Seven Republican presidential candidates — all with, if polling is any indication, very little chance of beating former President Donald Trump for the nomination — took to the debate stage in California Wednesday night to fight among themselves for a Fox Business audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
Trump was again absent. His “why bother” attitude is understandable, given his latest poll numbers, with 54% of respondents saying they will vote for him, according Nate Silver’s analysis for his 538 site.
The only other candidate even close to Trump currently is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose early bounce has faded with his poll numbers dropping weekly to 13.8%. The rest of the field is in the single digits.
All facing an uphill slog for second place, the seven candidates still tried to make a good show of it Wednesday.
As with the first GOP debate, much of the excitement came from the trash-talking between Vivek Ramaswamy… and everyone else. A new wrinkle was that candidates were a little more bold in bashing Donald Trump for not participating.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had no problem going after his former friend, saying “Donald Duck” is “hiding behind the walls of his golf clubs” rather than facing his opponents and the public in a debate.
“Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. You’re not here tonight because you are afraid of being on stage and defending your record. We are not going to call you Donald Trump any more. We are going to call you Donald Duck,” Christie said, to applause from the crowd.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis jumped in on the Trump-bashing.
“Donald Trump is missing in action,” he told the crowd. “He owes it to you to be here.”
Ramaswamy, a technology entrepreneur, tried to hit a note of unity, saying the Republican Party should heal its divisions, but added that he is the only candidate who can relate to young people.
“These are good people on this stage. We need to unite this party,” Ramaswamy said, and quoted Martin Luther King Jr. on judging people on the “content of their character” rather than skin color as part of being American.
The kumbaya moment didn’t last long. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina noted that Ramaswamy has done business deals with the Chinese Communist Party, then thanked him for calling them all good people, but reminded Ramaswamy that in the first debate, he said they all were “bought and paid for” by corporate money.
Ramaswamy then modified his compliment to the panel. “These are good people who are tainted by a broken system,” he said.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also swiped at Ramaswamy. “I’m a little dumber from listening to what you say,” she said, adding that since he did business with the CCP, “we can’t trust you.”
The candidates did spend time on actual issues, pushing for conservative Republican solutions to problems like border security, the economy, crime, education and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
DeSantis said the job of the next president is all about protecting the nation’s southern border, countering Chinese aggression in the world, and protecting the American people from big federal government spending, which is “shutting down” the American dream.
Former Vice President Mike Pence said the nation’s economy can’t take another four years of Biden, citing problems in the auto industry as an example of failed economic policies.
“Bidenomics have failed. Joe Biden’s Green New Deal is good for Beijing but not for Detroit,” Pence said.
All of the candidates support more drilling for oil and striving for national energy independence.
“Drill, frack, burn coal… Put people back to work. That is how we unleash American exceptionalism,” Ramaswamy said.
Scott, the only Black candidate, said America “survived slavery” and should use that resilience to move forward.
“Black families survived slavery. The United States is not a racist country. This is the greatest country,” Scott said.
All candidates initially declined the final Fox question to end the debate, which asked the panel which candidate should be “voted off the island,” “Survivor”-style.
But Christie had an answer.
“I’ll vote Donald Trump off the island right now. I have respect for every man and woman on this stage,” Christie said to applause. “[Trump] has divided families all over this country. He needs to be voted off the island and out of this process.”