Three takeaways from the second 2024 Republican presidential debate

By James Oliphant and Tim Reid

SIMI VALLEY, California (Reuters) -The seven Republicans on stage at their party’s second 2024 presidential primary debate aimed on Wednesday to convince voters they could be a viable alternative to frontrunner Donald Trump, who skipped the event.

Here are takeaways from the debate in Simi Valley, California:


It took more than 15 minutes for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to speak, but when he did, he unloaded on former President Trump in a way he has not before.

He said Trump, who was speaking to a crowd of autoworkers in Detroit on Wednesday instead of joining the debate, should have been on the stage with his primary rivals.

“Donald Trump is missing an action. He should be on the stage tonight,” DeSantis said. “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.”

DeSantis had patiently bided his time as all the other contenders on stage took questions on the economy. It was not an ideal start for a candidate who desperately needs to reverse his fading fortunes.

The most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll had him falling almost 40 percentage points behind Trump. In some early-voting states such as New Hampshire, he is in danger of dropping into the middle of the pack.

Whether DeSantis, 45, ultimately will benefit from taking on the most popular figure in the party remains to be seen, but his combativeness toward Trump, 77, was something some of his supporters and donors have wanted to see for months.


Asked about the flow of illegal immigration across America’s southern border, the candidates tried to outdo one another by showing how hardline their policies would be.

It was a clear reflection of how illegal immigration and border security are among the top concerns for Republican primary voters.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he would send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border “on Day One.”

Nikki Haley, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, promised to create an additional 25,000 Border Patrol and immigration enforcement jobs at the border, keep asylum seekers in Mexico and immediately deport captured immigrants who enter illegally.

Not to be upstaged, biotech investor Vivek Ramaswamy went even further. He pledged universal deportation for all immigrants who enter illegally and their children, the complete militarization of the southern border and the end of birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants who enter illegally born on U.S. soil.

“If the kid of a Mexican diplomat doesn’t enjoy birthright citizenship, then neither does the kid of an illegal migrant who broke the law to come here,” Ramaswamy said.


Experts who have studied presidential debates will tell you: It’s hard to manufacture a moment that voters will remember or that will go viral on social media. They typically come off as inauthentic.

But that doesn’t mean the Republicans on stage didn’t try.

Former Vice President Mike Pence was so eager to use his one-liner, he decided to refer to an earlier question about the United Auto Workers strike rather than one he was asked.

“Joe Biden doesn’t belong on the picket line. He belongs on the unemployment line,” Pence joked before pausing for a roar from the crowd that never came.

Later, when discussing education policy, he noted that he has “been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years.” (Spoiler: It’s his wife, Karen Pence.)

That didn’t stop Christie from trying a little humor himself in blasting Trump for skipping the debate. Addressing the camera, Christie adopted the pose of speaking to the former president directly.

“You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things,” Christie said, his finger pointed in challenge. “And let me tell you what’s going to happen if you keep doing that. No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re gonna call you Donald Duck.”

There were some hoots but more moans from the audience, likely because much of the crowd, like the Republican Party, was comprised of voters who like Trump. Christie’s campaign tried to make it viral by posting it on X, the social media site once known as Twitter. One commenter noted, “We’ve reached new levels of cringe.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid in Simi Valley, California, and James Oliphant in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Deepa Babington and Howard Goller)