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Who won the Republican presidential debate? Our winners and losers


Seven Republican presidential candidates faced off Wednesday night in the second presidential debate of the 2024 presidential election in Simi Valley, California. Absent once again was Republican Party favorite, former President Donald Trump.

The first debate seemed to put businessman Vivek Ramaswamy on the map for many voters, but it was former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who seemed to gain the most momentum from it. None of them, however, come within reach of depriving Trump of a third straight GOP presidential nomination.

Below are some winners and losers from the second debate.

The strength of Haley’s initial debate performance was that she addressed the issues directly and seemed like a serious candidate who could appeal to all sections of the party. And even if she perhaps had a little less impact on Wednesday evening than during the first debate, she mostly did it again.

After several candidates did not directly answer questions about the United Auto Workers strike, Haley invoked what others probably wished they had: the impact of inflation on workers.

She later gave one of the most substantive answers on health care. On this and other questions, she seemed less wallowing and asking questions than the other candidates.

And in the end, her performance had something all contestants look for: the promise of a viral moment. She told Ramaswamy, after a tough question about her posture on TikTok, that “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little dumber because of what you say.”

Haley went off the rails a bit near the end when she seemed a little too eager to go after Sen. Tim Scott (SC), then Scott came back at her in an exchange that turned into a shouting match. The tension between South Carolina and South Carolina was real. But if the best her opponents have to work with is an old $50,000 curtains story at the State Department (Haley was absolved), she’s probably in good shape.

Haley made the most of the first debate by being a studied candidate who demonstrated broad appeal — not alienating Trump-supporting voters. She likely retained that advantage and moved closer to possibly one day replacing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the primary, actually somewhat viable, alternative to Trump.

Okay, maybe this one isn’t original. But the debate proved more anecdotal than the first, and Trump’s decision to leave these matters aside is increasingly justified, at least on a strategic level.

Although the contestants made some digs early on, these faded as the evening progressed. The candidates also talked so much about each other — and Fox Business moderators had a hard time convincing them — that it robbed the debate of any real flow.

It almost felt like it was mostly a group of single-digit candidates struggling to get noticed by an electorate that is by and large uninterested in the choices they’re trying to put forward.

After two debates, it has become clear that the only thing that will change this race is Trump’s personal problems suddenly overtaking him in some way. current evidence suggests that this will be the case.

And these debates are mostly about being there to pick up the pieces in the unlikely event that happens – to become the favorite of the also-rans.

It’s true that Republicans have largely abandoned their old quest to get rid of the increasingly popular health care law. But on Wednesday evening, there was a notable moment.

When former Vice President Mike Pence was repeatedly asked whether he still wanted to repeal the law — as he and Trump had promised but failed to do — he repeatedly responded .

He first talked about mass shootings and turned to attacking DeSantis (one of several instances in which he did so after dodging a question).

Then he was asked again, and he launched again, turning to an attack on Trump because he wanted to “consolidate more power in the executive branch.”

Pence, in the end, simply said that all funding for Obamacare would be handled by the states. This is a far cry from where past GOP debates ended up, when there was arguably no greater commitment than repealing the law.

Candidates were still reluctant to criticize Trump. But one thing even DeSantis was willing to hit him on — albeit effectively repeating what former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had just said — was that Trump was skipping debates.

“Donald Trump – he hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and will not show up here to answer questions like the rest of us are here to answer them,” Christie said. “He put $7 trillion on the debt, and he should be in the room answering those questions.”

DeSantis quickly interjected and, somewhat awkwardly, repeated the topic of discussion.

“You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing,” DeSantis said. “He should be on stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added 7.8 trillion to the debt which paved the way for the inflation we are experiencing.

Christie later said he would soon call Trump “Donald Duck.”

That the candidates were reduced to goading Trump into a debate was a reflection of the race. The candidates need something that can pierce Trump’s armor, and his refusal to debate isn’t helping them. Republican voters are increasingly agree with Trump skipping debates. So they must at least try to attract let him come back.

But in the end, the Trump campaign’s response was simply to call for the cancellation of future debates.

“The (Republican National Committee) should immediately shut down any further primary debates so we can turn our fire on crooked Joe Biden and stop wasting time and money that could be used to evict Biden from the White House.” , the Trump campaign said. .

A DeSantis ally remarked to Semafor before the debate: “If he doesn’t succeed here, in my opinion, he needs to give up — if he doesn’t want to be embarrassed.” »

He didn’t do particularly well. But more than that, nothing seemed likely to stop his recurrence.

DeSantis’ contribution consisted of numerous speeches in Florida, which his campaign once suggested it was moving away from. This was an unoriginal attempt to take a dig at Trump so soon after Christie said much the same thing. It was his always clumsy ways.

His campaign at one point complained about lack of time it was given to him, but he did not use the time he had well. It was also symptomatic of the fact that he was becoming more and more terrible at racing.

GOP moderation on immigration

No, it’s not like comprehensive immigration reform is going to happen any time soon. But the debate showed how any Republican Party moderation on immigration could be further away than it has been in decades.

When asked about comprehensive reform, even the most establishment-oriented candidates, such as Christie and Haley, flip-flopped, saying the country should focus solely on securing the border.

At one point, the immigration debate turned to Ramaswamy’s (somewhat fanciful) idea to revoke the citizenship rights of the children of illegal immigrants — and even deport the citizen children of immigrants illegal immigrant. The matter was soon referred to Scott as he had expressed a different point of view. But Scott chose not to debate the issue, instead relying on the idea that the 14th Amendment was meant to address slavery rather than undocumented immigrants – thus suggesting that it was makes it an open legal question.

Ultimately, Pence was asked what he would do for the Dreamers, didn’t answer, was questioned again, and instead attacked DeSantis.

The bottom line: The GOP has no time for anything other than the border. And the very fact that an establishment Republican had entertained the idea of ​​revoking the birthright — and not just Ramaswamy or Trump, who have done it in the past — really drove home where the party stands in a foreseeable future.

California Governor Gavin Newsom appears in the press room for the second GOP presidential debate. (Video: Billy Tucker/The Washington Post)


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