PHOTO: Republican presidential candidates, from left, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and former Vice President Mike Pence, before the start of a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA. (AP Photo/Mark Terrill)
Seven Republican presidential candidates took the debate stage last night, arguing their case on issues from the border to abortion, from China to Ukraine.
And some took on former President Donald Trump as well, specifically calling out his statements on abortion which have angered pro-lifers. The front-runner skipped the debate again, opting instead to give a competing speech in Michigan.
The GOP contenders tried to pitch their vision for the future of the party of Reagan while at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA. For many of the candidates on stage, it was the time to try and make a splash in order to keep their campaigns going.
Many candidates are polling well behind former President Donald Trump. Some candidates were quick to note his absence.
"Where's Joe Biden? He's completely missing in action from leadership. You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action, he should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt," said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in one of his barbs against Trump.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been one of the more forceful voices against Trump, tried to deliver his own zinger.
"Donald, I know you're watching. You can't help yourself. I know you're watching, okay? And you're not here tonight not because of polls and your indictments, but you're not here tonight because you're afraid of defending your record. You're ducking these things, and I'll tell you what's going to happen, we're not going to call you Donald Trump anymore, we'll call you Donald Duck," Christie said while looking into the camera.
The economy and 'Bidenomics' were frequent targets for the candidates, as well as the southern border.
The debate moderators played a clip from President Ronald Reagan supporting amnesty when asking about reining in illegal immigration. It prompted calls to defund so-called sanctuary cities in an effort to stop illegal crossings.
"We need to make sure we are a country of laws, the second we stop being a country of laws we give up everything this country was founded on. We have to secure the border, the way we do that is first of all defund sanctuary cities, you see what's happening in Philadelphia right now it's got to stop. We need to make sure we put 25,000 more border patrol and ICE agents on the ground and let them do their job," said former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Technology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy took it a step further.
"I agree with everything, the Republicans on this stage are on the right side of this issue. Militarize the southern border, stop funding sanctuary cities. End foreign aid to Mexico and Central America to end the incentives to come across. But I do go a step further…I favor ending birthright citizenship for the kids of illegal immigrants of this country," he said.
Ramaswamy's southern border solution led South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to attack him on another major foreign policy issue: ties to China.
"Last debate he said we were all bought and paid for, and I thought about that for a little while and I said I can't imagine how you can say that knowing that you were just in business with the Chinese Communist Party and the same people who funded Hunter Biden millions of dollars," said Scott.
Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley both enjoyed polling boosts after their first debate performances and they continued to spar during round two. Notably over Chinese-owned social media company TikTok and Ramaswamy's unwillingness to ban it and, instead, join it.
"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 generation of Americans where they are. So when I get into office, I've been very clear. Kids under the age of 16 should not be using addictive social media. We're only going to get to declaring independence from China, which I favor, if we win," he said.
"This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we have and honestly every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber for what you say. I can't believe, they hear you have a TikTok situation. 150 million people are on TikTok, that means they can get your contacts, they can get your financial information," she shot back.
The issue of funding Ukraine to defend itself against Russia continued to divide the candidates, and late in the debate, the candidates were asked how abortion policies could impact election chances.
"I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats. I think there are other reasons for that. The former President, he's missing in action tonight, he's had a lot to say about that, he should be here explaining his comments to say that somehow pro-life protections are a terrible thing," said DeSantis.
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Former President Trump offered up a speech to autoworkers in Michigan instead of debating, but his campaign did release a statement when the night was over. He called the night "boring" and "inconsequential" while saying he had a 40 to 50-point lead in the polls before calling for the RNC to end the debates.