During the second 2024 presidential primary debate on Wednesday (27) for the Republican party, the seven participating candidates sought to persuade voters that they could serve as a credible alternative to the frontrunner, Donald Trump, who opted not to attend the event.
Here are some key takeaways from the sometimes-disorderly debate in Simi Valley, California:
Indian-American Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy drew the ire of his Republican primary competitors as he declared his refusal to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. This stance aligns him with former President Donald Trump, who advocates for discontinuing essential backing for Kyiv.
“We have to level with the American people on this issue,” the 38-year-old multimillionaire biotech entrepreneur said. “Just because (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties, that has actually…,” Ramaswamy said during the second Republican presidential primary at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday (27).
Ramaswamy’s isolationist tilt drew major blowback from former vice president Mike Pence, former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.
Haley, who is also of Indian origin, was the first to jump in and oppose such a move by Ramaswamy. “A win for Russia is a win for China,” she said. Ramaswamy disagreed.
“China is the real enemy. We are driving Russia further into China’s arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this, this is a country whose president just last week was hailing a Nazi in his own ranks,” he said.
Pence joined Haley in slamming Ramaswamy for his comments.
“Vivek, if you let Putin have Ukraine, that’s a green light to China to take Taiwan. Peace comes through strength,” he said. “We need a reasonable plan to peace.
We need a reasonable plan to peace,” Ramaswamy responded.
Christie too slammed Ramaswamy.
For the second straight debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis turned in a sober, stable performance that likely did nothing to derail his candidacy.
But he may want to start worrying about Nikki Haley elbowing her way into his lane.
DeSantis’ candidacy has long been premised on the idea that he will emerge as the party’s top alternative to Trump. As he has slid in polls, he has created an opening that Haley looks best positioned to seize.
Similar to the first debate, Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was crisp and in command on Wednesday. In an early give-and-take on the economy, she was perhaps the only candidate who outlined how she would help the middle class.
Later, Haley delivered aggressive but nuanced answers on healthcare, education and relations with China. She also showed a willingness to tussle with her rivals, including DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Senator Tim Scott.
When Scott, a fellow South Carolinian, accused her of purchasing expensive curtains while U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Haley – who denies doing so – turned to him and said, “Bring it, Tim.”
In the first debate last month, Ramaswamy, 38, delivered a pugnacious and flashy performance, boosting his standings in some polls.
On Wednesday night, his rivals were ready to take him down a peg or two, but their barbs ended up giving him a huge amount of attention and helped him dominate the event.
At one point, Scott went after Ramaswamy for previously doing business in China.
When Ramaswamy tried to defend himself, saying he had pulled his business ventures out of China, Haley was ready to pounce. “Yeah, right before you ran for president,” she said.
Haley went after him again over his decision to become the first Republican candidate to join Chinese-owned short video app TikTok. Ramaswamy framed the move as a way to help him reach younger voters; Haley called it “infuriating.”
“TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media assets that we could have,” she told him, adding “we can’t trust you.”
But far from being cowed by the attacks, Ramaswamy capitalised on them. He injected himself into the conversation throughout the two-hour showdown, managing to suck up valuable air time.
In an email to his supporters after the debate, Ramaswamy said that he was once again the number one target of his fellow Republican candidates.
“Nikki Haley said she felt “dumber” when I spoke. Tim Scott came after my business record. Ron DeSantis’ Super PAC wouldn’t stop tweeting about me. While they launched their attacks on my platform last night, I focused on the Truth,” he said.