Nikki Haley looking confused at the second Republican 2024 presidential primary debate.

Here’s What You Missed If You Made the Smart Choice and Skipped Last Night’s GOP Debate

Who is sleeping with who?

Republicans are absurd. On September 28, 2023, the second Republican primary debate for the 2024 presidential election kicked off, and it was a disaster from start to finish that no one is better off for having watched. From candidates and moderators to viewers, there were no winners here. With candidates refusing to stop talking over each other, it was a disorganized mess, so here’s a rundown of what was actually said so you don’t have to suffer through it yourself.

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The night started off with talk about the economy—you know, that huge thing that Republicans pretend to care about. Senator Tim Scott was forced to confront his thoughts about the current United Auto Workers strike, where he criticized the workers and praised President Reagan for firing 11,000 air traffic controllers during his time in office in the ’80s. While, no, Presidents can’t directly fire private industry workers, as Scott mentioned, that was kind of not the point. One of the most annoying things Scott said was when he made workers out to be lazy, saying they just want to work less and get paid more. Ew.

A key line from him was that President Biden shouldn’t be on the picket line with striking union workers but at the Southern border. (Drink for a “border” reference from Republicans!) Mike Pence had his own zinger, saying Biden needed to go to the unemployment line. Pence and former South Carolina Governor and Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley blamed Biden’s “failed policies” for causing the UAW to strike in the first place. 

Former New Jersey governor and failed 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie, meanwhile, was the first to attack Donald Trump for not attending the night’s debate. He said he hides on his golf courses when he should be there answering to the American people. Infamous Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also surprisingly took a direct swipe at Trump by agreeing that he shouldn’t have dodged the debate stage.

The next biggest issue that was tackled by most of the candidates was immigration. Cue the fear-mongering! Vivek Ramaswamy and DeSantis are big fans of militarization at the border, with the governor hoping to use troops to go after cartels. Seems like a lot of potential legal hurdles. Also seems like a lot of money that could instead be put towards solving the actual issues with our immigration system, but hey, they always have money for the military!

Haley proposed defunding “sanctuary cities” and adding 25,000 new ICE and border agents. Ramaswamy had some specific ideas that were disgusting at best. One was to stop aid to Central and South America. Trying to actually help people is just not part of the plan! But perhaps the most controversial position he took was saying he wants to end birthright citizenship to kids of undocumented people (though, of course, he just called them “illegal”). He mentioned the 14th Amendment concerns, but meh, that’s just semantics. 

China was a big topic of concern. Ramaswamy was steamrolling initially by ringing the alarm on China and TikTok and addiction and some other random stuff. He even said he had business in China but smartly “got the hell out,” to which Haley interjected, telling people that this was only when he decided to run for President. Oop! They got into it again a little bit later, when Haley was fed up with Ramaswamy cosplaying as someone actually worried about China. In one of the lines of the night, she said, “Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.” I laughed, to be honest.

The “law and order” part of the debate was wild. The candidates railed against “progressive prosecutors,” with DeSantis saying that as president, he would utilize the Department of Justice to go after these people. In other words, he wants to weaponize the DOJ after criticizing Biden for doing that with Trump. Christie did his typical “I was a justice guy and I will invest in protecting cities,” but then looked out and spoke to Trump directly, because he said he knew he was watching.

He said the reason Trump wasn’t there was because he can’t defend his record. He ended with a cringey line about how people should no longer call him Donald Trump but Donald Duck. (Get it? Ducking the questions? Har har.)

Haley related the crime problem to not having enough cops and said how no one has the back of law enforcement anymore, following the predictable Republican tactic of relentlessly pushing more law enforcement as the solution to every problem while refusing to address people’s actual needs in any meaningful way and—at best—ignoring the problem of police violence.

Guns were barely discussed, though Pence did have one proposal. He said as president he would push for laws that would expedite the death penalty for mass shooters. No matter how many people support that move, not only could cause constitutional challenges, but it also isn’t really going to solve the problem. We have seen countless manifestos from these shooters where they state that they are perfectly ok with being killed for their actions/cause. So what is the death penalty going to do? 

The education part rendered some more off-the-wall comments. Mostly, everyone took this opportunity to bash teachers and the teachers union, because being anti-union at the beginning of the debate apparently wasn’t enough. This was when Christie made a disturbing comment about how it was bad that our President is “sleeping with” a member of the teacher’s union. So he was referring to Dr. Jill Biden, I assumed … and whoa!

I found this totally inappropriate and I am actually surprised that no one on the stage, other candidates or moderators, took even one second to say how that was out of line. A little bit later on, Pence brought up education again and said he had been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years. I’m sorry, but what is actually wrong with these people? And also, BARF.

DeSantis was asked to discuss his comments about slavery, in reference to Florida’s despicable new education rules about teaching the “benefits” of slavery, and he blamed Kamala Harris and called the outrage a hoax. After him, Tim Scott responded and almost had a good moment. He condemned DeSantis’ comments but then brought up the Great Society, President Johnson’s overarching strategy from the 1960s, and kind of made it seem like that may have been equal to or worse than slavery? Not a good moment.

Education inevitably led to talking about trans kids, where Ramaswamy said they had a mental disorder. Candidates talked about banning gender affirming care and really relished the opportunity to bump up the new favorite fear-mongering topic among Republicans one more time. Lying about what is actually happening seems to be something they’re good at.

They continuously lied about energy. They cried about energy production while failing to mention that the United States is the number one oil producer in the world. They lied about abortion, with DeSantis repeating the talking point about Democrats wanting abortion to be legal up until birth, ignoring that “abortions” that late into pregnancy are necessary procedures in medical emergencies. Though overall, I think it is clear that the GOP is not comfortable talking about this issue like they were before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Now that they got what they wanted, they’d rather ignore the fact that most Americans don’t want that.

In the battle of the South Carolinians, Haley took on Scott. At one point, they were arguing about curtains. I truly could not follow but thought, wow, what a time to be alive. 

The night ended with one of the moderators saying that if no one drops out to narrow the field, Trump will win the nomination. She then asked them to write down who should be “voted off the island.” Again, I chuckled, but not with them, you know? DeSantis tried to act macho by stepping up and saying he would refuse to participate in that question. No one said anyone on stage should drop out, but Christie took the chance to say Trump should be voted off the island. 

The debate as a whole was chaotic and embarrassing. There were prolonged moments where candidates were literally just talking over each other and the moderators had seemingly given up. There were awkward times where North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum was pleading to discuss energy, as he is the Governor of an important energy state. But he mostly got ignored. There were almost no specific policies brought up to address, well, anything—par for the course for Republicans. Some still seemed too light on Putin and too hard on trans kids. (Let me help: only one of those is a threat.) It was a circus, and none of them seemed like they were in a position to catch Donald Trump.

So with that in mind, was this really worth it?

(featured image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


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