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Recap of Second Republican Primary Debate (by Stances and Quotes)

By · Oct 27, 2023 · 15 min read

Recap of Second Republican Primary Debate (by Stances and Quotes)

On September 27th, the second Republican primary debate was held in Simi Valley, California. Seven of the eight Republican candidates were there, including:

  • Ron DeSantis (the current governor of Florida)
  • Vivek Ramaswamy (the founder of Roivant Sciences)
  • Nikkey Haley (the former governor of South Carolina)
  • Tim Scott (the current Senator of South Carolina)
  • Mike Pence (the former vice president)
  • Chris Christie (the former governor of New Jersey)
  • Doug Burgum (the current governor of North Dakota).

Donald Trump declined to attend the debate, claiming that as he was the most popular candidate (CBS polls show that he is the preferred candidate of 62% of Republican voters, while DeSantis places second at 16%), there was no point in doing any of the debates.

Here are the current percentages of sampled Republican voters who said they would vote for the following candidates:


The candidates criticized Trump and Biden frequently in their debate, hoping to one-up the most popular Republican candidate and the current Democratic president and garner support through promises of a better future. Topics ranged from economics to crime, healthcare, and the U.S.’ relationship with Russia and China.


The first topic on the table was economics. American concern for the economy is at a 15-year-high. The candidates mostly voiced similar views on what should be done, as well as their mostly negative opinions on what people have dubbed “Bidenomics”.

DeSantis“The people in Washington are shutting down the American dream with their reckless behavior. They borrowed, they printed, they spent and now you’re paying more for everything… Now, I can tell you this as governor of Florida, we cut taxes; we ran surpluses; we’ve paid down over 25 percent of our state debt. And I vetoed wasteful spending when it came to my desk.”


“We’re going to open up all of our energy. We will be energy dominant in this country. That will lower your gas prices.”

Ramaswamy“Unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear energy, put people back to work by no longer paying them more money to stay at home… And rescind a majority of those unconstitutional federal regulations that are hampering our economy.”
Pence“Bidenomics has failed… We ought to repeal the Green New Deal, get rid of the mandates and subsidies that are driving American gasoline automotive manufacturing into the graveyard.”
Haley“Let’s focus on… cutting taxes for Middle America… Let’s get rid of unfair distortions like the state and local tax that they give to wealthy people, in Blue states… and paid by Red states. And let’s make sure we make the small business taxes permanent. They only made those temporary. They made the corporate taxes permanent.”

“Energy security is national security… What you don’t need is a president who is against energy independence.”

Christie“And the inflation that Nikki spoke about is absolutely right, and it’s caused by government spending.”
Scott“One of the things I’d say is if you look at our national debt of $33 trillion, I would love to have an opportunity to have this country pass a balanced budget amendment”


“In order to grow our economy, you need to create about 10 million jobs to grow our economy at 5 percent. You can do that in three specific sectors. Number one, the energy sector. We could create between 3 and 3-1/2 million jobs if we unleashed all of our energy resources… Number two, we’ve lost 100,000 factories, 100,000 factories in the last 25 years. If we continue with my Made in America plan, we could bring jobs back to America in a similar fashion that we did when I wrote the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

Burgum“The reason why people are striking in Detroit is because [of] Joe Biden’s interference with capital markets and with free markets.”

In summary, the candidates want, in order of importance, more tax cuts, less government regulation, and less subsidies.

Undocumented Immigration

In May of 2023, Biden ended Title 42, a law designed to protect the US from diseases brought across borders in the event of an outbreak. First invoked as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was swiftly disposed of only a few years later, making undocumented immigration a hotter topic than ever among Republicans. In fact, Republicans’ interest in the topic has rapidly risen, especially as Democrats’ interest in the topic has gone the other way.

DeSantisDeSantis did not get a chance to speak in this section, given the arguing and rapid changing of topics that ensued. However, he is known to be strongly anti-illegal immigration. Just recently, he signed Senate Bill 1718, a new anti-illegal immigration law for the state of Florida. He is also anti-birthright-citizenship.
Ramaswamy“[We] do have to seal that Southern border. Building the wall is not enough. They’re building cartel-financed tunnels underneath that wall. Semitrucks can drive through them. We have to use our own military to seal the Swiss cheese of a Southern border.”


“I favor ending birthright citizenship for the kids of illegal immigrants in this country.”

Pence“I negotiated the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy with the Mexican government. We used economic power to bring the Mexican government to the table. We built hundreds of miles of border wall and despite what’s said here today, we reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90 percent… [The] truth is we need to fix a broken immigration system and I’ll do that as well. But first and foremost, a nation without borders is not a nation. And we have to secure the southern border of the United States of America.”
Haley“What we will do is we will make sure that we send in our special operations and we will take out the cartels; we’ll take out their operations; we’ll take out anything that’s doing it.”
Christie“And that means what I’ll do on day one is sign an executive order to send the National Guard to partner with customs and border patrol, to make sure that we stop the flow of fentanyl over the border… And I’ll tell you this, Donald Trump failed on this as well. He said he was going to build a wall across the whole border. He built 52 miles of wall and said Mexico would pay for it.”
Scott“Yeah, there’s no doubt the fact that when you think of the Constitution and the 14th Amendment, it was certainly written as it relates to slavery, not as it relates to illegal immigration. It’s been applied to illegal immigration… Now surviving a Supreme Court argument is something I can’t tell you, but from a perspective of the Constitution, I think it’s simple, that clearly it was designed for slavery and not for illegal immigration.”
BurgumBurgum did not comment on undocumented immigration, but from past interviews and actions, he is clearly anti-undocumented immigration.

To sum up their points, the candidates believe in stronger border control, but with minor variations in stances upon birthright citizenship.


Next, discussions of crime and the oft-brought-up “law and order” began. While crime rates are down and murder rates lower than previous years, crime is still above pre-pandemic levels. 72% of Americans say crime rates will only rise, making crime an important issue for the 2024 presidential election.

DeSantis“We support the men and women of law enforcement. They are keeping us safe… As President, I will use the Justice Department to bring civil rights cases against all of those left-wing Soros funded prosecutors. We’re not going to let them get away with it anymore. We want to reverse this country’s decline, we need to choose law and order over rioting and disorder.”
RamaswamyRamaswamy does not often comment on crime, and did not mention it much in this debate, but on one external occasion in which he did, he suggests that mental illness is responsible for the rising crime rates, saying that “A quarter of fatal police shootings involve somebody who is mentally ill,” and “We are overdue for an honest conversation about limited circumstances for involuntary commitment, yes, of people who are psychiatrically ill and dangerous.”
Pence“[If] I’m President of the United States, I’m going to go to the Congress of the United States and we’re going to pass a federal expedited death penalty for anyone involved in a mass shooting so that they will meet their fate in months, not years.”


Haley“We have to make sure we have the backs of law enforcement and we have to make sure that we’re a country of law and order.”
Christie“And as President, I will [appoint] an Attorney General and instruct that Attorney General that [they] are to put all the resources that are necessary to bring our cities back under control. The fact is they will be stretched, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s what they take the job for, because they love the idea of enforcing the law. We’ve got to bring law and order back to this country and not just in our cities, but we need law and order back everywhere.”
ScottScott does not mention crime, and in the past he has had a mixed relationship with crime and police enforcement, criticizing Democrats for being soft on crime, while also having supported police reforms in the past due to police brutality after George Floyd’s death.
Burgum“[The] liberal left seems to be just completely bent on prosecuting law-abiding citizens that are gun owners because every solution they have to this is take away the Second Amendment rights of Americans and somehow that’s going to solve the problem. But all these cities that [were shown in the videos tonight] have some of the strictest gun laws in the country. So we know that that’s not what’s working… We have to get back to behavioral health and mental health. We’ve got to get back to actually enforcing the laws these people talked about… we’ve been defunding the police, because they’ve been attacked in the press. The police have become the bad guys.”

All in all, the candidates seem to agree upon a stronger police presence and a need for crime reduction.


For a long time, a main goal of the Republican party has been to get rid of Obamacare. There have been multiple attempts, none of which have succeeded. Failing that, the focus of Republican politicians shifted toward weakening Obamacare.

DeSantisDeSantis does not address the topic of healthcare, also ignoring a question posed to him about Florida’s health insurance record. However, in the past, he has been very anti-government legislation in regards to healthcare. Recently, he signed into being four medical freedom laws.
RamaswamyRamaswamy also does not address healthcare, and has not done so much so far during his campaign.
Pence“[All] Obamacare funding, all housing funding, all HHS funding. All of it goes back to the states. We’ll shut down the Federal Department of Education. We’ll allow states to innovate. We’re going to revive federalism in America”
Haley“First of all, how can we be the best country in the world and have the most expensive healthcare in the world… From the insurance company to the hospitals, to the doctor’s offices, to the PBMs, to the pharmaceutical companies, we will make it all transparent because when you do that you will realize that’s what the problem is. Second thing is you’ve got to deal with tort law. The doctors don’t give you the 10 tests because they want to. It’s because of the 90% chance they’ll get sued. And then we need to bring competition back to healthcare”
ChristieChristie did not address health care either, but has been known to be against Medicare and Social Security out of concern for potential debt.
ScottScott did not address healthcare but is known to be against government control. His website says “Doctors and their patients, not the federal government, should be making health care decisions.
Burgum“[The healthcare industry is the] only industry in the world that’s ever absorbed $1 trillion of IT and became less productive. They saw less patients per day in U.S. healthcare because they were subsidizing a certain kind of technology… Every time the federal government’s involved, whether it’s higher education, healthcare, or now the auto industry, things get more expensive and less competitive.”

At this point, the debate moves forward, leaving four candidates without having answered the question on healthcare, but with the other three having mostly agreed that government intervention is making healthcare less accessible.


The public’s views on the American education system are quite dismal indeed. 59% of Americans report themselves as being extremely pessimistic about American education. In this section, candidates address the issue of American education.

DeSantis“Our country’s education system is in decline, because it’s focused on indoctrination, denying parents’ rights. Florida represents the revival of American education. We’re ranked number one in the nation in education, by US News and World Report… We didn’t just talk about universal school choice, we enacted universal school choice. We didn’t just talk about [the]Parents’ Bill of Rights, we enacted the Parents’ Bill of Rights. We eliminated critical race theory”
RamaswamyIn response to “Over 10.7 million students in over 18,000 public schools nationwide have the ability to change their identity without parental notification. Governor Christie told Stewart last week that he would pass a federal law to protect parental rights. Would you try to do the same,” Ramaswamy says:


“Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder… We are going to require states [to follow through on that]. We stand for parental rights, yes.”

Pence“We’ll shut down the Federal Department of Education. We’ll allow states to innovate.”


“Look, education is a state and local function. [The state] of Indiana had one of the very first school choice programs in the country, and when I was governor of the State of Indiana, we doubled it.”


“We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents and we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery anywhere in the country.”

Haley“We need to make sure that we have school choice so that there’s competition. We need to move all the programs from the federal government down to the states and let states decide what education looks like in their states.”
Christie“And what we did was institute more charter schools and more renaissance schools and more public school choice in New Jersey with innovative solutions in cities like Camden, where now we took what was the worst school district in America during my time and we have now increased that by nearly 40% in terms of their proficiency. It can be done when you give people choice. But let’s tell the truth to everybody about what this is. This public school system is no longer run by the public. It is run by the teachers’ unions in this country. A President of the United States is to take on the teachers’ union. I did it in New Jersey and I will do it as President of the United States.”
ScottScott does not address education very much, but he is known to be against government control over education. In August, he unveiled a plan to give parents more, and the government, less, control over education. He also passed a bill in 2022 that gave support to transgender kids without notifying parents, and also aims to “break the back of teachers’ unions and enact nationwide school choice.
Burgum“So in North Dakota, instead of fighting with the teachers’ unions, we actually created a K12 coordinating council. Everybody gets in the room and the customer is the student… It’s not the Department of Education that needs to be assembled. We got to move it back to the states.”

The candidates largely expressed their disapproval of government intervention in education. They also remark that the curriculum seems to contain political propaganda and seems to be meant to indoctrinate students with Democratic ideals. They believe that without freedom of choice of which school to attend, as well as the presence of a variety of different types of schools to choose from, there is no competition and is thus no improvement.

Foreign Policy

Next, the debate switched to the topic of foreign policy.

China and the US have long held a tense relationship, dating back to the end of WWII, when the PRC, which the US refused to acknowledge for thirty years, took over. While the US and China briefly had friendly relations during the Cold War, as they shared a mutual dislike of the Soviet Union, the massacre at Tiananmen Square created a hostility between the two countries that only escalated in the years to come as China rose to the forefront of the global economy. China being the world’s second largest economy, is perceived by many in the US to be its largest competitor. Paranoia on both sides made the relationship even rockier.

DeSantis“And right now they’re monopolies. But this issue of China, I think, is really going to be fundamental. We have subcontracted out so much of our national needs to the CCP. We rely on them for a whole host of issues. We need to reshore and we need to decouple all those important industries.”

“It’s in our interest to end [the Russo-Ukrainian] war. And that’s what I will do as president. We are not going to have a blank check. We will not have US troops, and we’re going to make the Europeans do what they need to do… Meanwhile, our own country is being invaded… We have got to defend the American people before we even worry about all these other things.”

Ramaswamy“We’re only going to ever get to declaring independence from China, which I favor, if we actually win.”


“China is the real enemy and we’re driving Russia further into China’s arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this, especially”

Pence“[If] you let Putin have Ukraine, that’s a green light to China to take Taiwan. Peace comes through strength”
Haley“A win for Russia is a win for China.”


“Mexico’s not being a good partner if we lost 75,000 Americans last year. Mexico’s not being a good partner if they’re letting the cartels get away with what they’re getting away with. What we will do is, we will make sure that we send in our special operations and we will take out the cartels, we’ll take out their operations, we’ll take out anything that’s doing it, but we’re going to go after China, because China is the one sending the fentanyl in the first place, and we will end all normal trade relations until China stops sending fentanyl, and then we’ll do the special operations and we’ll get it from both sides.”

Christie“They’re all connected. The Chinese are paying for the Russian War in Ukraine. The Iranians are supplying more sophisticated weapons, and so are the North Koreans now as well, with the encouragement of the Chinese… And the fact of the matter is, we need to say right now that the Chinese-Russian Alliance is something we have to fight against and we are not going to solve it by going over and cuddling up to Vladimir Putin.”
Scott“Our national vital interest is in degrading the Russian military. By degrading the Russian military, we actually keep our homeland safer, we keep our troops at home and we all understand Article 5 of NATO.”
Burgum“We’re in a Cold War with China… but we’re also in an economic war through what we’re doing with agriculture and energy. And we’re also in a war with them relative to cyber war. And now we’ve got a Biden administration whose whole policy is appeasement.”


“And then of course we’re going to give Ukraine to Russia, and then we’re going to give Taiwan to China and think that’s a foreign policy?”

In summary, the candidates believe that China has an economic stranglehold over the United States. They also mostly believe that funding Ukraine in the war against Russia would benefit the U.S. in the long term by weakening a potential threat. However, Ramaswamy believes that drawing up a peace plan between Russia and Ukraine would be more effective, which the other candidates view as a policy of appeasement akin to Biden’s policies.


Republicans have long been supporters of pro-life policies and against federal laws on abortion. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has resulted in state-choice abortion laws, which most of the candidates support.

DeSantis“I think we should hold the Democrats accountable for their extremism, supporting abortion all the way up until the moment of birth.”
Christie“If you’re pro-life, you have to be pro-life for the entire life, not just the nine months in the womb. And we talked a lot about fentanyl tonight and we haven’t spoken one moment about treatment, but we need to make sure that for the drug-addicted 16 year old on the floor of the county lockup, her life is precious too.”
Pence“I think the President of the United States needs to be a champion for the American dream for every American. It begins with the unborn and the aging…”

The reason for the lack of discussion over abortion may be that, as of recent years, support for abortion even among Republicans, who are traditionally against abortion, has grown. According to GallUp, 69% of Americans think first-trimester abortions should be legal, a record high.


While Trump still maintains a large basis of support among Republicans, his popularity has waned among the candidates. Most of them rile against the outcome of his economic policies, or the ineffectiveness of his border control plans.

DeSantis“Donald Trump is missing an action. He 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 set the stage for the inflation that we have.”
Ramaswamy“I think Trump was an excellent president, but the America First agenda does not belong to one man. It does not belong to Donald Trump. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to you, the people of this country.”
PenceWhile Pence does not directly attack Trump during the discussion, in an interview with Major Garrett on CBS, he said “Look, President Trump was wrong. He was wrong then. He’s wrong now” and has also said “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States”
Haley“This is where President Trump went wrong. He focused on trade with China. He didn’t focus on the fact that they were buying up our farmland. He didn’t focus on the fact that they were killing Americans. He didn’t focus on the fact that they were stealing $600 billion in intellectual property. He didn’t focus on the fact that they put a spy base off our shores in Cuba. They didn’t focus enough on the fact that all of our law enforcement drones in America are Chinese, and we’ve got all these little surveillance cells.”
Christie“And Donald Trump, he 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, he should be in this room to answer those questions for the people you talk about who are suffering.”


“Donald Trump failed on this as well. He said he was going to build a wall across the whole border. He built 52 miles of wall and said Mexico would pay for it. Guess what? I think if Mexico knew that he was only going to build 52 miles, they might’ve paid for the 52 miles.”

ScottAlthough Scott has criticized Trump before for not supporting a federal abortion plan, he still says it is “un-American” to attack him and that “We see the legal system being weaponized against political opponents. That is un-American and unacceptable. At the end of the day, we need a better system than that.”
BurgumBurgum is known for deflecting questions about his views on Trump, saying, in response to a question about who he thinks won the election in 2020, “I believe that the election — that Joe Biden won the election, and I believe we have to move on to the future. But I do believe there were irregularities in terms of how the election went and those are going to be explored.” He’s also said “We’ve got to be looking to the future, not to the past. Presidential campaigns should be about the future, not about the past. And that’s what we’re bringing, that voice to this — to this campaign,” Burgum said, responding to the first question.

The candidates may be attempting to capitalize on the slight decline in Trump’s popularity among Republican voters and gain the upper hand.

Trump's Unfavorability
Source: Pew Research Center


So what are the candidates seeking? They want tax cuts, less government regulation of the economy and education, less subsidies, stronger border control, less “indoctrination” of students, to provide aid to Ukraine in the fight against Russia, economic independence from China, the neutralization of perceived foreign threats, and the implementation of anti-abortion laws and laws preventing medical or social transitioning for transgender people under the age of 18.

More information about each of the individual candidates, their political bias, and policy ratings, can be found at Biasly’s Politician Rating page:

Ron DeSantis' Page
Source: Ron DeSantis’ Page


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