Seven candidates faced off at Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, California, with Republican frontrunner again choosing to skip
The absence of Donald Trump played a central role in the second Republican primary debate of the 2024 election season, as seven White House hopefuls tried and mostly failed to shake up a race in which the former president remains the clear frontrunner.
Two of Trump’s rivals attempted to capitalize on his absence by criticizing him for skipping the debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California. DeSantis mocked Trump as “missing in action”, saying, “He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record.”
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, suggested Trump was skipping the debates out of fear of facing voters. Addressing Trump in a straight-to-camera diatribe, Christie said, “You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record. You’re ducking these things.”
Trump skipped the event – as he skipped last month’s debate, and reportedly plans to skip the next – and instead held a rally in Michigan, where autoworkers have gone on strike to demand pay increases. A day earlier, Joe Biden joined some of the striking workers on the picket line, providing an odd preview of the likely matchup in the 2024 general election.
In the final question of the night, the moderators of the Fox Business and Univision debate forced the candidates to reckon with reality. Fox News host Dana Perino asked, “What is your mathematical path, Governor DeSantis, in order to try to beat President Trump, who has a commanding and enduring lead in this race?”
DeSantis replied, “Polls don’t elect presidents. Voters elect presidents. And we’re going to take the case to the people in these early [voting] states.”