In the second Republican presidential debate, held in Simi Valley, California, the seven candidates demonstrated heightened combativeness as they vied for attention and sought to overtake former President Donald Trump. Rather than focusing on Trump, who leads in the polls, the candidates turned their attention to attacking each other. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis aggressively challenged Trump and President Biden, while other candidates also aimed barbs at the absent former president. The debate turned into a shouting match, with little substantive policy discussion. Major takeaways from the debate include Nikki Haley challenging her rivals, candidates diverging on immigration, and Tim Scott asserting himself more prominently.
Nikki Haley took the opportunity to challenge the records of her rivals, including Tim Scott and Ron DeSantis. She accused DeSantis of supporting a fracking ban in Florida, which he denied. When Scott attacked Haley’s record in South Carolina, she responded with defiance. Haley’s rising profile was evident when Trump’s team sent an email to reporters during the debate filled with opposition research about her. Business executive Vivek Ramaswamy continued to be a primary target for other candidates, but he adopted a more conciliatory approach compared to the first debate. The candidates spent little time discussing policy differences, instead engaging in personal attacks.
The candidates criticized President Biden’s handling of immigration, specifically his failure to secure the border. They emphasized that they only welcomed immigrants who entered the country legally and skirted specific questions about the “dreamers” who were brought into the country illegally as children. Scott and Ramaswamy had a heated exchange over birthright citizenship, with Ramaswamy arguing that it could be ended despite the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to all persons born in the United States. Scott disagreed, stating that the amendment was intended to protect formerly enslaved people. Chris Christie mocked Trump for not completing the border wall and advocated treating illegal immigration as a law enforcement issue.
Tim Scott took a more assertive stance in this debate compared to the first, engaging in frequent sparring with Ramaswamy. He challenged Ramaswamy’s business ties to the Chinese Communist Party and alleged connections to Hunter Biden. Scott also criticized DeSantis’s policy decisions, particularly regarding Florida’s curriculum which includes language suggesting that slaves developed skills for their own benefit. The debate was characterized by interruptions and a lack of substantive policy discussion, leaving little clarity on the candidates’ positions.