Republican debate candidates spar in absence of frontrunner Trump, turning on each other.

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In a chaotic Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump’s rivals clashed over various issues, but none of the candidates appeared to have a breakout moment that could change the dynamics of the primary contest. Trump, who currently leads his rivals by a significant margin, skipped the debate as he did the previous one. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called out Trump for being absent and criticized him for adding trillions of dollars to the national debt. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also mocked Trump for skipping the debate, while Mike Pence and Nikki Haley offered mild critiques of Trump’s policies. Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, was frequently targeted by the Republican candidates for his handling of the economy and the southern border with Mexico. However, most of the evening was spent with the candidates attacking one another.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a political newcomer, drew criticism from his more experienced opponents throughout the debate. Moderator Dana Perino suggested that Trump’s nomination was inevitable as long as the Republican field remained divided. Trump delivered a speech to autoworkers in Michigan right before the debate, signaling that he was more focused on Biden, his potential opponent, rather than the Republican contenders. The candidates were not asked about Trump’s legal problems, which include four criminal indictments. With less than four months until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Republican nominating contest, Trump’s rivals are running out of time to weaken his hold on the primary campaign.

During the debate, all the candidates expressed strong views on immigration and criticized the Biden administration for its handling of the migrant crisis at the southern border. DeSantis promised to deploy the U.S. military against Mexican cartels, while Ramaswamy suggested revoking birthright citizenship for the children of those who entered the country illegally. The candidates also discussed Ukraine, with most expressing support for continued aid to the country. Overall, the debate did not produce a clear frontrunner or alter Trump’s dominant position in the race.

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