Who Received the Debate? Rivals Wrestle to Shine With Trump Offstage

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The second Republican president debate on Wednesday night time featured private and coverage clashes between the candidates, loads of hearth directed at “Bidenomics,” and the taunting of former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner who as soon as once more declined to affix his rivals onstage.

Commentators have been divided over who had the strongest efficiency, however most agreed that the controversy seemingly did little to change the trajectory of the race or eat into Mr. Trump’s 40-point lead in the polls. (In some surveys, that lead is 50 factors.) Regardless of an try by Chris Christie, the previous governor of New Jersey, to invoice Mr. Trump “Donald Duck” for ducking the controversy, the no-show method seems to be working.

“None of them created a memorable second, so all of it appeared like a missed alternative,” mentioned Monica Crowley, a conservative commentator who was a Treasury Division spokeswoman within the Trump administration. “With out a person breakthrough, the dynamic of this race stays the identical, with Trump on prime by far.”

Although the controversy lacked a transparent breakout second, pundits praised Nikki Haley, the previous governor of South Carolina, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina senator, for some sharp exchanges. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been the runner-up in most polls, appeared to carry his personal however is unlikely to realize floor on Mr. Trump.

Mr. DeSantis has confronted criticism for his awkwardness on the marketing campaign path and for seeming irascible on the controversy stage. On Wednesday night time, he gained reward for a crisp and measured efficiency.

“He shot down dangerous religion arguments with out seeming disagreeable and hit again with a file of achievements whereas rejecting clown present overtures,” mentioned Dana Loesch, a conservative radio host and former spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. “Everybody else on that stage is auditioning for VP, cable information or a writer.”

Mr. DeSantis appeared most comfy discussing his financial file in Florida and hanging a hawkish tone towards China.

Whereas he prevented any stumbles, he nonetheless misplaced model factors with some viewers.

“Ron DeSantis, you do not want to smile the entire debate,” mentioned Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor. “Whoever advised you that misled you.”

Nikki Haley, a former governor who served as ambassador to the United Nations within the Trump administration, as soon as once more demonstrated her dexterity with international and home coverage.

Ms. Haley tangled with Mr. Scott, a former ally whom she appointed to the Senate when she was governor in 2012, however she additionally confirmed potential to close down Vivek Ramaswamy, who has been an upstart candidate early within the race.

“Each time I hear you, I really feel slightly bit dumber,” Ms. Haley advised Mr. Ramaswamy throughout an trade about his use of TikTok.

Such stingers drew plaudits from observers corresponding to Katty Kay, the BBC correspondent.

“Haley is taking the struggle to folks onstage greater than any of the others,” Ms. Kay said.

For senators who’re used to delivering lengthy speeches with out interruption in Washington, presidential debates can typically be a battle.

Mr. Scott introduced recent vitality to the controversy, laying into Ms. Haley over gasoline taxes in South Carolina and even falsely accusing her of ordering costly curtains for her condo whereas she was U.N. ambassador.

“Tim Scott, who was nearly vacant from the final debate, was way more aggressive right here,” David Axelrod, the previous chief strategist for President Barack Obama, mentioned on CNN.

However Mr. Scott was additionally rebutted with relative ease, providing skinny defenses for the federal debt that has mounted whereas he has been a senator and presenting his Senate committee seats as credentials which have ready him to deal with a disaster as president.

Mr. Trump’s rivals confronted him extra immediately for his absence on Wednesday, daring him to defend his file.

Mr. DeSantis characterised Mr. Trump as “lacking in motion,” whereas Mr. Christie accused the previous president of being afraid to affix the opposite candidates onstage.

However past some light criticism of Mr. Trump for including to the debt and failing to satisfy his 2016 marketing campaign promise to construct a border wall and make Mexico pay for it, the candidates largely laid off the previous president.

After the controversy, Mr. Trump’s marketing campaign referred to as on the Republican Nationwide Committee to cancel any future debates in order that the social gathering might deal with attacking President Biden.

“Solely winner: Trump as a result of he isn’t wherever close to,” the conservative radio host Glenn Beck wrote on X, the platform previously often called Twitter.

Alyce McFadden contributed reporting.