Second Republican debate: The biggest moments from debate stage

Second Republican debate: The biggest moments from debate stage

As Donald Trump stayed away, there was a whiff of desperation from his rivals in a chaotic showdown.


There was a whiff of desperation in the air at the second Republican debate in Los Angeles on Wednesday night as Donald Trump skipped the event once again.

The seven candidates on stage all trail Mr Trump by a significant margin in the race for the party's nomination, and knew they had to do something to change the dynamic.

During a chaotic two-hour debate, they often tried to do it at once, talking over each other, the moderators, and sometimes themselves.

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"Thank you for talking while I'm interrupting," Vivek Ramaswamy told Tim Scott snidely in what was a telling Freudian slip.

'Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record.' - Ron DeSantis

The Florida governor came out of the gate early with an attack that indicates he may be rethinking his refusal to tackle the former president head-on.

That strategy hinged on Mr DeSantis being an attractive alternative for 2020 Trump voters. But Mr Trump's base has been sticking with him. So Mr DeSantis may have decided he has to take the former president down if he wants any hope of catching him - or even closing the gap - in the polls before voting starts in January.

The problem for Mr DeSantis, of course, is that it's a lot harder to land blows on a candidate who is more than a thousand miles away.

The Florida governor was steady throughout the debate, once again plugging his state record in an implicit contrast with Mr Trump. "I'm the only one up here who has been in the big fights and delivered the big victories for the people of Florida," he said.

Implicit contrasts aren't doing it so far, however. We'll see if a direct attack has more success.

'You're not here tonight because you're afraid to defend your record. You're ducking ... We're going to call you Donald Duck.' - Chris Christie

Unlike Mr DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has made attacking Donald Trump the defining feature of his presidential campaign. This time he branded his nemesis "Donald Duck" as a way of mocking his decision to sit out another debate.

But the swipe landed flat with the audience.

What's more, the chaotic nature of this debate - with candidates talking over each other for extended stretches - brought them all down a peg. The backyard brawl nature of the proceedings chewed up time and may have turned off viewers.

Polls suggest Mr Trump paid no political price for his decision to ignore these debates. In fact, he appears to have expanded his lead over rivals. Nothing that happened on Wednesday night is likely to change that dynamic - and Mr Trump is reportedly planning to skip the third debate in Miami.

'Honestly every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.' - Nikki Haley

Vivek Ramaswamy came into last month's debate riding an upswing in the polls. That put a target on the quick-tongued businessman for some of his rivals, including Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie.

New debate, same story. In fact, this time around even more of Mr Ramaswamy's opponents joined the fray. In what was clearly a planned attack, South Carolina's Tim Scott went after Mr Ramaswamy for doing business with China earlier in his career.

Mr Ramaswamy noted that he had stopped his China dealings, but that opened him up for a swipe by Pence, who said he must have pulled out of China in 2018 - at about the same time, he quipped, that the 38-year-old candidate started voting in presidential elections.

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