Seven Republican Presidential candidates – but not front-runner Donald Trump – participated in the second GOP debate last night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The first such contest had only a small effect on the polls, so this one seems likely to do the same. Yet every twist and turn matters in the long and winding road of a presidential election.
Therefore, let’s take a look at how each candidate performed in this debate and how they’re likely to be positioned for the race ahead.
DeSantis had the sort of performance during the second debate that you might’ve expected during the first debate. For example, right off the bat, he took a shot at Donald Trump for being “missing from action” from the debate stage. He later used that same phrase to critique Trump for suggesting that certain abortion restrictions were unpopular. Lastly, in the spin room, during an interview with Sean Hannity, DeSantis proposed a 1-on-1 debate between himself and Trump.
Despite a late start – DeSantis was the last candidate to be asked a question and thus didn’t speak until 9:16 – the Florida Governor ended up with the most speaking time, far ahead of his closest competitor Nikki Haley. The South Carolinian accused DeSantis of opposing fracking in Florida, as she seeks to pass him in the polls and become the leading Trump alternative.
Despite gaining the most momentum from the first debate, the debate moderators apparently weren’t eager to get Haley involved, as only Doug Burgum got less speaking time. What time Haley did get, though, was spent picking fights in hopes of scoring some highlight-worthy moments.
In addition to the aforementioned spat with DeSantis, Haley also resumed her battles with Vivek Ramaswamy on a whole host of subjects. “Honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” Haley roasted Vivek, in what was cable news’ favorite clip of the night.
While Vivek was the star of the first debate, his performance led to a hit to his favorable ratings. At first, it seemed that Ramaswamy was determined to change those initial impressions by acting as more of a happy warrior. Eventually, though, enough attacks from the likes of Tim Scott and Mike Pence led him back to his familiar fisticuffs. The businessman went on to argue that the 14th Amendment did not protect birthplace citizenship and that transgender people were suffering from a “mental health disorder”.
Among those eager to tangle with Vivek, and anyone else on the stage, was Senator Tim Scott. After a muted performance in the first debate, Scott jumped at the chance to pick some fights, and as a result scored the third most speaking time last night. In addition to his tussle with Vivek, Scott hit Haley over her office spending during her time at the UN and even managed a shot at LBJ’s Great Society. He’ll need his performance to be rewarded with some sort of boost in order to qualify for the third debate, something he shares in common with the next three contenders.
The former Vice President finished fifth in speaking time. While Pence once again took the opportunity to lash Vivek as an inexperienced novice, and to tout his own Reagan Republican bonafides, GOP primary voters still won’t forgive him for abandoning Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. For instance, one post-debate CNN focus group judged him as the biggest loser of the night.
Speaking of Donald Trump, it went largely unremarked upon when Christie earned cheers for taking on Trump. While the Reagan Library may be a friendly audience for such Never-Trumper sentiments, it’s notable that such statements were not welcomed at the first debate. Besides that, Christie’s night was defined by two viral moments, the first of which concerned a Donald Duck pun. The second was a hit on First Lady Jill Biden, as Christie claimed that teachers unions would dominate White House policy as long as “you have the President of the United States sleeping with a member of the teachers’ union.”
The Governor of North Dakota got the short end of the stick last night, as his pleading attempts for more speaking time tended to earn only rebukes from the moderators. Altogether, Burgum got far and away the least amount of time, and that includes whenever he managed to bowl over the moderators to make a point.
The RNC does have a third debate scheduled for November 8th, the day after Election Day 2023. As a result, that event is likely to be forgotten even quicker than the previous two debates. To top it all off, Donald Trump’s campaign announced last night that he won’t be attending that debate either.