Republican candidates debate, Trump not present

09/28/23 By Meg Richards 

The second presidential debate took place in the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. Donald Trump was not present. Instead, he held a rally in Michigan — and was still a primary topic of conversation.

Candidates present include Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Bergum, Mike Pence, and Ron DeSantis. The seven Republicans made efforts to separate themselves from former President Donald Trump, who is still the frontrunner of the GOP race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that Trump should be on the stage alongside his opponents. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Trump is “ducking” accountability for his record in a memorable zinger, saying:

“You’re ducking these things, and let me tell you what’s going to happen,” Christie said. “You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re going to call you Donald Duck.”

However, this appeared to be the only thing the candidates could agree on. The two-hour debate includes an overlap of jeers and three moderators struggling to hold the reins on their seven candidates.

DeSantis struggled to keep up with his competitors and get some answers in. Previously projected to be the biggest threat to Trump, his performance in the debates — and polls — has been lackluster. He finally piped up 16 minutes into the debate but didn’t succeed in defending his name against South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Former Vice President Mike Pence, and Haley, who attacked his policies on school curriculum, state budget, the death penalty, and fracking. 

Finally, the debate would not be complete without discussing President Joe Biden, who would be their assumed opponent should they win the nomination. Candidates criticized his support of unions, including his taking a stand on the picket line against UAW workers and showing support for the teacher’s union, as First Lady Jill Biden is a longtime unionized educator. 

Four months shy of the New Hampshire Primary, Trump maintains a hefty lead in the polls despite his absence from the debate.