Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, along with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, took aim at former President Donald Trump during the GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Christie referred to Trump as “Donald Duck” due to his absence from the debate stage, accusing him of ducking the opportunity to defend his record. The candidates criticized Trump in several ways, including his nonattendance, the expansion of the national debt during his presidency, and his plans to increase executive powers. DeSantis also blamed Trump for the Republicans’ losses during the midterms, citing his stance on abortion. Pence distinguished himself as a Republican who supports small government, criticizing Trump’s vision for a second term.
The second GOP debate saw a significant shift in the candidates’ approach towards Trump. In the first debate, Trump was hardly mentioned and faced minimal criticism. However, during this debate, Christie, DeSantis, and Pence targeted him on multiple fronts. They accused Trump of avoiding the debate and hiding behind his golf clubs, while also highlighting the expanding national debt under his administration. DeSantis went as far as to suggest that Trump’s strict abortion stance was to blame for the Republicans’ losses in the midterms. Pence positioned himself as a Republican who favored smaller government and opposed Trump’s plans to consolidate power in Washington, D.C.
Overall, the debate showcased a departure from the previous debate’s relatively supportive tone towards Trump. Christie’s “Donald Duck” nickname drew attention to Trump’s absence on the debate stage and his perceived reluctance to defend his record. The candidates also criticized Trump’s handling of the national debt and his desire to expand executive powers. DeSantis specifically held Trump accountable for the Republicans’ electoral losses, while Pence positioned himself as a contrast to Trump’s vision for a second term. This debate marked a notable shift in the candidates’ approach towards Trump, signaling a growing willingness to challenge his policies and actions.