The leading Republican candidates for president — minus front-runner and former President Donald Trump — are facing off in the second GOP debate of the 2024 election cycle on Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
The debate, airing on Fox Business Network and Univision at 9 p.m. ET, is moderated by Fox News’ Dana Perino, Fox Business’ Stuart Varney and Univison’s Ilia Calderón.
Seven candidates made the cut for Wednesday’s debate: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Trump again declined to participate, but is leading in the polls to take on President Joe Biden next year.
Read live updates on the debate below:
That's A Wrap On The Second GOP Debate
The candidates will next face off on November 8 in Miami.
Trump Campaign Says RNC Should Stop Holding Debates
“President Trump has a 40- or 50-point lead in the primary election and a 10-point lead over Joe Biden in the general election, and it’s clear that President Trump alone can defeat Biden,” campaign advisor Chris LaCivita said. (The referenced poll with Biden has been criticized, but the numbers against his fellow Republicans are in line with national polling data.)
“The RNC should immediately put an end to any further primary debates so we can train our fire on Crooked Joe Biden and quit wasting time and money that could be going to evicting Biden from the White House.”
2 Hours Of Debate And Only 90 Seconds Spent On Abortion
At one point, DeSantis attacked Trump on his abortion stance, telling the audience that Trump “should be here explaining his comments ... that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing,” after Trump criticized DeSantis’ six-week abortion ban as “too harsh.”
DeSantis repeated the myth that people have abortions “up until birth” and added his misleading claim that Democrats support “infanticide.” Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare: Less than 1% of abortions occur at 21 weeks or later and the subset of abortions in the third trimester is even smaller.
Christie chimed in next, touting his record of defunding Planned Parenthood for nearly a decade as governor of New Jersey, and then quickly pivoted to a new topic.
And that was it for the topic of abortion in the second GOP presidential debate.
The Republican Voted Off The Island Is….
The question quickly broke down after DeSantis criticized moderators for not making the debate’s closing a more serious query. Christie said he wrote down Trump’s name, stressing that the former president needs to get out of the primary race. DeSantis and Ramaswamy tried to market themselves as candidates that can beat Trump.
The remaining candidates did not get a chance to answer, marking an awkward end to the two-hour debate.
Ron DeSantis Did Once Oppose Fracking In Florida
While attacking DeSantis, Haley said he is “against fracking.” She also claimed that on the second day of his governorship, DeSantis banned fracking and off-shore drilling.
DeSantis did call for a fracking ban in Florida: As a candidate, an archived version of his gubernatorial campaign website says, he called to “Work to Ban Fracking in the State of Florida.” On the second day of his governorship — a time marker that Haley emphasized — he issued an executive order that, in part, instructed environmental officials to “Take necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”
But the Florida legislature didn’t pass any laws to enforce such a ban, and as PolitiFact noted last October, Floridians Against Fracking Coalition co-chair Kim Ross called DeSantis’ early anti-fracking activity "one small chirp at the beginning of his term followed by crickets."
Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis spokesperson, responded online to the Haley attack by noting what DeSantis did on stage — that in 2018, in the same election that brought DeSantis to the governor's office, Florida voters enacted a constitutional amendment that “Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries.”
Tim Scott And Nikki Haley Get Into Screaming Match Over... Curtains
The State Department spent more than $52,000 on the curtains for the new residence for the ambassador in 2018, a decision made by the Obama administration.
Haley was the first to live in the New York residence, but had nothing to do with the decision and noted as much on Wednesday evening.
Ron DeSantis Attacks Donald Trump On Abortion
Trump “should be here explaining his comments ... that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing,” DeSantis said, likely referring to Trump’s criticism of the six-week ban as “too harsh.”
DeSantis also repeated misleading claims that Democrats support “infanticide.”
Ron DeSantis Dings College Gender Studies Programs
He then moved on to talk about how the 9/11 terrorist attack inspired him to join the military.
The Elephant In The Room
Christie, the only candidate onstage who said he wouldn’t support a convicted Trump for president, briefly mentioned the indictments early in the debate. But the candidates on stage have not debated about the Republican front-runner facing several criminal cases.
Nikki Haley Hits Donald Trump On China
She said that as president, she would end all normal trade relations with China until there were steps to address fentanyl exports.
“I will make sure every American is safe,” Haley said.
Nikki Haley to Vivek Ramaswamy: ‘Every Time I Hear You, I Feel A Little Bit Dumber’
"Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say," Haley said. She then slammed TikTok as “one of the most dangerous social media apps.”
Vivek Ramaswamy Throws The First Jab At Trans People
This language has been echoed among conservatives this year, despite being factually inaccurate. Most trans youth socially transition before opting to go on puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy in their teens; this has widely been accepted by most medical associations as necessary and lifesaving treatment.
“Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder,” Ramaswamy said. “It is not compassionate to affirm a kid’s confusion.”
The entrepreneur said he met two women, including someone named Chloe, who regretted their decision to undergo gender-affirming care. He was likely referring to Chloe Cole, an 18-year-old who has made a name for herself among conservative legislators as a go-to expert on the harms of transitioning as a minor. Her story has been used again and again this year to push forward laws banning gender-affirming care for minors in states like Tennessee, Florida and Utah.
Ramaswamy and Pence both vowed to protect children from “transgenderism” and provide more rights for parents. Already, we have seen states pass laws that require teachers to inform parents if their child changes their name or pronouns at school, which critics say puts young trans kids at risk if their families are not supportive.
Ron DeSantis Defends Florida’s Black History Curriculum
DeSantis has claimed that the standards are being misconstrued, but Scott countered the governor on the debate stage by saying, “There is not a redeeming quality in slavery.”
Ron DeSantis Is Still Mispronouncing Kamala Harris' Name
And she’s far from the only Kamala — a name of Indian and Sanskrit origins that means “lotus flower.” From 2019 to 2020, the name saw a huge surge in popularity as a baby girl name, shooting up 104% in use.
Chris Christie Riffs On Biden Joke About Who He's 'Sleeping With' — And It's Bizarre
“President Biden is sleeping with a member of the teachers' union,” the former governor said, referring to first lady Jill Biden, who is a teacher.
Biden has made a similar quip about his own life before.
One Big Thing Ron DeSantis Didn’t Mention About Florida
While it’s true that in July the network ranked Florida as having the best economy in 2023, DeSantis’ state didn’t fare so well in other rankings. That same month, Florida made CNBC’s list of the "10 worst states to live and work in" because of several conditions that come with living in the Sunshine State: difficulty voting, a lack of inclusiveness and severe restrictions on reproductive rights.
Mike Pence Wants Mass Shooters To Face An Expedited Death Penalty
The former vice president appeared to go after Ron DeSantis regarding the fate of the school shooter in Parkland, Florida. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison instead of the death penalty – something the Florida governor could not control. DeSantis did push for legislation after that sentencing to make it easier to get death sentences in the state.
Moderator Dana Perino called out Pence for deflecting her question about health care.
Vivek Ramaswamy Re-Ups Calls To Ban Social Media For Young Americans
“If you’re 16 years old or under, you should not be using an addictive social media product,” he said.
Chris Christie Addresses Trump Directly From Debate Stage: 'I Know You're Watching'
“Donald Trump should be here to answer for that, but he's not,” Christie said. “And I want to look at that camera right now and tell you: Donald, I know you're watching. You can't help yourself. I know you're watching. And you're not here tonight – not because of polls and not because of your indictments – you're not here tonight because you're afraid of being on the stage and defending your record.”
He wrapped up his remarks with a joke that got some laughs.
“You're ducking these things. And let me tell you what's going to happen: You keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We're gonna call you Donald Duck.”
Why Are Autoworkers Striking? GOP Presidential Candidates Pivot To Unrelated Grievances
Scott, after criticizing autoworkers for demanding “more benefits working fewer hours,” went after Biden for visiting a UAW picket line. “Joe Biden should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border, working to close our southern border,” Scott said, before moving to an unrelated point about fentanyl overdose deaths.
Ramaswamy used his time to give some “advice” to striking workers: “Go picket in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.,” he said, arguing that federal policy had driven up the cost of living. Then he pivoted to a pro-drilling, pro-fracking message, again completely untethered to the question.
Pence, asked a direct question about the “Big Three” auto executives’ pay, blamed “Bidenomics” for fueling the strike, and called for the “repeal” of the “Green New Deal,” which is impossible because it was never enacted into law. Then he plugged “right to work,” a shorthand for anti-union laws that allow non-union members to take advantage of contract benefits negotiated by unions, without paying dues to those unions.
Haley, for her part, said striking workers were “actually there” because of government spending under Biden’s watch. The answer, she said, was a series of tax cuts. Burgum, butting in and insisting on having his say, essentially repeated his colleagues, saying the strike was the result of Biden “interfering in capital markets” with eclectic vehicle subsidies.
Vivek Ramaswamy vs. Tim Scott
The exchange turned into a prolonged shouting match with little intervention by moderators.
Vivek Ramaswamy Says He Would End Birthright Citizenship
“As a father of two sons it is hard to look them in the eye and say you have to follow the law” when others don't, the businessman said.
Doug Burgum Scolded For Talking Over Moderators
“You asked about child care and nobody answered the question,” Burgum interrupted the hosts before launching into an answer.
“Sir, we will get you some questions, but you’re going to have to let us move on,” Perino said before asking him several times to stop speaking.
Ron DeSantis Calls Out 'Missing In Action' Trump In First GOP Debate Comments
"You know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be here,” DeSantis said, looking into the camera.
His statement got a round of applause from the audience.
The Debate Kicked Off With An Awkward Intro
Mike Pence’s Biden Joke Flops
"Joe Biden doesn't belong on the picket line. He belongs in the unemployment line," Pence said before pausing for a reaction that never really came.
Ramaswamy Is Back With His Extreme Fossil Fuel Message
“Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear energy. Put people back to work,” the billionaire businessman said. “Rescind a majority of those unconstitutional federal regulations that are hampering our economy. That is how we unleash American exceptionalism.”
“Capitalism is still the best system known to man.”
These Are The Debate Rules
A bell will ding when their time runs out.
“Please, keep it civilized,” Varney said.
Scott got the first question about striking auto workers.
Trump’s Mug Shot Makes The Opening
It's Almost That Time
Biden Surrogate Gavin Newsom Zings Trumpless Debate: 'This Is The JV Team'
As The New York Times reports, those surrogates are California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez and Democratic National Committee chair Jamie Harrison. Newsom was doing the press rounds Wednesday afternoon, taking jabs at the Republican presidential field.
"This is a vice presidential debate at best," Newsom told CBS News ahead of the debate. "This the JV team. Donald Trump is running away with this."
"It's entertainment, I guess," he continued. "I'm here to call out the BS and the misinformation."
Demonstrations Underway Outside Debate Site
That includes a group of pro-Trump demonstrators just outside the barriers and a group advocating for immigrant rights across the street, The New York Times reported.
SEIU, the service workers union, is also there protesting against the GOP, with workers chanting in Spanish: “Because of your hate, they abuse us.”
DeSantis: ‘Interesting’ Trump Not At The Debate
"It's interesting that he's not willing to stand on that stage,” the Florida governor said. “I think he owes it to all the voters to show up, defend his record, articulate what he would do going forward, what he might do differently.”
“And he's not willing to do that."
Rumble – The RNC’s Streaming Partner – Peddles Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric, Conspiracy Theories
Media Matters, a media watchdog organization, found that Rumble allows users to post anti-LGBTQ+ slurs, misgender trans people and peddle baseless claims that LGBTQ+ people are “groomers” and “pedophiles.”
This year, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said the Republican Party’s decision to use Rumble was a way of “getting away from Big Tech.” In a statement, McDaniel said that “hate, bigotry, and violence is unfortunately prevalent on every media platform, and the RNC condemns it entirely, but the RNC does not manage content or pages outside of our own.”
Trump Attacks Fox News Ahead Of Debate
He then demanded in all-caps that the network stop doing “job interviews,” seemingly in reference to the debates.
Fox Business, a sister network of Fox News, is hosting tonight’s debate.
Trump’s relationship with Fox has grown rocky during Biden’s administration, especially as the conservative network shifted focus away from him to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other candidates for the GOP nomination.
Asa Hutchinson Won’t Be Attending Tonight’s Debate, But He Intends To Stay In The Race
He is the only candidate who was present in the first debate last month to not make it to the second one, according to ABC News.
Still, Hutchinson vowed to continue his 2024 campaign and laid out new goals on Monday to keep him in the race.
"Despite falling short of the RNC's polling requirement for inclusion in the second Presidential Primary Debate, I will continue our campaign to bring out the best of America with events scheduled in Iowa, New Hampshire, and across the country in the next several weeks," Hutchinson said in a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday.
"My goal is to increase my polling numbers to 4% in an early state before Thanksgiving," he said. "If that goal is met, then I remain competitive and in contention for either Caucus Day or Primary Day."
Trump Still Dominating GOP Polls
The former president has also begun to gain ground in some polls asking about a potential match-up with Biden. Some show an essential tie between the two men with a year to go before the election.
Moderator Says Candidates Need To Talk More Trump, Less Biden
“They all agree about Joe Biden,” Perino said. “The way to have a breakout moment is not about what you’re going to say about the current president. It’s about how you think that you would be a better president than the one we have now, or the one that we’ve had before that is running again.”
Of course, that could be dangerous territory for candidates eyeing a position in Trump’s potential Cabinet or in the executive office.
But a starring moment is key to getting support from major GOP donors who will be watching tonight’s debate, Perino said.
“They have supporters and donors who want to see a breakout moment,” she told Politico.
Trump Won't Be There, But Some Of His Allies Will
According to Semafor, they include Kari Lake, a Trump loyalist who ran for Arizona governor in 2022, and Chris LaCivita, a GOP operative best known for the "Swift Boat" campaign aimed at discrediting John Kerry's Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential race. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Kevin Cabrera of Florida will also be there to act as a surrogate for the former president.
Pence Calls Out Trump For Skipping Debate
"Well, I think he owes it to voters to answer the tough questions and to share his vision for where we lead this country out of the failed policies of the Biden administration," Trump's former vice president said.
"He ought to be engaging all of us that are vying for this nomination. He ought to be sharing his vision," he added.