7 Republican candidates gathered for the 2nd primary debate in Simi Valley, California. While the clear front-runner, former President Donald Trump, was absent, the evening was filled with heated exchanges and notable moments. The 2024 presidential debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, covered a range of issues, with candidates aiming at each other and President Joe Biden.

Former President Trump’s absence loomed large over the event, as candidates criticized him for not participating. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis remarked that Trump was “missing in action,” and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused him of hiding behind golf club walls and failing to address the nation’s problems.

The debate began with discussions about the United Auto Workers strike and the looming government shutdown, immigration policy, and education. Throughout the debate, the contenders exhibited a common theme: holding President Biden accountable for the myriad challenges facing the country. DeSantis criticized Trump for adding trillions to the national debt during his presidency, a sentiment echoed by Christie. They both emphasized the need for accountability and questioned Trump’s fiscal policies.

One of the notable moments of the debate occurred when former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley sharply criticized entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, saying, “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.” Ramaswamy had previously accused his rivals of being “bought and paid for.”

The immigration debate heated up when candidates were asked about the legalization of undocumented immigrants, with Christie advocating for strict enforcement of immigration laws. He asserted that immigrants should come to the U.S. legally and follow the law, pledging to send those who enter illegally back to their home countries.

Christie also took a swipe at Trump’s immigration record, claiming that Trump failed to fulfill his promise to build a border wall. He pointed out that Trump only constructed 52 miles of wall while initially pledging to build it across the entire border. This sparked a contentious exchange over immigration policies.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy faced criticism from several candidates regarding his business dealings in China. Senator Tim Scott questioned Ramaswamy’s past partnerships with the Chinese Communist Party and those who funded Hunter Biden, leading to a heated exchange.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made her presence felt during the debate, particularly when addressing Ramaswamy’s comments on TikTok, labeling it as “digital fentanyl.” She emphasized the dangers of the social media platform and called for more stringent border security, criticizing President Biden’s handling of these issues.

Despite the intense exchanges and criticisms, no single candidate emerged as the clear winner or standout of the debate. The absence of former President Trump allowed for more diverse discussions, but it also highlighted his continued dominance in Republican polls.