The Republican presidential candidates clashed at a chaotic debate, addressing issues such as China, immigration, and the economy. However, none of the candidates managed to have a breakout moment that would significantly change the dynamics of the primary race, which Donald Trump has dominated. Trump, who leads in the polls, skipped the debate, prompting criticism from his rivals. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called out Trump for being “missing in action” and for adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. The candidates also targeted Democratic President Joe Biden, criticizing his handling of the economy and the southern border with Mexico. However, the majority of the debate was spent on candidates attacking one another.
Throughout the debate, the candidates exhibited a tough stance on immigration and lambasted the Biden administration for its handling of the migrant crisis at the southern border. DeSantis pledged to deploy the military against Mexican cartels, while another candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, proposed revoking birthright citizenship for the children of those who entered the country illegally. Additionally, the candidates expressed support for continuing aid to Ukraine, although DeSantis stated that he would not offer a “blank check.” Ramaswamy criticized the stance on Ukraine, arguing that supporting the country was pushing Russia towards China. Overall, the debate did not provide a clear standout candidate, leaving Trump in a strong position in the primary race.
Trump’s absence from the debate highlighted his focus on Joe Biden rather than the Republican contenders, who have struggled to gain ground in the polls. The moderators did not address Trump’s legal problems, despite his four criminal indictments. With the Iowa Republican nominating contest just months away, Trump’s rivals are running out of time to weaken his grip on the primary campaign. This debate was particularly important for DeSantis, whose campaign has faced donor concerns and staff shakeups. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley aimed to perform well in the debate to convince Republican donors that she has the best chance of defeating Trump.