Republican debate highlights and analysis: Candidates squabble in Simi Valley

Republican debate highlights and analysis: Candidates squabble in Simi Valley

The second Republican debate of the 2024 presidential primary, taking place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, has just come to an end.

The affair was more raucous than the first debate, which took place over a month ago. Candidates interrupted one another much more regularly and several — most notably former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — have directly criticized front-runner Donald Trump, who elected not to show up tonight. The two candidates from South Carolina, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, went after one another for their records on spending, and seemingly everyone who had the chance to take a shot at entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy did so.

Read below for highlights, excerpts and key moments.

Latest Developments

Sep 27, 11:23 PM

Final thoughts: A more aggressive debate than last month's

This was a weird debate, full of interruptions and crosstalk. I'm skeptical anyone actually "broke through" in some huge, game-changing way, and neither of the candidates I closely monitored — Haley or Christie — looked likely to suddenly gain 10 points in the polls next week.

But I did think Haley mostly had a strong night, building on her well-received showing in the first debate. She made the case for a more restrictive approach to border security, dinged Biden for his handling of the economy and immigration, and argued that TikTok is a huge danger to the country. That said, I do wonder if she might've rubbed some viewers the wrong way by saying she felt dumber after listening to Ramaswamy, and with her interruption-filled argument with Scott late in the debate. I say that because of how women are sometimes perceived in those sorts of situations — female candidates in the past have been tagged with misogynistic descriptors like "shrill," for instance. I look forward to seeing the post-debate 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll to get a better read on how she came across.

As for Christie, he continued to be the one person in the room unafraid of attacking Trump, doing it on a good share of his answers. On the one hand, he's got nothing to lose as the GOP candidate with the worst favorability rating among Republican voters. On the other hand, his dings did occasionally free up opportunities for other candidates to make small digs at Trump without going after the former president as aggressively as Christie did. (For instance, DeSantis took a shot at Trump for adding significantly to the national debt after Christie brought it up.) Christie probably knows that he's got no chance of winning the GOP nomination, but he may also be thinking strategically about how he can help his party avoid renominating Trump. Still, it's going to take some pretty drastic changes in the race for that outcome — Trump winning the GOP primary — to not come to pass.

Analysis by Geoffrey Skelley of 538

Sep 27, 11:27 PM

Final thoughts: Still a seven-way tie for second

All of the candidates on the stage face a significant mathematical challenge (or, for some of them, a problem of alchemy): How can they persuade 40-50 percent of Republican primary voters to change their minds about whom to vote for? According to our polling average, Trump is currently leading the national GOP primary polls by 40 points, 55 percent to DeSantis's 15, and the second-place candidate (DeSantis) has double or triple the support of the others.

When viewed through this lens, any single debate is not highly consequential unless a candidate can deliver an historically catchy soundbite or a major blow to Trump. But this debate, like the last one, lacked any key moment like that.

That being said, it was another good night for Haley, who demonstrated prowess in foreign policy and a desire not to be overshadowed by her loudest opponents — a key theme carried over from the last debate, where voters told us in our post-debate that they also liked her performance. This kind of slow erosion of voter sentiment is a feasible strategy in presidential primary campaigns. Take a look at the history of the 2008 Barack Obama and 1992 Bill Clinton primary races for an example. However, they typically gained momentum after surprise primary/caucus victories or campaign slip-ups by the then-leader — both of which seem unlikely from our current vantage point in the primary. Tonight could also be a breakout showing for Doug Burgum (though, polling at 1% nationally, he has a very, very long way to go).

I wrote last month that Trump is not inevitable in the primary. I still believe that (it takes a lot to convince me that something is 100% likely), but his competitors are losing ground every day. Tonight did not change that. Most of these people simply face a very, very hard math problem.

—Analysis by G. Elliott Morris of 538

Sep 27, 11:15 PM

Final thoughts: DeSantis gets a few punches in, but will that be enough?

It was a slow start for DeSantis, who was often absent in conversations over the first hour. But he hit his stride in the back half of the debate and had a few solid, clippable moments. He ultimately spoke the most of any candidate. And he got to throw his weight around a bit at the very end by bulldozing over moderator Dana Perino's "Survivor"-esque question about which candidate should be "voted off the island." But in the grand scheme of things, holding his own against a bunch of candidates polling in the single digits is not how DeSantis is going to win the GOP nomination. To do that, he needs to chip away at Trump's base of support. And while he took a few notable shots at the former president, chastising him for not showing up to the debate, without Trump on the debate stage it is tough for him to prosecute the case effectively even if he wants to.
-Analysis by Jacob Rubashkin, 538 contributor

Sep 27, 11:16 PM

Final thoughts: A more fiery Scott

I was watching Scott and Burgum tonight. I thought Scott did pretty well — he had more fire in the belly this time around, going after Ramaswamy’s and Haley’s records. He also had the third-most speaking time, per The New York Times. Burgum, on the other hand, tried to butt in early but really disappeared in the second half of the debate. He finished with the least speaking time, and I can’t imagine he made much of an impression on viewers.

But! The responsible thing to do is not to speculate about winners and losers now. We’ll have a poll from 538, The Washington Post and Ipsos tomorrow morning that provides real, hard data on what Republican voters thought.

—Analysis by Nathaniel Rakich of 538

Sep 27, 11:13 PM

Final thoughts: Trump was totally missing

It was a lively second debate, with lots of cross talk and arguing and challenging between candidates. Like in the first debate, Trump didn’t come up much. Christie remained the only one to really criticize him, and said he should not be part of the primary process. It’s easy to forget he’s the front-runner when you’re watching these candidates go after each other. They seemed more eager to attack each other than any front-runner in the presidential race.
— Analysis by Monica Potts of 538

Sep 27, 11:10 PM

Final thoughts: More of the same, with little extra grandstanding

We got glimmers of candidates attempting to narrow down the GOP primary field. Haley and Scott sparred over South Carolina politics, Pence criticized DeSantis’ spending in Florida, DeSantis criticized Trump’s stance on abortion, and just about everyone tried to take Ramaswamy down a peg (though that might have been a result of their frustration with him rather than actual political strategy). But what Republicans need in order to wage a credible challenge to Trump’s frontrunner status is to shake up the field, and I don’t know if we saw that tonight. It looked like we might get a little closer to winnowing down the field when moderator Dana Perino asked everyone to write down who they should “vote off the island” — but DeSantis, making a show of being above that sort of petty question, prevented us from getting any answers.
— Analysis by Leah Askarinam of 538

Sep 27, 11:17 PM

South Carolina on South Carolina: Nikki Haley and Tim Scott spar several times on stage

At several points during the second hour of the debate, it got particularly heated between former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and someone she appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2013: Tim Scott.

Haley first went after Scott for not completing what he touted as his economic policy accomplishments.

“I appreciate him. We've known each other a long time. But he's been there 12 years and he hasn't done any of that. He has, they've only given four audits on time,” she said.

Then came a heated back-and-forth before Haley repeated, “Twelve years, where have you been? ... Bring it, Tim.”

PHOTO: Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
PHOTO: Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The two also fought over Haley’s gas tax in South Carolina.

“​​I would love to finish my conversation with Nikki as it relates to the job that needs to get done. Nikki offered a 10-cent gas tax increase in South Carolina. Talk about someone who has never seen a federal dollar,” Scott said.

Haley then told Scott to do his homework regarding the spending and gas tax in South Carolina. He responded, “just go to YouTube.”

Haley ended the exchange by telling Scott that he was “scrapping right now” (as in scrambling).

“You are scrapping right now, you are scrapping. You know, I fought taxes, I cut taxes, I took care of South Carolina and you know it.”

They then got into a rift over a set of over $50,000 customized curtains for the State Department in the official residence of the ambassador to the United Nations. Haley was the first to live in the new residence.

–ABC News’ Abby Cruz, Gabriella Abdul-Hakim and Isabella Murray

Sep 27, 11:11 PM

Christie says he'd vote Trump "off the island," Ramaswamy tries to make case that America First isn't about one person

After the moderator asked who should drop out of the GOP race, Christie said he'd have Trump drop out of the race if he had his pick because the former president has been so divisive. Ramaswamy offered an alternate view, arguing that Trump had been a great president, but that the America First movement isn't about one person but about "you," the American people. Once again, Christie differentiated himself by openly hitting Trump, something most of the other candidates shied away from tonight.

Analysis by Geoffrey Skelley of 538

Sep 27, 11:04 PM

Who will come out on top in our post-debate 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll?

After last month’s debate, we declared Haley as a big debate winner, according to our previous poll with The Washington Post and Ipsos. When likely Republican primary voters who watched the debate were asked whether they’d consider voting for each candidate, Haley jumped from 30 percent before the debate to 47 percent after. Overall, participation in the debate was beneficial for candidates, and absence from the debate was (at least marginally) detrimental.

We’ll be following up with the same group as our pre-debate poll to see how participants performed and what respondents' views on all of the candidates are. Check back in with 538 tomorrow afternoon for our post-debate analysis.

—Analysis by Holly Fuong of 538

Sep 27, 11:11 PM


DeSantis gets another chance to be the adult in the room by rejecting the premise of that moderator question. He did the same thing in the first debate when the moderators asked candidates to raise their hands if they believed in man-made climate change.
-Jacob Rubashkin, 538 contributor

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