Rick Perry (withdrawn)
Segment B prime time debate – 8 p.m. ET
Held on September 16, 2015 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the second Republican primary debate was hosted by CNN and moderated by Jake Tapper, Hugh Hewitt, and Dana Bash. It promised a number of differences from the first debate before the event even began. First, and probably most prominently, we had 11 contenders this time around, as opposed to only 10 last time, chosen again by their rankings in recent polls (those Republicans not polling high enough to be in the main event were once more consigned to an earlier “happy hour” debate). The 11th candidate and newcomer was former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whose strengthening (though still overall weak) performance in polls caused CNN to take notice. The other major difference in this debate was its length; it ran for about 3 hours, considerably longer than the first and arguably taking up an unwieldy span of time. In an interview after the event concluded, Donald Trump expressed his opinion to a reporter that while he had enjoyed himself and felt that everyone performed well, the debate was too long.
Trump himself, of course, remained the central attraction that most everyone had come to watch. And once again, The Donald did not disappoint, delivering his characteristically bombastic and undiplomatic statements in spades. He began right at the front of the debate with an almost stunningly unprovoked slash at Senator Rand Paul, whose presence on the stage that night Trump questioned in light of the fact that Rand has recently suffered in the polls and was standing at about 1% support. Trump repeated his barb much later, when he suggested that Paul should limit his own speaking time in favor of others because “you've got your 1%.” Paul responded to the initial attack by challenging the character of it in itself, wondering aloud whether anyone wanted a man given to such jabs as president, and calling into question Trump's similar rhetoric against other people. He cited the billionaire's negative comments concerning Carly Fiorina's appearance, prompting Trump to point out to the moderators that he didn't make fun of Rand Paul's looks, but that “there's plenty of subject matter there.”
Meanwhile, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee seemed to be gunning for the high road, using his opening remarks to characterize all contenders on the stage as friends and declaring that he was not there to fight anybody. He even went so far as to compare the assembled Republicans to the classic “A-Team”, and made a favorable remark towards Trump by mentioning that their team even had a member who was unafraid to tell people “you're a fool.” The original A-Team character B.A. Baracus was played by actor Mr T, famous for his “I pity the fool” catchphrase.
Some of the evening's most heated exchanges concerned Trump, as well. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker challenged the businessman's financial competency, pointing out that Trump had declared bankruptcy four times and asking how he could be expected to manage the nation's finances any better. Trump retorted that he had never actually gone bankrupt, and had merely used bankruptcy law to the benefit of his business, then went on to call Walker's performance as Wisconsin's governor into question.
Not surprisingly given his recent rhetoric, Jeb Bush took a turn lashing at Trump, too. The former governor of Florida accused Trump of being friendly with the Clintons, bringing up donations the billionaire has made to the political couple. Trump said that he simply “got along with everybody” because he was businessman, then returned fire by accusing Bush of being beholden to his wealthy donors.
Aside from Trump, speculation was rampant on how Carly Fiorina would perform during her first trip to the big leagues. She appeared visibly nervous and her voice seemed to quaver at times, but her rhetoric was sharp. She pointedly dismissed any notion of speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin, advocating instead the undertaking of combat exercises in the Baltic region, rebuilding the sixth US Naval fleet, and deploying additional troops to Germany as means of showing American strength to Russia. She also delivered a heated attack against Planned Parenthood (and its federal funding) in the wake of leaked videos concerning that organization's treatment of fetuses, and seemed to become passionately angry as she recounted the scenes of technicians discussing the harvesting of fetal organs.
Other issues discussed included the Iran nuclear deal, immigration and birthright citizenship, and recent strain on relations with China over alleged cyber attacks carried out by that nation against the United States. Controversial Kentucky clerk Kim Davis was brought up, with Mike Huckabee proudly defending his support of her refusal to issue marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision allowing homosexuals to wed. Late in the evening, a question about vaccinations was passed about, and Donald Trump repeated concerns he has stated previously about vaccines contributing to the increase in cases of autism. Ben Carson, a highly-trained medical professional, cautiously supported vaccination while being tolerant of those skeptical about it, and allowed leeway for Trump's opinion that vaccines should be administered in smaller doses over longer periods of time.
As the evening wound down, candidates were asked how, should they be elected president, the nation would be different after their administration. A series of hopeful and inspirational responses was offered. Carly Fiorina chose not to answer the question directly, instead praising the United States for making her personal success story possible. Meanwhile Marco Rubio hoped that at some point, his own Air Force One (for the debate occurred before the actual presidential plane once used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s) would land in a free Cuba. Mike Huckabee spoke of his wish that after he left office, the US would be safer. And Donald Trump was quite clear that his presidency would result in the nation being respected the world over.