Candidates Criticize Both Biden and Trump in Second GOP Debate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized Donald Trump for skipping Wednesday’s second Republican presidential debate where he and a half-dozen others sought a breakout moment that could weaken the former president’s commanding hold on the primary contest.

“Donald Trump is missing in action,” DeSantis said, drawing applause from the audience at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. “He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record.”

The dig from DeSantis, whose poll numbers have decline after having been widely seen as the leading Trump alternative, suggested he was more willing to attack the frontrunner after months of largely avoiding direct confrontation.

The candidates are vying with Trump to become their party’s nominee to face President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, in the November 2024 election. Trump, who led his nearest rival for the nomination by 37 percentage points in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, skipped the debate, as he did the first one in Wisconsin last month. Instead, minutes before the debate kicked off, Trump was on stage in the battleground state of Michigan, delivering a speech to Detroit autoworkers and inserting himself into a national dispute between striking workers and the country’s leading automakers a day after Biden joined a union picket line.

“They’re all job candidates,” Trump said dismissively of the seven Republicans at the debate. “Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don’t think so.”

By shunning both debates, the former president signaled he was focused on Biden, his once and perhaps future opponent, rather than the Republican contenders who trail badly in the polls.

With less than four months until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Republican nominating contest, Trump’s rivals are running short on time to alter the dynamics of a race that Trump has dominated since he announced his re-election campaign 10 months ago.

Wednesday’s debate loomed particularly large for DeSantis, whose campaign has already endured two staff shakeups as donors expressed concern about his inability to gain on Trump.

DeSantis, 45, made his name nationally by opposing many U.S. government policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He has since become a leading figure fighting what he argues are overly progressive policies favored by educators and corporations. Former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s standing improved after a strong debate performance last month, and another solid outing could convince some Republican donors she has the best odds of unseating Trump.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum also qualified for the debate.


The first questions from the debate’s moderators focused on the expanding autoworkers’ strike, a day after Biden visited Detroit and became the first U.S. president to join a picket line.

Several Republicans used the opportunity to attack Biden, whose approval ratings have been anemic for months. Their focus was largely on immigration and the economy.

“Biden should not be on the picket line,” said Scott, who appeared more animated than during the first debate. “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.”

Haley blamed the strike on Biden’s spending, which she said had driven up inflation. Trump’s myriad legal problems were also sure to be a topic of discussion. The 77-year-old businessman-turned-politician has been indicted in four criminal cases, and on Tuesday, a New York state judge found that he committed fraud by inflating the value of his business assets.

The Republican National Committee, which organizes the debates, picked the Fox Business Network to host the event, alongside Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish-language TV channel, and Rumble, an online video platform popular with conservatives. Stuart Varney, a Fox Business Network anchor and one of the debate moderators, told Reuters the candidates would be questioned on a range of issues, including immigration, inflation, crime, and foreign policy.

© 2023 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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