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Highlights from the second Republican presidential debate on Fox Business

Read expert analysis on Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie and Doug Burgum taking the stage in California.

What to know

  • The second Republican debate of the 2024 presidential race took place from 9 to 11 p.m. ET at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Fox Business Network hosted the debate.
  • Seven candidates took the stage: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
  • Like the first debate, front-runner Donald Trump didn’t participate; instead, the former president delivered a speech at a nonunion auto factory in Detroit. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson failed to qualify for tonight’s debate.
  • The debate’s topics included border security, striking workers and the state of the U.S. economy, energy exploration, foreign policy and crime.

Trump wanted to fake a photo op tonight

Ari Melber

The public support for the union cause is large enough for the center and some of the center-right that Trump wanted to fake a photo op tonight. Biden was in Michigan yesterday and Trump wanted the PR photo version of "I went out there, too."

Image: Former President Donald Trump dances while visiting an automotive parts manufacturer in Clinton, Mich., on Wednesday night.
Former President Donald Trump dances while visiting an automotive parts manufacturer in Clinton, Michigan.Matthew Hatcher / AFP - Getty Images

Now, you peel back the layer, you look past the photo, and you find out it was more of a meeting with the bosses than the strikers. But I think that speaks to why and it's a funny thing to say. He has a feeling for how to fake what the broader support is, rather than the folks on the stage who were playing to a kind of a troll version of it.

This is an excerpt from Ari's appearance on MSNBC's special coverage of the debate. It has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

The increasing irrelevance of the GOP’s primary debates

And so ends a debate that, absent the GOP's polling leader, felt absolutely pointless. The more Trump extends his polling lead and spites the entire primary process, the more these debates feel like superfluous endeavors — hourslong shouting matches between a bunch of people who will be lucky if they ever get within a stone’s throw of the office they’re running for. 

There’s a phrase folks use these days to signify their frustration with wasting time on nonsense: “This could have been an email.” Well, this debate could have been a series of social media threads. In fact, we’d cut down the crosstalk and save ourselves a few hours if, rather than hold a full-on debate next time, the GOP simply gave candidates 240 characters to lay out their angst-ridden talking points. The lack of authority from any of tonight’s participants was palpable and made this event feel as prestigious and consequential as a political dispute at a sticky-floored dive bar.

DeSantis can’t own something good

Haley blasted DeSantis for not, in her view, being sufficiently supportive of offshore drilling. She said that if he becomes president he will ban it, as he did in Florida. Even though some have given him credit for stopping drilling in the Everglades, DeSantis denied that he’d personally opposed offshore drilling and said the ban that exists is there thanks to a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters.

The exchange between Haley and DeSantis illustrated that in forums, such as this, Republican candidates, even as they brag about their ability to work across the aisle, can’t even brag about the good things that have happened in their state. 

DeSantis should have told Haley that it’s a good thing that Florida, with its tourist beaches and its threatened Everglades, has come down against offshore drilling. Because offshore drilling is destructive. And nobody sunbathing wants to look out over rigs. But he wouldn’t dare come across as being insufficiently drill happy with Republican primary votes on the line.

These GOP candidates are boring. That’s why they are losing.

It’s typical for these kinds of debates to have the last question be kind of a throwaway gag. Tonight’s pick from the moderators referenced the fact that if all of the candidates onstage are to remain in the race, Trump wins the nomination in a cakewalk. Therefore, the question went, if you had to pick someone else onstage to boot off the island, so to speak, who would it be?

That kind of question tends to get plenty of howls from quote-unquote “serious” people about missing the chance to ask one more “serious” question. And that’s exactly the excuse the candidates all chose to go with tonight, refusing to answer the question in an attempt to seem high-minded and magnanimous. Christie eventually said that he’d boot Trump off the island — which wasn’t an option! — and Ramaswamy, well, Ramaswamied the last few seconds of the debate away.

Now, do you think for one second that Trump would have hesitated to pick someone that he saw as weak and say they’re the one who should drop out first? Absolutely not. And he would have roasted that poor soul to within an inch of their life in the process. He’s already said that all of the people on the stage should go ahead and drop out to clear the way for him.

This was a layup of a question that could have shown shrewdness and wit, and helped draw contrasts with the other candidates. That none of them took this opportunity is the reason why none of them are breaking out yet. None of them have Trump’s showmanship and without that, they’re left trying to grasp the other bits and pieces that first attracted GOP voters to him in 2015. Without that extra spark of charisma, though, that natural lightheartedness that covers up his worst instincts and lets so many of his supporters ignore his many flaws, they’re going to remain dead in the water.

More like a student council debate, than a presidential debate

If any of the seven candidates could have made Donald Trump appear to have more stature as a politician, those are the seven people who could do it.

It was very shouty. There were a lot of good shade moments, but it felt more like a student council debate than a debate for any person who had any plausible chance of being president. It felt very small. None of them made an argument that sounded like an argument to be president of the United States.

This is an excerpt from Joy's appearance on MSNBC's special coverage of the debate moments ago. It has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

DeSantis pretends his anti-fracking position never happened

Like Trump, DeSantis frequently dismisses criticisms of his record and past comments as "false" and "not true" if they don't benefit him. Haley called out the Florida governor for opposing fracking, a process for extracting natural gas that is often embraced by conservatives and opposed by Democrats.

Well, folks, DeSantis did in fact oppose fracking, passing an executive order directing the state's energy department to ban the process in Florida.

Candidates rein in their abortion talk

Chris Hayes

Add abortion to the Affordable Care Act as another issue Republicans used to love to spend lots of time talking about and now don’t seem so interested.

Ramaswamy typifies GOP nonsense about the unemployment rate

Ramaswamy says a key to boosting America’s economy is “putting people back to work,” repeating what sounds like a pandemic-era claim about people being paid not to work. But in virtually the next breath, Ramaswamy vowed to slash the federal bureaucracy. In other words, he wants to put federal workers out of work.

Republican candidates seem to never acknowledge that contradiction. Maybe that explains why Republicans in the House don’t seem to have any qualms about forcing a government shutdown, which would cause immeasurable pain to those who work for the federal government.

DeSantis claims student debt is about curbing diverse curricula

DeSantis, asked about his claim that students shouldn’t receive loan forgiveness, suggested that saddling students with debt forces schools to cut programs he deems as fruitless — he cited gender studies specifically.

Ironically, some of those gender studies programs might do him some good, as they may help explain why polls in recent months have shown him performing poorly among women voters.

Moderators are asking decent questions. Here's the problem.

Stephanie Ruhle

Moderators are asking good questions. The problem is that candidates aren't answering.

DeSantis was asked about Florida’s disastrous homeowners' insurance and flood insurance problems (that nobody wants to offer anymore because of risk caused by climate change).

He didn't even answer. He pivoted to a complaint about entitlements.

At this point, Floridians can't get coverage and private insurers are leaving the state and now the state has been forced into becoming this insurance provider. It's a huge, expensive problem.


Ramaswamy and Haley channel Trump in different ways

Image: Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy spar during the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday night.
Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy spar during the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, California.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

We’ve talked a lot over the years about the ways that would-be Donald Trumps have tried their best to replicate what keeps the GOP base fascinated with him. Tonight, the two candidates who have channeled him the most don’t include DeSantis, who has tried to hijack Trump’s populism, or Pence, who served as his vice president.

Instead, that title goes to Ramaswamy and Haley. The former’s most Trumpian tactic is his lying and exaggeration, alongside his willingness to propose truly bonkers policy proposals. Haley though knows how to go for the jugular in the same way that Trump did on the debate stage in 2016. She knows that Ramaswamy has been surging in the polls, and so she has exploited every weakness, including the body blow of a line: “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber.” I mean … whew!

Tim Scott’s mixed-up message on slavery

Scott tried to scold DeSantis over Florida’s decision to insert into its educational history standards the idea that slavery provided some “personal benefit” to people who were enslaved. But in the next breath he, himself, minimized slavery.

In his attempt to argue that slavery isn’t to blame for Black people’s problems today, Scott argued that “Black families survived slavery!” What they didn’t survive, he said, is President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

Scott cannot be given a pass for saying something so awful only because he’s Black. Any candidate who says such a thing should be condemned. Saying “Black families survived slavery” is no less offensive than saying slavery provided some benefit.

Slavery officially lasted here from 1619 (the year Republicans dare not mention) until 1865.  Mathematically it should be plain that the overwhelming majorities did not survive slavery. They died while listed as somebody else’s property.

Famously, the late Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison dedicated her book “Beloved” to “Sixty Million, And More.” As she explained when asked, at least 60 million Africans are believed to have died on slave ships transporting them to this country.  The deaths didn’t stop on the Atlantic.

If Scott wants to criticize Johnson’s policies, fine. But there’s no defending his claim that the Great Society was deadlier than enslavement.


Haley has had it with Ramaswamy

"Every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber," Haley told Ramaswamy after he boasted about his campaign's TikTok strategy.

Tell him how you really feel.

Scott vs. DeSantis over Florida’s education standards

DeSantis looked like a madman responding to a question about Florida’s curriculum standards requiring teachers to instruct students that slavery benefited enslaved people in some ways. The Florida governor falsely labeled reports on the standard a “hoax” pushed by Vice President Kamala Harris before pivoting and saying the standards were “written by descendants of slaves.” 

Tim Scott, the lone Black voice on stage, leaped at the opportunity to respond, repeating his previous criticism of the standards by saying slavery had no redeeming qualities.

Chris Christie needs to get Dr. Jill Biden’s name out of his mouth

After a question about education, Christie said that the real problem is the teachers and, specifically, the teachers union. That’s pretty bog standard for Republicans these days, but Christie went further. He said that the problem won’t be solved so long as “the president is sleeping with a member of the teachers union.” That’s an attack on First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who is a member of the National Education Association. And it’s an absolute disgrace that not only did those words come out of his mouth, but also that nobody on that stage thought to rebuke him for it.

(Mike Pence did chime in later to say that he said that he’s “been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years,” which is not a defense of Dr. Biden, but is something that I wish had never been uttered by Mike Pence.)

Burgum's Obama jab didn't make sense

Chris Hayes

It's pretty striking how little these candidates want to talk about health care after so many years of salivating at any chance to go after the dreaded Obamacare. Also, I think Burgum just accused Obama of ordering the government to force all of the health care industry to use one kind of software in 2008 when he was a U.S. senator? Couldn’t quite follow!

Pence’s wish for an expedited death penalty

Though Republicans are generally resistant to any form of gun control, Pence professes to be stricken by the sickening frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.

He said that if he’s elected president, he will lean on Congress to pass an expedited death penalty that will lead to mass shooters being executed in “months, not years.” Pence’s grandfatherly tone can give the impression that he’s serious and deserving of attention, but pushing for quick executions is about as fascist as anything being proposed by Trump and other Republicans.

I’m opposed to executions in all situations. The government ought not be in the business of pulling people out of cages and killing them. But if this country is going to be in the business of executing people, then it absolutely cannot emphasize executing them quickly. There have been too many people wrongly placed on death row for any serious politician to even suggest the idea of putting people to death expeditiously.

This emerging GOP consensus is a very bad idea

Chris Hayes

Feels pretty underappreciated that an emerging GOP consensus position is U.S. military attacks on Mexican territory. Seems like a very bad idea! 

The basic issue with tonight's performances to the GOP base

Chris Hayes

All the candidates seem relieved to talk about crime (blaming Democrats, liberals and George Soros, of course), but the problem with these issues for any of these folks is that it’s very hard to stand out or distinguish themselves. The basic issue is this: All of these people are doing what is recognizable as “doing politics” and a huge chunk of the GOP base, probably a majority, just doesn’t like it at an almost cellular level. Hence, Trump. 

Biden says he 'couldn't agree more' with DeSantis debate response

Republicans have effectively helped the Biden campaign write its ads, and DeSantis' comments tonight bashing Trump for not showing up to the debate may continue the pattern.

Christie fires off the one line he clearly couldn't wait to use

Image: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday night.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, California.Mark J. Terrill / AP

We're seeing the debate prep in action (whether it's going to pay off is another story). Pence had a clearly rehearsed line on Biden belonging on the "employment line" rather than on the "picket line" with striking auto workers.

And Christie ... well, Christie, had a goofy one to share aimed at Trump:

"I know you're watching. You can't help yourself. And you're not here tonight ... because you're afraid of being on this stage and defending your record," Christie said. "You're ducking these things. ... Nobody up here’s gonna keep calling you Donald Trump. We’re gonna call you Donald Duck."

Well, then.

Pence dodges dealing with Dreamers

It was a pretty simple question directed at Pence: Since the Trump administration canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, would you work with Congress to find a permanent solution for the Dreamers who arrived in the country as children? The former vice president instead chose to talk about the southern border, that he had negotiated the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and basically every other immigration-related topic except DACA.

Univision anchor Ilia Calderón tried again, but Pence just went on about how he’d served in Congress without ever touching on the actual question. It’s surprising to me that he wasn’t prepared to just say, “No, I don’t think that those DACA recipients should remain,” if that’s really what he believes. As it is, I’m not sure what he gains from that tap-dancing.

Christie repeats nonsense about open borders

In his attempt to explain his flip-flop from seeking a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. to saying they should be shipped out like packages, Christie said one of the problems is that the southern border is open.

The border, of course, is not open. It’s an important point to make because, as a Dallas Morning News poll published Tuesday points out:

1 in 4 Central American respondents said they have heard the ‘border is open,’ and nearly 1 in 5 respondents said they believed the term ‘open borders’ — and believed most migrants can apply for asylum if they make the trip.

In other words, many migrants are coming here in part because Republicans such as Christie keep lying and saying the border is “open.”

Moderators aren't cutting mics — and it's chaos

Tsk tsk tsk. When will these debate hosts learn? The moderators tonight aren't cutting the candidates' mics so the whole thing keeps devolving into chaos, with several people speaking over each other at one time.

At one point, Ramaswamy, one of the worst offenders of speaking out of turn, lashed out at Scott: "Excuse me, excuse me — thank you for speaking while I'm interrupting." The gaffe wasn't entirely inaccurate.

Tim Scott utters his favorite three words

My ears perked up when Sen. Tim Scott responded to a question about rising child care costs with a rather predictable solution coming from a conservative: lowering taxes. 

Scott said the solution to rising child care costs is to allow Americans to “keep their money,” a turn of phrase he’s deployed — with questionable results — in the past.

Why Republicans keep talking about Biden 'hiding in his basement'

The most confusing meme that has infected the GOP nominees is the theory that Biden is “hiding in his basement” rather than facing the American people and/or the country's troubles. That’s a reference to Biden spending a portion of the early covid pandemic in 2020 campaigning from his basement in Delaware — but he was out on the campaign trail by the general election.

Somehow, between then and now, it’s morphed from a dig at Biden actually trying to keep himself and his staff safe from covid to a weird implication that he is … hiding in the White House basement? It makes no sense!

Republicans whiff on the opening union question

It’s a sign of the times that a Fox Business debate opened with a question about striking autoworkers, with moderator Stuart Varney even noting the massive pay gap between executives and workers. Not surprisingly, Republicans whiffed or deflected the question. 

Scott defended his call for the strikers to be fired, before pivoting to the border. Ramaswamy tried to argue fracking would help the auto industry. Pence spoke of the “right to join a union or not join a union” — a polite way of supporting anti-union right-to-work efforts. And Haley blamed Bidenomics for the workers being on the picket line, even though autoworker pay has been falling for twenty years.

It was a sorry display that underscored why the candidates on stage have struggled to catch on with voters.

Pence counts on Republicans not knowing which laws exist

Image: Former Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican presidential primary debate on Weds.
Former Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, California.Mark J. Terrill / AP

As part of the Republican candidates’ attempts to appear to stand with the working man, including members of the UAW who are on strike, and with whom President Joe Biden stood this week. Pence, who says Biden should be standing on “the unemployment line.”

Pence’s suggestion was that the Green New Deal should be repealed. That will be hard, given that there is no law known as the Green New Deal.

DeSantis takes a dig at Trump first chance he gets

In his response to the first question directed at him tonight, DeSantis seized the opportunity to bash Trump for not participating in the debate tonight.

He's not the only one, of course, to notice Trump's absence. As The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote on Sept. 20: "Why is Mr. Trump afraid to confront other Republicans without the aid of a teleprompter? Is he worried he’d look his age at 77 next to younger candidates? To state the obvious, Mr. Trump is running to be President and leader of the free world. Voters deserve to hear him defend his record and his platform."

DeSantis is center stage, but he's barely part of it

It's been 15 minutes since this debate kicked off and DeSantis, who's leading the polls compared to the other candidates on the stage tonight, hasn't spoken once. Yikes.

Reagan created today’s GOP — yet wouldn’t be able to win today

Tonight’s debate is being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. In the introductory video, Fox News asked whether the Gipper would recognize the party he once led today. Well, I think he’d at least recognize some of the factors that he put into place. Some of his economic advisers are still selling “trickle-down economics,” and the tax cuts he favored are one of the few things that still unites all factions of the Republican Party.

But would Reagan be able to win a GOP primary today? That feels unlikely, given that he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted amnesty to 3 million immigrants who arrived before 1982. When you hear Scott tonight immediately pivot from talking about the autoworkers’ strike to railing against President Joe Biden for not spending more time on the “open and unprotected” southern border, that makes pretty clear the priority of the party’s base these days.

Tim Scott’s trying to bring facial hair back to the White House

IMage: Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at the Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif., on Weds.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., at the Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, California.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

If he were elected president, Tim Scott would not only be the second Black person to occupy the Oval Office, but if he kept the look he has tonight, he’d also be the first president since William Howard Taft (who served from 1909 to 1913) to have facial hair.

It’s a bold choice.

Autoworkers don’t side with Trump — for good reason

Not surprisingly, Trump’s speech is the usual hodgepodge of grievances and lies. And the falsehoods started early with his declaration “to the striking workers, I support you.”

Autoworkers, on the other hand, don’t stand with Trump — because he hasn’t supported them. The average autoworker makes about $58,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Biden won voters under $100,000 56-43 in 2020. The gap was even wider among union households. 

That’s no surprise, because as United Autoworkers chief Shawn Fein put it, “All you have to do is look at his track record — his track record speaks for itself.”

When the American auto industry struggled during the Great Recession, Trump blamed the UAW and its contracts. And when GM workers went on strike for two months in 2019, Fain points out, “I didn’t see him hold a rally. I didn’t see him stand up at the picket line and I sure as hell didn’t hear him comment about it. He was missing in action.” Just as he’s always been missing in action for American workers.

Trump’s allegedly pro-worker speech was anything but

Addressing a crowd at a nonunion shop outside Detroit just now, Trump made it clear that his solution to the autoworkers’ grievances in Michigan isn’t standing in solidarity with them, but blaming environmentalism and foreign countries.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden took the historic step of joining striking United Auto Workers members on the picket line. By contrast, Trump had nothing to say in support of unions in his speech, but instead promised a new revival of “economic nationalism.”

“I want a future that protects American labor, not foreign labor,” Trump said, in a reference to his aversion to free trade agreements. He also slammed “environmental lunatics,” a reference to Biden’s support of nudging the auto industry toward electric vehicles.

In recent decades, free trade agreements have indeed been a raw deal for many American workers — and developing countries. And the transition to electric vehicles is going to shake up the auto industry. But the key way to make sure that workers have leverage in negotiations over the future of the economy is empowering them to organize — something to which Trump is fiercely opposed

Striking UAW members don’t oppose a transition to electric vehicles. Instead they want to ensure their wages aren’t pushed downward, that they are compensated for shuttered plants, and that they have the right to strike over plant closures. Trump doesn’t have anything to offer them.

Candidates take the stage as Trump babbles on

The seven candidates debating tonight in California are now standing behind their respective podiums at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. DeSantis, who is currently leading the other candidates on the stage in recent polls, stands at the center podium.

Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to rant about Biden and electric cars at an auto plant in Michigan.

Two problems from the first debate that we can expect tonight

Hannah Oblak

On the debate stage, image is everything. It should be a chance for trailing candidates to have their breakout moment or to see front-runners crumble under pressure. And as we saw in the first GOP debate in August, the entertainment factor is always there, even when good policy is lacking. 

But the thing is, the pandering of a candidate’s debate performance, while an opportunity to lay out a policy platform, does little to demonstrate any tangible skills needed in the Oval Office. And on a crowded stage, the absence of Trump did almost nothing to change his lead in the polls.

As Paul Waldman wrote for MSNBC Daily in August following the first GOP debate: 

I’m not saying the debate was especially devoid of policy substance; compared to many we’ve seen in recent presidential primaries, Wednesday’s installment was about average. Which is to say, it was shallow and often misleading, but not completely uninformative. 

There were two essential problems, however. The first was that the now-standard format is too far removed from what a president actually does to give viewers a good sense of what the next presidency will be like. The second was that in this case, the absence of the Republican front-runner made the whole exercise feel like a dim reflection of the actual race for the nomination.

Read more from Paul’s post below:

The GOP avoids the truth about MAGA’s demographics

Tonight’s debate is indeed the undercard debate. Don’t take it from me or my colleagues — take it from Fox News, who reportedly slashed ad prices for this evening. But it’s worth stepping back to point out that, in any sane political party, the roles tonight should be reversed: Trump’s speech at a nonunion auto plant would be the warmup act from a gadfly, and the debate would be seven contenders determining the future of the Republican Party.

Setting aside — if one can — Trump’s increasingly fragile grip on who he’s even running against, the facts are that he lost his re-election race in 2020, his poor favorability has barely budged since leaving office, and his favorite candidates underperformed in the midterm elections. A presidential loser maintaining this sort of relevance is unprecedented in recent American politics. Not since Grover Cleveland in 1892 has a political party successfully run back a candidate so recently rejected by the electorate. Even Richard Nixon — whom, like Trump, many Republicans believed had a presidential election stolen from him — spent years in the political wilderness before reviving his fortunes in 1968. 

This capitulation is all the more pathetic when one considers the aging demographics of the MAGA vote. One rough estimate, shared with The New York Times by Martin Wattenberg of the University of California, Irvine, predicts that about 13 million 2020 voters will have died by 2024, and that “will increase Biden’s national popular vote margin by about 1.2 million votes.” The Republican Party should be considering its future. Instead, it’s whistling past the graveyard.

DeSantis is in trouble

The first Republican presidential debate was a critical opportunity for DeSantis to establish himself as a real competitor to Trump and create more distance from himself and the rest of the 2024 pack. That … didn’t happen.

After the first debate, Trump has been averaging slightly more support in the polls, DeSantis has slightly less support, and a number of other candidates such as Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy still aren’t too far behind DeSantis — and could plausibly surpass him.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that DeSantis has failed to convert major donors from his gubernatorial campaigns to his presidential campaign. Some of them are also backing other candidates, including Haley, who outperformed expectations in the first debate and is being eyed by some GOP establishment types as their new best bet against Trump.  

DeSantis desperately needs a win in the Iowa caucus if he wants a shot at securing the nomination, but his campaign is already lowering expectations for that contest, declaring that a “strong second-place showing” would be good enough. 

DeSantis’ flailing campaign has even become a liability for him in Florida, where it appears that he is losing political clout within his home state.

A masterful performance at the second debate could help DeSantis. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Trump is not standing with striking autoworkers

When Trump first announced his plans to skip tonight’s debate for a speech in Michigan, his campaign was happy to pretend the address was a sincere attempt to, in the words of The New York Times, “woo striking union members” as the United Auto Workers’ strike against the Big Three car manufacturers rolls on. 

But the details of the former president’s speech fall far short of union solidarity. Trump is speaking at a nonunion auto parts factory, as a guest of the boss, to a crowd with few striking workers in attendance.

It never made much sense for Trump to speak to a union audience in the first place; in 2020, Michigan union households went for Biden by 25 percentage points. But the choice of audience isn’t just about avoiding boos. As Jacobin’s Alex Press points out, unlike the UAW, many of these nonunion plants oppose the transition to electric vehicles — an issue that Trump and other Republicans pretend is the heart of the conflict between auto workers and management. The UAW doesn’t oppose the EV transition; it just wants the transition to be just and EV plants to be unionized. Watch for Trump to pretend otherwise, though.

The lessons learned from a GOP loser

One candidate who didn’t qualify for tonight’s debate — or for the first one, either — is conservative commentator Larry Elder. Given his pitiful poll numbers, it’s understandable how he has become an afterthought in this GOP primary. But as a Black conservative media figure, Elder has long trafficked in many of the ideas driving today’s conservative movement — in particular, dismissal of systemic racism, claims about Black cultural depravity, and arguments against affirmative action

I think there’s a lesson to be learned from the fact that he hasn’t had more prominence in the primary debates — and it’s not just that Elder appears to be a bad politician. Perhaps it’s that the party has found better messengers of these views in conservatives’ eyes. That is, younger people of color willing to espouse bigoted talking points and denounce diversity measures. And some of those folks will be onstage tonight.

Read more on that below, in a post I wrote earlier this month for The ReidOut Blog.

DeSantis is prepping for a one-on-one debate in November

Shawn Cox

DeSantis just added another debate to his calendar. But unlike tonight’s crowded stage, the Florida governor’s November faceoff on Fox News will feature just one other face: Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Monday’s official announcement came after months of online jousting between the two politicians. In late July, Newsom sent Fox News' Sean Hannity a formal proposal for the debate, and now here we are.

The ReidOut Blog’s Ja’han Jones has a lot of questions: 

In a sense, I get it: These men are being promoted as representatives of Red State America and Blue State America. And their faceoff likely appeals to the lot of people who enjoy argument for sport and who derive pleasure from seeing their political opponents dragged for filth.

But for me, that’s part of the problem here. Or, at least, the annoyance. Why these men? Why should viewers care that this debate is happening at all, other than the fact the participants want us to? Who — other than these participants — stands to benefit?  

Read more from Ja'han below:

Tonight’s anti-Trump faction has been cut in half

The Republican National Committee’s version of musical chairs is meant to winnow down the eligible candidates who take part in each debate, raising the bar for polling figures and cash raised needed to qualify. The only one of the eight participants in last month’s debate to fail to hit the goal for tonight was former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

While Hutchinson didn’t exactly make a huge splash last time, it effectively cuts the anti-Trump contingent on the stage in half, leaving only former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to represent that particular camp. But when you consider the GOP base broadly, which still overwhelmingly supports the other candidate who won’t appear tonight, maybe that math checks out.

The question I want to hear asked tonight

Stephanie Ruhle

Trump on Friday suggested Gen. Mark Milley — the nation's top military officer — should be sentenced to death.

I'd like the moderators to ask each candidate on stage tonight what their position is on the former president's comment.

Don't wave off tonight just because Trump is leading the polls

Jennifer Palmieri

Debate weeks are made up of unparalleled political theater, and the week leading up to tonight's debate has been no exception. The Simi Valley debate amounts to a play unfolding over the course of the week in three acts with the biggest stars, President Joe Biden and Trump, managing to hijack attention from the debate stage they aren’t even on.

Click below to read more about tonight's three acts:

Why the debate host matters

Hannah Oblak

Tonight’s debate will be hosted by Fox Business. If you’re wondering what differentiates that from the first debate, aired on Fox News, the answer is not much. The channel was created by recently retired media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. While it was meant to pander to a business audience, it found success following its big brother’s lead and promoting right-wing content.

Yet of the three moderators on screen tonight, only Stuart Varney actually comes from Fox Business. The other moderators, Dana Perino and Ilia Calderón, come from Fox News and Univision, respectively — perhaps speaking to the struggles and scandals still following Fox Business.

As Matt Gertz wrote for MSNBC Daily in September:

Meanwhile, the network’s story presents a dismal lesson for the Republican candidates who will appear on its stage in hope of dethroning Trump as the party’s nominee. Fox Business was supposed to attract an audience that appreciated the GOP’s standard pro-corporate messaging — but the viewers materialized only after it pivoted to producing Trump hagiography and the hard-edged political and cultural warfare he reveled in. If that’s the audience that tunes in for the debate, the best way to win converts will be to fire off conspiracy theories and reckless hagiography — and even that probably won’t pry them from the former president’s grasp.

Read more from Matt below:

There’s something deeply futile about tonight’s GOP debate

The GOP presidential field is pretty crowded right now, but it’s still nothing compared to the field back in 2016. There were so many people trying to get the Republican nomination that several debates held so-called “undercard” events beforehand, where the candidates that didn’t make the cut for prime-time squared off against each other. It was something of a consolation prize that had almost no impact on the broader race and didn’t really do much to boost the three or four candidates who appeared in each. 

This time around, the Republican National Committee is using criteria to winnow down the debate stage each time, raising the bar to make only those most likely to have a chance at becoming the nominee on stage. But it’s hard to look at the seven candidates who are squaring off tonight and come away feeling like any of them has a real shot at winning against Trump, who leads his nearest competition by more than 40 points, according to a recent NBC News poll. That in turn begs the question: if the whole debate is the undercard, what are we even doing here?

Get ready for the candidates to decry the economy

Stephanie Ruhle

I expect the candidates are going to paint the worst possible picture of the economy because that’s what suits them politically. In response, we can expect Democrats and some folks in the media to say, “They’re liars. Look at all the great things Biden has done for the economy!” And the truth is, he has.

It’s obvious we have come from a very dark place in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and we have not hit a “hard landing” in terms of recession. However, it’s also not wrong to say that a lot of people don’t feel good about the economy. And it’s not because some media outlets are convincing them it stinks. People have short memories and they feel how they feel.

The fact is, while inflation is not going up as much as it was a year ago, that’s different than saying prices are going down. So when the average person goes to a restaurant today and a burger is $20, or when someone gets a credit card statement for their summer vacation, it stings. It’s expensive.

One of the real problems is we don’t have one economy; we have a 330-million-person economy. When things got really expensive for people, wealthier families continued to pay and, with demand, prices stayed high (even if they were unhappy paying more). But those struggling before inflation struggled even more afterward. And for folks living on a fixed income, that extra few dollars on essentials added up and meant they’ve had to make cuts somewhere else.

So two things can be true at the same time. The economy is doing well and improving, and, at the same time, people don’t feel good about the economy. And now, gas is costing more and people are very price-sensitive to higher gas prices — it really gets into people’s psyche. Life really has gotten expensive.

Trump once again skips debate, pretends he's already nominee

Once again, Trump will be the elephant in the room tonight. As he did with the first debate, Trump is skipping tonight's and engaging in a little counterprogramming.

He will try to woo blue-collar workers at an auto parts factory in Michigan amid the ongoing United Automobile Workers strike. He is slated to give a speech at the plant at 8 p.m. ET. But there's a catch to his appearance.

“I find a pathetic irony that the former president is going to hold a rally for union members at a nonunion business,” UAW chief Shawn Fain told CNN on Tuesday, adding: "All you have to do is look at his track record — his track record speaks for itself."

Meanwhile, some fresh Trump legal news just broke in the hours leading up to the debate. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an opinion denying the former president's request that she recuse herself from his federal election interference case.

Expect anti-‘woke’ angst to take center stage

The conservative movement’s crusade against diversity in education and the workplace is certain to take center stage at various points tonight. I’ll be listening for whether and how the candidates address outgrowths of anti-“woke” angst that have garnered headlines in recent weeks.

Specifically, conservative activist Edward Blum’s transition from attacking affirmative action in education to attacking investment firms focused on diverse clientele. And also, Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s rationale for having voted against confirming Gen. CQ Brown Jr. as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The confirmation made Brown just the second Black person to hold the position and meant the top two positions at the Pentagon are now held by Black Americans for the first time in history.

Tuberville, who’s successfully blocked hundreds of other military nominees from being confirmed this year, said his reasoning stemmed from Brown planning to mix “race and things” into the military, adding “our military is not an equal-opportunity employer.”

Of course, the military is, in fact, an equal opportunity employer, and the Pentagon has an “Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.” But the bigoted response spoke to a delusion that’s grown in the GOP. A disconnect between the reality of an increasingly diverse military and a party looking to deny this reality and all it entails.

Will Ramaswamy steal the show again?

Hannah Oblak

Much of the first Republican GOP debate last month was centered on a lesser-known candidate: Vivek Ramaswamy, the self-described “skinny guy with a funny last name,” a line he borrowed, to put it generously, from another politician you may know: Barack Obama.

Ramaswamy repeatedly took shots at his rivals throughout the first debate — and received the brunt of their attacks in return. He claimed “the climate change agenda is a hoax” and erroneously stated the Constitution “won us the American Revolution.” (The Constitution wasn’t signed until four years after the American Revolution officially ended.)

In the month since the first debate, he stated he would end birthright citizenship if elected. He’s campaigned through TikTok videos with social media influencer Jake Paul and received a cease and desist letter from Eminem. When pressed, Ramaswamy has struggled to explain his policies or even his 2011 acceptance of a Soros-backed scholarship, as highlighted by a recent video with MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan.

While Ramaswamy saw a boost in favorability following the first debate, a Washington Post poll showed his unfavorability actually increased by a slightly larger margin. And that’s what should happen when your talking points don’t make much sense.

Who's hosting the debate and where to watch it

Fox Business Network is hosting tonight's two-hour debate, which begins at 9 p.m. ET. Fox News host Dana Perino, Fox Business host Stuart Varney and Univision anchor Ilia Calderón will moderate.

Fox News and Fox Business will broadcast the event, and a Spanish-language feed will air on Univision. Rumble, an online video platform popular among conservatives, will livestream the debate.

MSNBC will air special coverage following the debate at 11 p.m. ET, featuring analysis and commentary from Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace.

Unlike many previous presidential debates, tonight's will not include opening or closing statements from the candidates, “so we have more time to get to the meat of the questions,” Perino told Deadline Hollywood this week.