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GOP Rivals Take on Trump at Debate     09/28 06:20


   SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) -- Several of Donald Trump's rivals stepped up 
their attacks against him in the second Republican presidential debate, 
urgently trying to dent the former president's commanding primary lead during 
an event that often seemed like an undercard without him.

   Trump went to Michigan, aiming to capitalize on the autoworkers' strike in a 
key state that could help decide the general election. His competitors, 
meanwhile, were asked by Fox Business moderators at the Ronald Reagan library 
in California on Wednesday to participate in a reality show-style game in which 
they would write who else onstage they would vote "off the island." They 

   The debate's tone was far removed from a campaign that's been driven by 
Trump's attacks on his rivals and democratic institutions as well as his 
grievances about a litany of criminal indictments and civil cases targeting him 
and his businesses. The moderators did not ask about the indictments or why the 
people onstage were better qualified than Trump, instead posing questions about 
issues including education, economic policy and the U.S.-Mexico border.

   The candidates often went after Trump on their own, hoping to distinguish 
themselves at a critical moment with less than four months before the Iowa 
caucuses launch the presidential nomination process. Trump has continued to 
dominate the field even as he faces a range of vulnerabilities, including four 
criminal cases that raise the prospect of decades in prison.

   "He should be on this stage tonight," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is 
attempting to establish himself as the leading Trump alternative despite recent 
struggles to break out from the rest of the pack. "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 we have now."

   Several others blistered Trump for not showing up, a departure from the 
first debate, when the field mostly lined up behind former president. DeSantis 
said just a few minutes in that President Joe Biden was "completely missing in 
action from leadership. And you know who else is missing in action? Donald 
Trump is missing in action."

   Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has built his campaign around 
criticizing Trump, said the former president "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."

   Even Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur who has declared Trump to be the 
"best president of the 21st century," distanced himself and argued he was a 
natural successor.

   "Yes, I will respect Donald Trump and his legacy because it's the right 
thing to do," he said. "But we will unite this country to take the America 
First agenda to the next level. And that will take a different generation to do 

   Trump gave a lengthy prime-time speech in suburban Detroit that continued 
into the start of the debate. The crowd booed when he referenced the debate. He 
joked, "We're competing with the job candidates," and poked fun at his rivals 
for not drawing crowds as large as his.

   Even hours before the debate began in Simi Valley, about 40 miles northwest 
of downtown Los Angeles, the first group of supporters for any campaign to 
arrive waved Trump flags and put up a banner reading "Trump, our last hope for 
America and the world."

   His rivals seemed to sense his command over the field on Wednesday and did 
their best to change the direction of the race.

   "Donald, I know you're watching. You can't help yourself," Christie said. 
"You're ducking these things. And let me tell you what's going to happen. You 
keep doing that, no one here's going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We're 
going to call you Donald Duck."

   Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations 
ambassador, drew larger crowds and new interest after the first debate. Her 
team raised expectations prior to Wednesday's debate ahead of an expected 
campaign swing in Iowa.

   Haley accused Trump of not being tough enough on China while he was 
president. She picked multiple fights with Ramaswamy, as she did in August. She 
assailed him for creating a campaign account on TikTok, the social media app 
that many Republicans criticize as a possible spy tool for China.

   "Honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you 
say," Haley said.

   Haley also fought with Sen. Tim Scott, her fellow South Carolinian and once 
her pick to fill the state's open Senate seat. As Scott accused Haley of 
backing a gas tax as South Carolina governor and upgrading the curtains in her 
office as United Nations ambassador, Haley responded, "Bring it, Tim."

   After a first debate in which he assailed rivals and derided the rest of the 
field as "bought and paid for," Ramaswamy tried to show a softer side when 
Haley and others went after him. After Haley's attack on his use of TikTok, 
Ramaswamy said, "I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if 
we're not sitting here hurling personal insults."

   DeSantis sniped at Ramaswamy and so did Pence, suggesting that he'd failed 
to vote in many past elections. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum steered clear of 
Ramaswamy, but repeatedly jumped in to answer questions he wasn't asked to get 
himself more screen time in the debate's early going. He repeatedly shouted for 
attention from the left end of the stage, leading a moderator to threaten to 
cut his microphone.

   In one awkward exchange, two candidates made references to sex in talking 
about teachers unions. "When you have the president of the United States 
sleeping with a member of the teachers union, there is no chance that you can 
take the stranglehold away from the teachers union," Christie said at one 
point, referencing first lady Jill Biden's teaching career and longtime 
membership in the National Education Association.

   A short time later, Pence turned to Christie: "I've been sleeping with a 
teacher for 38 years. Full disclosure." His wife, Karen, is a teacher.

   The night concluded with the moderators noting that it was unlikely a 
divided field could stop Trump, but then asking candidates to say who they 
would vote off the island, an apparent reference to the "Survivor" reality 
show. The proposed game didn't get far as DeSantis suggested it was insulting.

   Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the only candidate not on the second 
debate's stage after qualifying for the first one. He too headed to suburban 
Detroit, saying, "Donald Trump is here in Detroit tonight because he wants to 
avoid a debate."

   Wednesday's site was symbolic given that Reagan has long been a Republican 
icon whose words and key moments still shape GOP politics today.

   But in addition to fighting with the library's leaders, Trump has reshaped 
the party and pushed it away from Reagan. The second debate's participants were 
largely respectful of all that Reagan stood for -- but also didn't distance 
themselves much from Trump's major policy beliefs.

   Democrats, meanwhile, argued the debate didn't matter. Biden was in 
California at the same time, raising money in the San Francisco Bay Area for 
his reelection campaign, which at the moment is likely to be a rematch with 

   California Gov. Gavin Newsom was in Simi Valley representing the Biden 
campaign and offering zingers to reporters about the debate, saying it was like 
a junior varsity or minor league game.

   "This is a sideshow by any objective measure," Newsom said in an interview.

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