Nikki Haley leads the winners in the second Republican debate

Nikki Haley at the 2nd GOP Presidential debate Sept. 27, 2023. PHOTO Twitter ‘X’ @NikkiHaley videograb

Seven Republican candidates for president faced off at the second presidential debate of the 2024 election Wednesday night in Simi Valley, Calif. Again absent was the GOP’s runaway front-runner, former president Donald Trump.

The first debate seemed to put businessman Vivek Ramaswamy on the map for many voters, but former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley appeared to gather the most momentum from it. None of them, however, is close to within striking distance of depriving Trump of a third straight GOP presidential nomination.

Below are some winners and losers from the second debate.


Nikki Haley

The strength of Haley’s initial debate performance was dealing directly with issues and looking like a serious candidate who could appeal to all parts of the party. And while she may have had a bit less impact on Wednesday night than she did in the first debate, she mostly did it again.

After multiple candidates failed to directly answer questions about the United Auto Workers strike, Haley invoked what others probably wish they had: the impact of inflation on the workers.

She later gave one of the most substantive answers on health care. On that question and others, she looked less like she was pandering and punting on questions than the other candidates did.

And by the end, her performance had something all candidates strive for: the promise of a viral moment. She told Ramaswamy, after a tough question about his posture on TikTok, that, “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.”

Haley was derailed a little bit toward the end when she seemed a bit too eager to go after Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), and then Scott came back at her in an exchange that devolved into a shouting match. The South Carolina-on-South Carolina tension was real. But if the best her opponents have to work with is an old story about $50,000 worth of curtains at the State Department (Haley was absolved), she’s probably in good shape.

Haley gained the most from the first debate by being a studied candidate who demonstrated broad appeal – by not alienating Trump-backing voters. She probably maintained that advantage and inched closer to possibly one day replacing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the leading, actually somewhat viable, Trump alternative.

Donald Trump

Okay, maybe this one’s unoriginal. But the debate was more of a nonevent than the first one, and Trump’s decision to skip these affairs is increasingly being vindicated, strategically at least.

While candidates took some early digs, that faded as the evening wore on. The candidates also talked over one another so much – and the Fox Business moderators struggled to reel them in – that it robbed the debate of any real flow.

It was almost as if this was mostly a bunch of candidates in the single digits struggling to get noticed by an electorate that is by and large not interested in the choices they are trying to provide.

After two debates, it has become clear that about the only thing that’s going to change this race is Trump’s personal problems suddenly overtaking him in a way little current evidence suggests they will.

And these debates are mostly about being there to pick up the pieces in the unlikely event that happens – to become the front-runner of the also-rans.

GOP moderation on immigration

No, it’s not like comprehensive immigration reform was going anywhere any time soon. But the debate showed how any GOP moderation on immigration might be more distant than at any point in decades.

Asked about comprehensive reform, even the more establishment-oriented candidates such as Christie and Haley deflected, saying the country should focus solely on securing the border.

At one point the immigration debate turned to Ramaswamy’s (somewhat fanciful) idea to revoke birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants – and even deport the citizen children of undocumented immigrants. The question was soon turned over to Scott because he had expressed a different view. But Scott opted not to litigate the issue, instead leaning into the idea that the 14th Amendment was meant to address slavery rather than undocumented immigrants – thus suggesting it was actually something of an open legal question.

Finally, Pence was asked about what he would do for dreamers, didn’t answer, was asked again, and attacked DeSantis instead.

The takeaway: The GOP has no time for anything but the border. And having even an establishment Republican entertaining the idea of revoking birthright citizenship – not just Ramaswamy or Trump, who has done it in the past – really drove home where the party is for the foreseeable future.

(Extracts from article)



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