news, the network has filled its lineup with a number of commentators including Kudlow, who formerly worked in the Trump administration, and Dagen McDowell, co-host of The Bottom Line with Sean Duffy. They signaled the debate’s focus in the hours before it was to start, including favorite rightward issues like inflation, crime and parental rights.
McDowell’s disdain for current president Joe Biden was on display as she introduced Kudlow, “Larry, let’s talk Bidenomics — wretch.”
Democrats were to be represented at the debate by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was expected to be in the spin room to offer the Biden campaign point of view. Among the other attendees spotted: former California Gov. Pete Wilson, actor Trevor Donovan and former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.