‘Every Time I Hear You I Feel a Little Bit Dumber’: Highs and Lows from the Second GOP Debate

Seven Republican presidential candidates clashed on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on Wednesday night. The contenders attacked each other and the absent prohibitive favorite for the nomination, former President Donald Trump.


Seven Republican presidential candidates clashed on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on Wednesday night. The contenders attacked each other and the absent prohibitive favorite for the nomination, former President Donald Trump.

Ron DeSantis

Big Moment: DeSantis didn’t hesitate to call out the frontrunner, Donald Trump, for skipping the debates. “Where’s Joe Biden? He’s completely missing in action from leadership, and you know who else is missing in action: Donald Trump,” said DeSantis. Trump “should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record, where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt that sets the stage for the inflation that we have,” he continued.

Notable Quotable: “I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats. I think there’s other reasons for that. The former president, you know, he’s missing in action tonight. He’s had a lot to say about that. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.” (DeSantis on Trump)


Nikki Haley

Came Out Swinging: Haley came to play Wednesday night, engaging in heated back-and-forths with all of her rivals. She torched Ramamswamy in one viral moment for collaborating with influencer Jake Paul to reach young voters on TikTok. “TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media assets that we could have,” Haley said. “Honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber.”

Notable Quotable: “If they don’t keep the government open, they should not get paid. No pay, no budget, that’s the way it should be dealt with.” (Haley on the possibility of a government shutdown)

Vivek Ramaswamy

New Approach: Ramaswamy toned down somewhat from the first debate, where he notably accused all of his opponents of being corrupt and made several policy statements that directly contradicted his prior statements. I’m the new guy here so I know I have to earn your trust,” Ramaswamy acknowledged. He conceded that he might be “a bit of a know-it-all” but he wanted to learn and hire “the best people.”

Notable Quotable: “Thank you for talking while I’m interrupting.” (Ramaswamy to Scott in an apparent Freudian slip)

Chris Christie

Cringe Moment: Christie ended his riff about Trump’s cowardice for skipping the debates by given him a new nickname: “Donald Duck.” Christie said, “You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid to defend your record. You’re ducking … We’re going to call you Donald Duck.”

Notable Quotable: ““Donald Trump hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won’t show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us are up here to answer. He put $7 trillion on the debt.” (Christie on Trump’s “disrespect” for the voters).


Tim Scott

Best Moment: Scott tried out a more aggressive debating style after a sleepy first debate. Early on in the debate Scott went after Ramaswamy for his business dealings in China and for accusing his opponents of being “bought and paid for at the first debate.”

Notable Quotable: “I thought about that for a little while and said, ‘You know, I can’t imagine how you could say that, knowing that you are just in business with the Chinese Communist Party and the same people that funded Hunter Biden.’” (Scott on Ramaswamy)

Mike Pence

Cringe Moment: Pence jumped in after Christie condemned Biden for kowtowing to the teachers’ unions because he is “sleeping with a member” of the union – Jill Biden. The former vice president took that opportunity to add, “My wife is not a member of the teachers union, but I got to admit, I have been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years.” The line was met with silence onstage.

Notable Quotable: “Let me say, I’m glad Vivek pulled out of his business deal in 2018 in China. That must’ve been around the time you decided to start voting in presidential elections.” (Pence on Ramaswamy)

Doug Burgum

Notable Quotable: “If you’re 45 minutes into a presidential debate with only seven people on the stage and you haven’t been asked a question and we’ve already covered technology, which I have more experience than anybody else on the stage; the economy, which I have more experience than, than all of them combined, I’ve created more jobs than the whole stage combined.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • “Nikki Haley, as governor of South Carolina in December 2012, appointed Tim Scott to the Senate. Nearly 11 years later, on Wednesday night, Ms. Haley said he had squandered repeated opportunities to rein in spending. Mr. Scott said Ms. Haley had never seen a federal dollar she didn’t like. “Bring it, Tim,” Ms. Haley said, taunting him from across the Republican presidential debate stage.” (Michael C. Bender, New York Times)
  • “Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie ripped Donald Trump for skipping the second debate. He was “missing in action,” DeSantis said. Christie labeled him “Donald Duck,” which fell about as flat as you might expect. But if neither jab was likely to put a scratch on the frontrunner, what they did reveal was something more significant: the tacit recognition by Trump’s rivals that his absence from the debate stage is damaging them, relegating their primary debates to a series of confrontations at the “kiddie table.”” (Politico Staff)
  • “Republican presidential candidates touted hard-line immigration postures during the second GOP primary debate, aligning with party positioning but pushing policies broadly indistinguishable from one another’s. The Republican field has moved further to the right on immigration since the Trump administration — and extreme proposals have become mainstream views for many in the GOP.” (Erin Doherty, Axios)



  • “Whether this debate will have any campaign-changing effect or not can be distilled down to a single Rorschach-test question: Does America like aggressive, feisty, playing-to-win Nikki Haley? That’s an open question, and we’ll find out over the next week or so if tonight’s debate will propel Haley forward or if we have we seen the last of the Haley boomlet.” (Mark Antonio Wright, National Review)
  • “There was precious little contrast with Mr. Trump on stage Wednesday night at the Reagan presidential library. The main exceptions were Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis, who hit Mr. Trump for not showing up to debate…The only other significant argument against Mr. Trump and his record was Nikki Haley’s riff on what Mr. Trump didn’t do about China during his four years in office. He focused on the economy and trade, she said, but he failed on security issues that were becoming more perilous on his watch.” (The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board)
  • “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to go toe to toe with former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner. “You know what, maybe we can say since the former president didn’t come here, maybe he’d be willing to do one with you and I,” DeSantis told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the second GOP primary debate. Hannity provoked the challenge from DeSantis by juxtaposing the crowded nature of the debate stage Wednesday evening with the forthcoming verbal bout between DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in November.” (Ryan King, New York Post)


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© Dominic Moore, 2023