(CN) - Seven Republican presidential hopefuls traded barbs, insults, and swipes at each other and President Joe Biden during the second GOP primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, as they vied for attention in an effort to snag some votes away the absent frontrunner, Donald Trump.
Former President Trump, who is facing multiple criminal indictments, did not attend the debate. Instead, Trump spoke at a non-unionized auto parts supplier company outside of Detroit, Michigan, in an attempt to win over voters in a battleground state during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike. On Tuesday, President Biden spoke to striking union auto workers on a UAW picket line in Van Buren Township, Michigan, becoming the first U.S. president in history to visit a picket line of striking workers.
The candidates who qualified for the debate on Wednesday included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Scott, who pledged with Christie at the last debate to go after teachers unions if elected, got the first question of the night about Biden's trip to Michigan and whether or not he believed that President Ronald Reagan was right for firing 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, and whether he would, if he could, fire striking auto workers.
"Obviously the president of the United States cannot fire anybody in the private sector. However, we should look back at the first bill in Congress approved by Joe Biden. The bill had $86 billion dollars for the union pensions because they continue to over promise, but under deliver," Scott said, seemingly referring to a provision in the American Rescue Plan that funded a number of union pension plans for millions of retired truck drivers and other workers.
"One of the current challenges we have with the current negotiations is they want four-day French work weeks, but more money. They want more benefits working fewer hours. That is simply not going to stand," Scott added.
Scott said that, as president, he would reinstate Title 42 and finish building Trump's border wall.
"Joe Biden should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border," Scott said.
The southern border with Mexico, and the candidates outdoing themselves to propose harsh measures to deter migrants at the border, was a recurring topic of the debate, even when the question asked by the three panelists from Fox News, Fox Business Network, and Univision, did not mention the border.
When asked about Reagan's immigration amnesty bill, Haley, the only candidate to declare a belief in climate change at the previous debate, said that she would "defund sanctuary cities," and hire more border patrol officers. Later on in the night, Haley added that she would bring special operative units to the border to combat cartels and then go after China "because they're the ones sending fentanyl." She added that she'd stop all normal trade with China until the country stops sending fentanyl to the U.S.
Ramaswamy promised to end foreign aid, militarize the border, and end birthright citizenship, a right guaranteed in the 14th Amendment for migrants who cross the border illegally, a position Scott agreed with, saying he interprets the 14th Amendment as only applied to people freed from slavery, not immigrants.
Ramaswamy, a wealthy biotech business owner and co-founder of an "anti-woke" investment firm, went from virtually unknown in the political world to one of the stars of the Republican party during the first debate, where he said he would close down the U.S. Department of Education if elected, praised Trump as the best president of the 21st century, and generally pitched himself as the younger Trump who could take the torch of the former president's far right ideology into the future. Ramaswamy repeated similar pledges on Wednesday, adding that he, because of his youth, would be the ideal candidate to reach out to younger voters.
When a question came up about Ramaswamy using TikTok, which is based in China, Haley said Ramaswamy couldn't be trusted because he used the app.
"Every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber from what you say," Haley said. "This is infuriating, because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps we have."
Ramaswamy added that he would ban people under 16 from being on "addictive social media," and fire 75 percent of employees of the federal government, which he referred to as "technocracy" and a "aristocracy."
Scott also attacked Ramaswamy for allegedly having business ties in China, which set off an avalanche of shouting and side talk from the candidates.
"This isn't productive," said DeSantis, who most polls show as running a distant second to Trump, who made his name going after transgender people, abortion rights, immigrants and refugees, and "woke" teachers and professors, could be heard saying in the fray as he wanted to talk about China, and his promise to decouple the Chinese economy from the U.S., and kick Chinese Confucian Institutes out of American universities and combat Chinese power and reverse "American decline."
"You can't even figure out what's going on," DeSantis said.
Later in the night, DeSantis said that crime is a sign of a decaying America, especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and that as president he would go after "Soros funded prosecutors," referring to the wealthy philanthropist and conspiracy theorist lighting rod George Soros, in order to "reverse our decline."
Pence added that he would pass a national ban on transgender care if elected president.
"Transgender-ism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder," Ramaswamy added.
Another issue the candidates returned to multiple times was inflation.
Ramaswamy suggested that striking unionized auto workers in the Midwest should picket outside of the White House because of the Biden administration's economic policies that he suggested cause inflation.
"Joe Biden doesn't belong on a picket line, he belongs in the unemployment line," Pence said. Earlier this year, he indicated his former boss, Trump, was wrong and reckless in a way that endangered him, his family, and the Capitol, and that history will hold him accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol - to a couple of laughs in the audience.
Pence said that Biden's focus on supporting electric cars is good for the Chinese economy but not the American economy.
"I'll be standing for the right to work for every American to join a union or not," Pence added.
Christie, the most vocal opponent of Trump out of the seven, added that everyone in government is to blame for inflation.
Trump also skipped the prior Republican primary debate to do an interview with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, which aired on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, during the debate.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is the only candidate who appeared in the first Republican debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in August who did not meet the qualifying conditions to appear in Wednesday's debate,
"It's now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump wins the nomination. None of you indicated that you are dropping out, so, which one of you, on stage tonight, should be voted off the island? Please use your marker to write your choice on the notepad in front of you. Fifteen seconds starting now," said Fox News Host Dana Perino at the end of the debate, to a huge laugh from the audience.
"Are you serious?" Haley asked
All of the assembled candidates refused to participate.
Christie eventually responded that he thought Trump should be voted off the island, because he not only divides the Republican party, but families.
"He needs to be voted off the island and he needs to be taken out of this process," Christie said.
Source: Courthouse News Service