In a second GOP presidential debate that often seemed more like a disorderly reality TV show, the Babylon Bee’s satirical news headline may have best captured the mood of viewers: ‘Mute Button’ Wins GOP Debate.
The seven Republican candidates on stage at Wednesday evening’s gladiator match in Simi Valley’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library shouted and talked over each other and slung more mud than an Iowa hog farm.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the far and away front-runner in the GOP presidential nomination chase, was 2,300 miles away in Detroit ripping President Joe Biden in a rally speech aimed at blue-collar workers.
Debate moderators — Stuart Varney of Fox Business Network, Fox News’ Dana Perino, and Univision anchor Ilia Calderón — lost control almost from the get-go, ineffectually scolding candidates for constantly interrupting, piling on, and altogether abusing the 1-minute answer clock and the patience of the audience.
In one particularly chaotic scene, the race’s two South Carolinians, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, incessantly quarreled about Haley’s gas tax proposal when she was governor of the Palmetto State and $53,000 curtains for her official ambassador residence.
“Bring it, Tim,” Haley said as Scott launched into his barrage.
“Just go to Youtube,” the senator said, shouting over Haley, who furiously attempted to explain she had no control over the State Department’s budget for curtains. Haley accused Scott of “scrapping.”
It was just one of several shots a scrappier Scott took at his rivals, a significant change from the first GOP presidential debate last month in Milwaukee where the senator rode the “nice guy” lane to near oblivion.
Through the din and smoke of the shouting matches, the debate did feature some key moments. In particular, a question about continued U.S. military aid for Ukraine in its war with Russia. The answers showcased a clear divide among the candidates.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, at center stage by virtue of his second-place position in the polls behind Trump, said it is in America’s best interest to end the war.
“And that’s what I will do as president. We are not going to have a blank check. We will not have U.S. troops [on the ground]. And we’re going to make the Europeans do what they need to do,” DeSantis said. While the U.S. has pumped in $76 billion and counting of military aid into Ukraine, “our own country is being invaded,” the governor added. “We don’t even have control of our own territory. We have got to defend the American people before we worry about all of these other things.”
“As commander-in-chief, I will defend this country’s sovereignty,’ he said.
Scott, Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, supporters of further arming Ukraine in the ongoing war, jumped in to defend what they insist is a U.S. vital interest.
Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said it was time to “level with the American people.”
“The reality that because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is an evil dictator does not mean Ukraine is good,” the 38-year-old political outsider said, noting the Ukraine government’s many crimes against liberty.
“Vivek, if you let Putin have Ukraine, that’s a green light to China to take Taiwan. Peace comes through strength,” Pence interjected.
Haley interrupted Ramaswamy, “A win for Russia is a win for China,” derisively adding, “but I forgot, you like China.”
“Hurtling personal insults isn’t helping,” Ramaswamy scolded. “We’re driving Russia further into China’s arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this.”
Ramaswamy this summer laid out a controversial peace plan that would cede disputed Ukrainian territory to Russia in exchange for Russia ending the war and walking back from its increasingly cozy relationship with communist China.
Haley’s jab at Ramaswamy on China followed a scuffle over his use of China-tied TikTok in his campaign. Varney asked Ramaswamy why he uses it when the social media platform is banned on government devices in the U.S. because of security threats it poses.
“So, the answer is I have a radical idea for the Republican Party: We need to win elections. And part of how we win elections is reaching the next generations of Americans where they are,” he said, adding that “we’re only going to get to declaring independence from China if we actually win.”
“This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we can have and what you’ve got, honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little dumber for what you say,” Haley shot back, invoking a chorus of short-lived boos.
In between it all, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum complained that he wasn’t getting to chime in. Burgum, who squeaked into the second debate by virtue of a last-minute poll to meet the stricter entry requirements, is running at less than a percentage point in the latest RealClearPolitics average of national Republican presidential primary polls, although he is faring better in first primary state New Hampshire.
At one point, Perino warned Burgum that if he kept interrupting his microphone would be turned off. When the governor did get a chance to speak, he repeatedly extolled the virtues of the North Dakota model, where jobs are aplenty, energy is abundant, and crime is low.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie used much of his time to verbally smack Trump, as he did in he first debate. Dogging Trump is a central part of Christie’s campaign.
He blasted the former president for skipping another debate.
“[Trump] hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won’t show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us are up here to answer,” Christie said. He added that Trump continues “ducking these things.”
“If you keep doing that … they’ll call you Donald Duck,” Christie said in arguably the most rehearsed line of the night.
DeSantis, too, criticized Trump for not showing up.
But the former president seems to be doing just fine without the debates. He’s dominating the polls with 56.6 percent support nationally, leading his closest rival, DeSantis, by more than 42 percentage points.
Trump instead was in battleground Michigan, in Detroit, where a United Auto Worker strike against the “Big 3” automakers rages on and where the Republicans’ No. 1 political enemy, Democrat Biden, briefly joined the picket line a day before.
“I will not allow under any circumstances the American automobile industry to die,” Trump said at Drake Enterprises, a non-unionized auto parts supplier in a Detroit suburb. He slammed Biden’s aggressive climate change policies and his push for electric vehicles for threatening U.S. manufacturing jobs.
The full debate is available for viewing at Fox News.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.