Manhattan Caucus: Second Republican Debate Shows One Certainty: Trump is Still Winning

Seven Republican candidates joined the second Republican debate. AP NEWS/ COURTESY

By Kyla Guilfoil, Managing Editor

Seven Republican candidates joined in the second Republican debate at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California last Wednesday. The leading Republican candidate for the 2024 election, Donald Trump, was not in attendance. 

Trump, who has not attended a debate yet this cycle, nor plans to, did not lose any steam in the polls by missing the event. Instead, viewers saw the seven remaining candidates lose themselves in crosstalk and insults. 

A number of the candidates’ talking points made sure that Trump was still included in the debate, despite his absence. 

Governor Ron DeSantis, R-FL., who is second in FiveThirtyEight’s polls as of Sept. 29, with 13.5 percent to Trump’s 54.8 percent, called out Trump’s lack of attendance directly. 

“You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump,” DeSantis said at the debate. “He should be on the stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt, that set the stage for the inflation that we have now.” 

Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey and currently holding 2.7 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s election polls, made his own dig at Trump while discussing the former president’s failure to finish building a wall at the country’s southern border and increasing the national debt. 

“Donald, I know you’re watching,” Christie said at the debate. “You can’t help yourself…You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid to be on this stage and defend your record. You keep doing that, nobody up here’s gonna keep calling you Donald Trump; we’re gonna call you Donald Duck.”

The candidates did not keep the petty insults just for Trump. Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador who actually saw a rise in FiveThirtyEight’s polls, up to 6.5 percent after the first debate, made digs at entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who currently is up .2 percent from Haley in the polls. 

“Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber from what you say,” Haley said to Ramaswamy at the debate. 

The pair continued their back and forth while discussing foreign policy and the war in Ukraine. Ramaswamy has been steadfast in advocating for a halt to the US sending money to Ukraine while Haley has been defensive of supporting Ukraine due to threats from Russia.  

“Just because Putin’s an evil dictator does not mean Ukraine is good,” Ramaswamy told Haley during the debate. 

“A win for Russia is a win for China,” Haley shot back. “I forgot, you like China.” 

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., sitting at 2.7 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s polls, dropped his “nice guy” persona from the first debate and took his own digs at Ramaswamy regarding his past dealings with China. 

Scott called out a comment Ramaswamy made at the first debate, where he said his fellow candidates were all “bought and paid for.” 

“I thought about that for a little while, and said I can’t imagine how you could say that knowing that you are just in business with the Chinese Communist Party and the same people that funded Hunter Biden millions of dollars was a partner of yours, as well,” Scott said at the second debate.

This was in reference to the expansion of Ramaswamy’s company, Roivant Sciences, into the Chinese market in 2018. However, Ramaswamy’s campaign team said the company “eventually wound down its operations there as the risks became apparent over time,” prior to Ramaswamy’s move to join the presidential race. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is sitting at four percent in FiveThirtyEight’s polls as of Sept. 29, did not make smooth landings at the debate. His most awkward moment came after Christie made a distasteful comment about Biden’s relations with First Lady Jill Biden, who is an educator. 

“When you have the president of the United States sleeping with a member of the teachers union, there is no chance that you could take the stranglehold away from the teachers union every day,” Christie said at the debate.
To make matters worse, Pence added a line on the subject about his own wife. 

“By way of full disclosure, Chris, you mentioned the president’s situation,” Pence said. “My wife isn’t a member of the teachers union, but I’ve got to admit, I’ve been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years. Full disclosure,” Pence said. 

The seventh candidate on the stage, Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., made little impression beyond interrupting other candidates throughout the debate. Burgum was called on significantly less than his fellow candidates, likely due to the fact that he only holds one percent of FiveThirtyEight’s primary polls. 

However, Burgum was determined to make his voice heard, interrupting so often that one of the debate moderators, Dana Perino, had to threaten to turn his mic off if he did not stop. 

By the end of the debate, the most clear takeaway was that none of the seven candidates truly stood out, instead bolstering Trump by giving him the front-runner position. There was little deviance on policy compared to the first debate, and candidates spent more time in back-and-forths with each other than previously seen. 

The next Republican debate is scheduled for Nov. 8 in Miami. The Republican National Committee has not yet announced a venue. 

The cut-off for the debate will be the toughest yet – all candidates will need to secure at least four percent in two national polls or secure four percent in one national poll and four percent in a poll in at least two “early states” including Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which are among the first states to determine nominations. Candidates will also have to secure 70,000 unique donors, including at least 200 donors from 20 or more states or territories.