Seven candidates for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential race took part in the second GOP debate Wednesday night.
In another debate lacking the party's far-and-away frontrunner— former President Donald Trump— a still-crowded stage of Republican hopefuls debated, shouted, and attacked each other in a battle deemed mostly pointless by many voices across the spectrum.
The only candidate from the first debate who didn't qualify for the second was former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Despite Trump's absence (he chose instead to hold a rally with auto workers in Michigan), he dominated media coverage of the debate in both left- and right-rated outlets. This heavy coverage was not a result of him being a frequent topic of conversation at the debate. Apart from a few jabs regarding his decision to skip (Chris Christie called him "Donald Duck" at one point) and his administration's spending record, the candidates on stage mostly focused attacks on each other. Trump's four criminal indictments were not mentioned by moderators or candidates.
According to recent polls aggregated by FiveThirtyEight (Center bias), if all seven candidates combined their supporters, they would total 37.5% of Republicans. Heading into the second debate, Trump was polling at 54%.
Aside from Trump, the debate was lively. Nikki Haley said she feels "dumber" every time she listens to Vivek Ramaswamy speak after he defended his recent decision to join TikTok despite his previous condemnation of the China-linked app. Ramaswamy said he would end birthright citizenship and deemed "transgenderism" to be a "mental health disorder." Chris Christie attacked President Joe Biden for "sleeping with a member of the Teachers' Unions," referring to First Lady Jill Biden. Mike Pence joked that he's "been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years," referring to his wife.
The crowded field led some candidates to seemingly disappear on stage, such as North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum, who spoke nearly two minutes less than any other candidate.
Instances of candidates shouting over each other sparked commentary on how presidential debates are conducted, with some questioning the efficacy of the forum. Some right-rated voices also revived calls for narrowing the candidate pool to give remaining candidates more time to expand on their positions and beliefs.
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Snippets from the Left
"It is difficult for me to imagine how this debate will make any impact on the race. The central characteristic of the contest is still that Trump has a massive lead. A debate with extremely limited discussion of Trump was a useless waste of time. In a way, everyone onstage was a loser for failing to shake up that underlying dynamic. In a way, everyone watching was a loser for having spent those two hours and gotten so little out of it. But some particularly earned that loser status."
"The second Republican debate raised one big question: Why? Former President Donald Trump remains the leading candidate in the Republican primary, and he didn’t bother to show up. That’s an act of profound disrespect to Republican voters and the democratic process, but GOP voters don’t seem inclined to punish him."
Snippets from the Right
"In the two-hour debate, Bidenomics came out mostly unscathed. The seven Republican candidates were again uncomfortable talking about the economy and quickly fell back into discussing immigration, crime, Donald Trump or virtually anything other than economic policy. The group seems challenged by the need for economic expertise. They criticized government spending but offered no concrete plans for dealing with entitlements and reducing government spending."
"Candidates were eager to jump in and respond to what their rivals had said, and the result was a lot of crosstalk. Everybody loses when there’s crosstalk, and it’s odd and irritating that candidates don’t recognize this. No one can easily understand what the candidates are saying, the talking candidates look rude, the moderators look like they’re losing control, the viewers at home get annoyed and tempted to change the channel, and the network grinds its teeth at the thought of losing viewers."
Snippets from the Center
"The absence of Trump, the GOP field’s front-runner, was felt as his fellow competitors sparred on the debate stage, with some candidates calling him out on his lack of participation directly. 'Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight,' DeSantis said."
"In the first debate, Ramaswamy came looking for a fight. He found it, but he gave as good as he got. This time around, he thought he could use his charm and eloquence to calm things down. But his rivals simply refused to cooperate with his plan. As a result, he was forced to play defense a lot, and he wound up getting a bloody lip from Haley. So much for killing them with kindness."