On a crowded debate stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, seven Republican presidential candidates vied to separate themselves from the field on Wednesday (September 27) night.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was center stage, as he is currently the highest polling candidate at that debate. He was flanked by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum stood next to Haley, while South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence stood next to Ramaswamy.
Former President Donald Trump, who currently has a commanding lead in the polls, was not at the debate, but he was a target for the candidates, including Christy, who blasted him for not attending.
"Donald Trump hides behind the walls of his golf clubs and won't show up here to answer questions like all the rest of us," he said.
"You're not here tonight because you are afraid of being on the stage and defending your record," the former New Jersey Governor added. "If you keep doing that, no one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. They will call you Donald Duck."
DeSantis also took a shot at Trump and President Joe Biden early on in the debate.
"Where's Joe Biden? He's completely missing in action for leadership, and you know who else is missing in action? 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 now," DeSantis said.
Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy tried to control the stage during a chaotic first hour, which featured candidates arguing back and forth and talking over each other.
Scott took shots at President Biden for becoming the first president to join the picket lines of the striking members of the United Autoworkers Union.
"We should look back at the first bill in Congress under Joe Biden. The first bill had $86 billion for the union pensions because they continue to over-promise yet under-deliver. One of the challenges that we have in the current negotiations is that they want four-day French work weeks but more money. They want more benefits working fewer hours. That is simply not going to stand."
"We must make sure that we honor the commitments that we make, and one of the ways that we do that: Do not over-promise and under-deliver and leave the taxpayers on the hook," he continued. "I'll say this: Joe Biden should not be on the picket line. He should be on the southern border, working to close our southern border because it is unsafe, wide open, and insecure."
Ramaswamy expressed his sympathy to the striking workers but said their grievances should be with the politicians in Washington, D.C., and "disastrous economic policies.
"We need to deliver economic growth in this country," Ramaswamy said. "Unlock American energy. Drill, frak, burn coal, and embrace nuclear energy. Put people back to work. By no longer paying them more money to stay at home."
Nikki Haley took shots at Biden's failure to handle the massive influx of migrants coming across the southern border.
"What happens when Joe Biden waved the green flag? It told everybody to come," Haley said. "Now we've seen 6 million people cross the border. We've had more fentanyl that have killed Americans in the Iraq, Vietnam, and Afghanistan wars combined. We need to make sure that we are a country of laws."
"The second we stop being a country of laws, we give up everything this country was founded on. So we have to secure the border," she added. "The way we do that is, first of all, defund sanctuary cities. You see what's happening in Philadelphia right now. It's got to stop. We need to make sure we put 25,000 more Border Patrol and ICE agents on the ground and let them do their job."