The Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, California, turned chaotic as rivals of former President Donald Trump clashed over various issues, including China, immigration, and the economy. However, despite the heated exchanges, no candidate was able to secure a breakout moment that could shift the dynamics of the primary contest dominated by Trump, who leads in the polls by a significant margin. Trump skipped both debates, a move that drew criticism from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who called him “missing in action” and blamed him for adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also mocked Trump as “Donald Duck” for his absence.
Democratic President Joe Biden, also a target of the Republican candidates, faced criticism over his handling of the economy and the southern border with Mexico. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, in his first run for public office, drew the ire of his fellow Republicans, particularly after defending his use of the Chinese-owned social media site TikTok. The candidates collectively emphasized taking a tough stance on immigration and criticized the Biden administration’s approach to the ongoing migrant crisis at the southern border. All of the candidates are competing against Trump to secure the Republican nomination for the 2024 election.
Trump’s decision to skip the debates signaled his focus on Biden rather than engaging with his Republican rivals, who trail significantly in the polls as time runs short before the Iowa Republican nominating contest. This debate held particular significance for DeSantis, whose campaign has faced setbacks and concerns from donors about his performance in relation to Trump. The immigration issue took center stage during the debate, with DeSantis pledging to deploy the U.S. military against Mexican cartels, while Ramaswamy proposed revoking birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. The candidates also expressed support for continued aid to Ukraine, although DeSantis emphasized not offering a “blank check,” and Ramaswamy’s stance on Ukraine prompted criticism from his opponents. Notably, the moderators did not bring up Trump’s legal woes, including his multiple criminal indictments and a recent fraud conviction in New York.