The Republican presidential debate Wednesday evening was filled with memorable moments and lines as candidates clashed on stage for the second time of the 2024 election cycle.
The debate featured tense exchanges between candidates with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie trading blows.
Here are five of the most memorable moments from the debate.
Both DeSantis and Christie took time during the debate to take aim at former president Donald Trump over his absence Wednesday night.
Trump opted against participating in the debate, citing his consistently large lead in national polls which show him ahead of the other Republican candidates by as much as 40 points. But Trump was hit for rejecting an opportunity to appear before the American people and earn their support.
“The people in Washington are shutting down the American dream with their reckless behavior,” DeSantis remarked. “They borrowed, They printed, they spent. And now you’re paying more for everything. They are the reason for that. They have shut down our national sovereignty by allowing our border to be wide open.”
“So please spare me the crocodile tears for these people. They need to change what’s going on. And where’s Joe Biden? He’s completely missing in action from leadership. And you know who else is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action.”
Christie similarly blasted Trump and said the former president should have the nickname “Donald Duck” since he continues ducking debates. He said Trump “should be here.”
“I want to look at that camera right now. Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself. I know you’re watching. Okay. And you’re not here tonight, not because of polls and not because of your indictments,” Christie said. “You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on the stage and defending record. You’re ducking these things. And let me tell you what’s going to happen. You keep doing that. No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re going to call you a Donald Duck.”
Later during the debate, Haley and Ramaswamy sparred over the potential dangers posed by Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok.
At one point, Haley remarked that she felt “dumber” when she listened to Ramaswamy speak.
“This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have and what you’ve got, I honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” Haley told Ramaswamy after he defended recently joining TikTok in order to reach “the next generation of young Americans where they are.”
In response to a question about Florida’s state curriculum on slavery, DeSantis defended his record. The governor further argued it was a “hoax” that he ever created a racist curriculum for students.
“So, first of all, that’s a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris, we are not going to be doing that,” DeSantis said. “Second of all, that was written by descendants of slaves, these are great Black history scholars.”
“We need to stop playing these games,” DeSantis added, saying America’s education system “is in decline” due to its focus “on indoctrination, denying parents’ rights.”
The particular part of the curriculum that generated criticism was a line in a state African American Studies course that stated “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South.” Critics said the line played down the plight of slaves in the U.S.
Sen. Scott said during the debate Wednesday that DeSantis should have “taken the one sentence out.”
During an exchange between Pence and Christie about school choice policies, the former vice president raised eyebrows when he spoke about sleeping with his wife.
“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 every day,” Christie said, referencing President Biden’s wife Jill Biden, a longtime teacher and union member. “They have an advocate inside the White House every day for the worst of their teachers, not for our students to be the best they can be. A president of the United States has to take on the teacher’s union.”
Christie’s statement Wednesday night was then followed up by former Vice President Mike Pence boasting in a one-liner of his own that he has been sleeping with a teacher, his wife Karen Pence, for 38 years.
“I want to answer the question as well that you just asked because by way of full disclosure, Chris, you’ve mentioned the president’s situation,” Pence said. “My wife isn’t a member of the teachers union, but I got to admit, I have been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years — full disclosure. But education is a state and local function.”
Scott took issue with Ramaswamy over his comments during the first GOP debate that every candidate excluding him were “bought and paid for.”
“Excuse me, excuse me,” Ramaswamy said following Scott’s comments, speaking over Scott’s continued jabs. “Thank you for speaking while I’m interrupting.”
“Literally, you said, ‘bought and paid for,'” Scott retorted as Ramaswamy continued to talk.
DeSantis then interjected, saying Republicans should prevent infighting and focus on defeating Biden in 2024.
“Can we please focus on the issues that matter?” the Florida governor said, raising his voice. “We know he’s done business in China, everybody knows that.”