The Republican Party held their second presidential debate on Wednesday, with seven candidates taking the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. However, front-runner Donald Trump chose not to participate, instead delivering a speech in Michigan. The debate marked a critical moment in the GOP campaign, as Trump continues to dominate the field despite facing various vulnerabilities, including four criminal indictments. With less than four months until the Iowa caucuses, Trump’s rivals are running out of time to catch up, leading to a sense of urgency to directly challenge him on the debate stage. Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are among the candidates hoping for a standout performance to gain momentum.
Several candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, are seeking breakout moments during the debate. However, Trump’s absence from the stage provided an opportunity for others to make up ground. The debate took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a symbolic location as Reagan’s influence still shapes GOP politics today. However, Trump’s reshaping of the party and departure from traditional GOP policies has caused tension with the library’s leaders. While Reagan was known for his muscular foreign policy and opposition to Moscow, Trump has often expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pence recently called on conservatives to reject Trump’s “siren song of populism,” but Ramaswamy argued during the first debate that the Republican Party has shifted under Trump’s influence, drawing criticism from those who believe it is straying too far from Reagan’s ideals.