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(The Epoch Times)—Republican presidential candidates took the stage for a second Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday.
Appearing in order of their standing in national polls were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
As the seven White House hopefuls did their best to articulate their messages and project a presidential aura during the event, three people who were not present seemed to get nearly as much air time as those who were, presidents all: Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.
President Regan was often cited by both the moderators and candidates as an almost mythic leader who fired striking air traffic controllers, granted amnesty to immigrants, and handed down the 11th commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
President Biden was cast as the country’s nemesis, the cause of every ill from the economy to the border crisis to wokeism.
President Trump, who was 2,300 miles away in Detroit, speaking to striking auto workers, was mentioned more than any other. The former president, who leads Republican candidates by some 40 percentage points in national polls, was both praised for the achievements of his administration and criticized for his failures. But mostly, he was chided like a schoolboy for his absence from the stage.
“Donald Trump hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won’t show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us,” said Mr. Christie said.
Mr. DeSantis said President Trump was “missing in action.”
The frequent conjuring of both heroes and villains, which directed attention away from rather than toward those in attendance, was emblematic of the two-hour event. Though it provided some moments of interest, the debate provided little new information about any candidate.
From the start, moderators struggled to maintain control of the debate as candidates talked over each other, interrupted, injected themselves into questions asked of others, and disregarded the time limits for answers.
Moderators Dana Perino and Stuart Varney of Fox News and Ilia Calderon of Univision. During the first break, Ms. Perino admonished the candidates, according to a Fox News commentator. That prompted a short-lived improvement, but the debate frequently devolved into talk soup.
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In frustration, Ms. Perino warned Mr. Burgum concerning his interrupting, “We will have to cut your mic, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t.” Though, the North Dakota governor was no more guilty than others.
After the contest, a spokesperson for President Trump told reporters the spectacle he’d witnessed was reason enough for the former president to skip future debates.
“He said he’s not going to attend the debates, plural. And that’s his position—until it’s not.” Chris LaCivita said.
Mr. LaCivita added that rather than a debate, it looked more like a contest for “who’s going to be the designated survivor.”
Attacks on opponents come frequently in presidential debates. During the first GOP showcase on Aug. 23, Mr. Ramaswamy went on the offensive frequently, something he came close to apologizing for during the second event.
“I’m the new guy here. And so I know I have to earn your trust,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “What do you see? You see a young man who’s in a bit of a hurry, maybe a little ambitious, a bit of a know-it-all it seems, at times,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “I’m here to tell you, no, I don’t know it all. I will listen.”
After he was asked about his use of TikTok, an app widely prohibited for use on government-owed phones over security concerns, Ms. Haley reacted to what she thought was a weak answer by Mr. Ramaswamy.
“This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have,” Ms. Haley said. “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” she added.
Ms. Haley, who had mostly remained above the fray in the previous debate, also chose to attack Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Scott.
She criticized Mr. DeSantis for his anti-fracking policies in Florida and sparred with Mr. Scott over federal spending. Afterward, surrogates for both candidates answered Ms. Haley’s criticisms.
Chris Grant, a senior advisor to Mr. Ramaswamy, told The Epoch Times, “We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Nikki Haley,” Mr. Grant added. “Nikki Haley clearly spends a lot of time thinking and getting angry about Vivek Ramaswamy.”
Matt Gorman of the Tim Scott campaign, told The Epoch Times simply, “[Nikki Haley] hasn’t met a federal dollar she hasn’t liked.”
After those and other attacks by several candidates, Mr. LaCivita wondered if the Republican National Committee should question whether further debates help the party. “What good does it do to have a group of people who stand around and do nothing but beat up on the frontrunner? Who has that really helped? That helps Joe Biden,” Mr. LaCivita said.
The China Challenge
The Chinese Communist Party was mentioned often during the debate as a global competitor, armorer of Russia, stealer of intellectual property, and indoctrinator of American students.
Mr. Burgum argued vehemently that the Biden administration’s push toward the adoption of electric vehicles played to China’s interests because it controls the supply of minerals needed to manufacture batteries.
“China controls 85 percent of the rare earth minerals. They’re called rare earth because they’re measured in parts per million. China is moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of earth, in Indonesia and Africa. They’re literally destroying the planet so that we can they can make a battery that’s in a car subsidized here,” Mr. Burgum said.
Mr. DeSantis said China poses multiple threats to the United States and must be countered.
“We need a totally new approach to China. We are going to have real, hard power in the Indo-Pacific, like Reagan, to deter their ambitions. We’re going to have economic independence from China,” Mr. DeSantis said. “And we are going to go after the cultural power they have in this country . . . We shouldn’t have them in our universities. We shouldn’t have Confucius Institutes.”
Mr. Pence said that failure to support Ukraine in its war with Russia would be “a green light for China to take Taiwan.”
“We’re in a cold war with China,” Mr. Burgum said. “The Biden administration won’t admit that, but we’re also in an economic war through what we’re doing with agriculture and energy. And we’re also in a war with them relative to cyber where we get attacked every day in North Dakota, every state, every school district, our tribes all being attacked every day by either China or Russia or Iran or North Korea.”
Ms. Haley vowed to end the supply of fentanyl in the United States, which she said originates in China. “We’re going to go after China because China is the one sending the fentanyl in the first place,” Ms. Haley said. “And we will end all normal trade relations until China stops sending fentanyl.”
NTD TV, sister media to The Epoch Times, conducted a focus group with 15 Republican voters in Irvine, Calif., following the debate. Though the group did not have a consensus winner for the debate, several candidates drew favorable reactions.
A participant named Steven was favorably impressed by Mr. Burgum. “The governor of North Dakota, I thought he did particularly well. I was surprised by how well he did,” Steven said.
Others like Mr. DeSantis’s education policies, Mr. Ramaswamy’s openness to dialogue, and Ms. Haley’s determination to combat fentanyl. However, the group agreed that no candidate on the stage could unseat Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee.
A third Republican debate will take place in Miami on Nov. 8.
Sound off about the debate on my Substack.
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