Republicans Spar In Second GOP Debate Without Trump: Live Updates

Seven candidates are participating in Wednesday's debate — but not the GOP front-runner.

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

This concludes our live coverage of Wednesday's Republican presidential debate.

The candidates will next face off on November 8 in Miami.

Trump Campaign Says RNC Should Stop Holding Debates

The Trump campaign called on the Republican National Committee to stop holding primary debates, calling Wednesday’s event “boring and inconsequential.”

“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

Despite abortion being a national topic of conversation and impacting people in every state in the country, GOP presidential hopefuls spent less than two minutes discussing the topic.

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.

Fact-Checking A Big GOP Claim On Biden's Support For Electric Vehicles

As the debate kicked off earlier tonight, the candidates were given an opportunity to hammer one of their favorite talking points: that Biden's push for an electric vehicle future has destroyed the auto industry and given China a leg up.

But how true are those claims? HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn reports that there's little to back them up:

The Republican Voted Off The Island Is….

As the last question of the night, moderators asked each candidate onstage to write on a piece of paper the name of the candidate they believe should be “voted off the island,” a reference to the show “Survivor.”

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

Though he advocates for so-called “fracking” — or hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting fossil fuels from deep underground — as a part of U.S. energy policy, DeSantis did in fact 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.”
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Tim Scott And Nikki Haley Get Into Screaming Match Over... Curtains

In one of the more heated moments of the night, Scott tried to attack Haley’s time as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations over taxpayer money used on 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

DeSantis made the night’s first remarks on abortion — something he’s trying to restrict in his state after just six weeks of pregnancy.

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

DeSantis was asked about student loans and used the moment to criticize colleges with gender studies programs, a reference to his efforts to limit teachings of so-called “woke” subjects in Florida.

He then moved on to talk about how the 9/11 terrorist attack inspired him to join the military.

The Elephant In The Room

It has been more than 90 minutes since the debate started, and none of Trump’s four indictments have come up yet.

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

In a notable moment, Haley went after Trump’s policies on China, saying the former president “went wrong” on multiple levels, including focusing on trade with Beijing instead of other issues.

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’

Haley got fed up with Ramaswamy after he embraced the Chinese-owned app TikTok.

"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

When asked about parental rights in education, Ramaswamy quickly took the opportunity to punch down at the transgender community, vowing to ban “genital mutilation and chemical castration.”

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

The Florida governor defended his state’s Black history curriculum, which has come under fire for not accurately reflecting America’s racist past and present. The controversial curriculum says that students should be taught that enslaved people developed skills for personal benefit.

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

Even though Kamala Harris has been vice president for nearly three years, DeSantis still won’t pronounce her name correctly. When he brought her up tonight, he pronounced her first name with an emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first — something she repeatedly corrected people on while on the 2020 campaign trail.

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.
ROBYN BECK via Getty Images

Chris Christie Riffs On Biden Joke About Who He's 'Sleeping With' — And It's Bizarre

Christie, answering a question about education, said Biden is too cozy with teachers’ unions before sharing a bizarre attack.

“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.
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One Big Thing Ron DeSantis Didn’t Mention About Florida

DeSantis boasted that CNBC – a network that’s “no fan of mine,” he quipped – ranked Florida as the number one economy in the country.

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

Pence swiftly dodged a question by moderators about whether he thinks Obamacare is “here to stay,” choosing to instead bring up his belief that mass shooters should 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

Ramaswamy, who recently joined TikTok, reiterated his calls that Americans under the age of 16 should be banned from some social media sites.

“If you’re 16 years old or under, you should not be using an addictive social media product,” he said.
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Chris Christie Addresses Trump Directly From Debate Stage: 'I Know You're Watching'

When questioned on how he’d respond to crime concerns, Christie looked directly into the camera and addressed Trump.

“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

Why are the United Auto Workers on strike? They’ll tell you: They want higher wages, reinstatement of cost of living increases and the end of the “tiered” system that stratifies workers among other things. But rather than address those points, the GOP presidential contenders pivoted to right-wing grievance culture.

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

Ramaswamy and Scott got into the first big heated exchanges of the night, with Scott taking a swipe at the businessman for saying other candidates were “bought and paid for” in the last debate. Scott accused Ramaswamy of being “bought and paid for” by left-leaning individuals and the Chinese government.

The exchange turned into a prolonged shouting match with little intervention by moderators.

Vivek Ramaswamy Says He Would End Birthright Citizenship

Ramaswamy said he would end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, adding he would take steps to militarize the southern border, stop funding so-called sanctuary cities and end foreign aid to central and South America. Anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen under the 14th Amendment.

“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

Burgum was definitely not ready for the moderators to move on to immigration. The North Dakota governor talked over the hosts for quite a while as they tried to end a discussion about child care policy.

“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

DeSantis used his first moments in the spotlight to rip into Trump over his refusal to show up to the debate Wednesday evening.

"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.

First Question: Labor Rights

The first question went to Scott, who went under fire recently for supporting the idea that striking workers should be fired. The comment came amid the United Auto Workers strike, which Biden joined earlier this week to picket alongside workers.

When asked about his earlier comments on labor, the South Carolina Republican said that workers want “more benefits” and “fewer hours,” before pivoting to talking about immigration.

“Joe Biden should not be at the picket line, he should be at the southern border," Scott said at the debate.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal to fire workers from taking part in a lawful strike. Read HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson on Scott’s previous comments about striking workers.

The Debate Kicked Off With An Awkward Intro

As the debate began, Varney had a not-so-smooth start, as he struggled to say “Univision” while introducing his fellow moderator Calderón, followed by another awkward moment when the two said “Good evening” at the same time.

Mike Pence’s Biden Joke Flops

Pence attempted to skewer Biden in his first debate remarks, but his awkward delivery was met with only scattered laughter.

"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.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Ramaswamy Is Back With His Extreme Fossil Fuel Message

Ramaswamy responded to a question about economic concerns by repeating his pledge to increase domestic production of fossil fuels, with jabs at policies meant to combat the devastating effects of climate change.

“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

Candidates will have one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond if singled out.

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

Fox Business’ opening montage featured all the participating candidates in action. But for Trump, who’s refused to participate in the debates, they cut to a photo of his mug shot.
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It's Almost That Time

All seven candidates have now taken the stage and are in place at their podiums.

Biden Surrogate Gavin Newsom Zings Trumpless Debate: 'This Is The JV Team'

Trump isn't the only one who is sending surrogates. President Joe Biden's campaign team has also dispatched a few prominent Democrats to the GOP debate to defend the incumbent against Republican candidates' attacks.

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

A mix of protesters has assembled outside the debate site at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, according to reporters on the scene.

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

Ron DeSantis hit Trump’s decision to skip tonight’s debate in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham, saying the former president should “step up to the plate” and face his Republican competitors.

"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

Tonight’s debate will once again be broadcast on Rumble, a right-wing video-sharing site, as it was last month. The conservative alternative to YouTube is known not only for peddling far-right extremism, election disinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories, but is also a haven for anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

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.”
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Trump Attacks Fox News Ahead Of Debate

Hours before the debate he’s refusing to attend, Trump accused Fox News of treating him unfairly, writing on Truth Social that the network’s ratings are down because it “no longer treats MAGA the way it should be treated.”

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

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will not attend the second Republican presidential debate tonight after failing to meet the debate requirements set forth by the Republican National Committee.

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

Trump is still the far-and-away front-runner in major polls, leading by around 40 percentage points over his next closest competitor, Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor is looking for a breakout moment that could help him close some of that distance, but the chasm has given Trump ammunition in his decisions to skip the Republican presidential debates.

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.
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Moderator Says Candidates Need To Talk More Trump, Less Biden

Fox News host Dana Perino, one of tonight’s moderators, told Politico earlier this week that if candidates want to do well in the debate, they’ll need to focus less on how they differ from Joe Biden and more on what sets them apart from Trump, who’s leading in the polls but refuses to participate in tonight’s event.

“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.
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Trump Won't Be There, But Some Of His Allies Will

With Trump holding a rally in Michigan, a few of his key allies have been dispatched to Simi Valley to represent the former president and speak to reporters in the post-debate spin room.

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.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Pence Calls Out Trump For Skipping Debate

Pence told ABC News Tuesday he believes Trump should be participating in tonight's 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.

What Trump Is Up To Tonight

Instead of attending Wednesday's debate, the former president will speak at an auto parts supplier in Michigan. But while his team has touted the stop as a show of solidarity with striking autoworkers, it turns out the particular plant he's visiting has no workers represented by United Auto Workers.

Read more from HuffPost's Liz Skalka:

One Big Question: Will Anyone Besides Christie Go After Trump?

Of the seven GOP candidates on stage Wednesday, just one — Chris Christie — has openly said he wouldn't support a Trump candidacy if the former president is convicted of any of the multitude of charges he's facing.

Will others seize the opportunity to criticize the frontrunner for the nomination, who again will be absent from the debate? It's unlikely, reports HuffPost's S.V. Date.

Read more:

Stay Tuned For Live Updates

The debate is set to get underway at 9 p.m. ET. We'll have live coverage in the lead-up to and throughout the debate.
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