GOP Face Growing Urgency to Stop Trump 09/27 06:26
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) -- Republicans are meeting for their second
presidential debate Wednesday as his top rivals seek to blunt the momentum of
Donald Trump, who is so confident of cruising through the party's primary that
he again won't share a stage with them.
Seven GOP candidates will be at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for
an event hosted by Fox Business Network. Trump will be in Michigan, delivering
a prime-time speech attempting to capitalize on the Auto Workers Union strike
and trying to appeal to rank-and-file union members in a key state for the
The debate comes at a critical moment in the GOP campaign, with less than
four months before the Iowa caucuses formally launch the presidential
nomination process. For now, Trump is dominating the field even as he faces a
range of vulnerabilities, including four criminal indictments that raise the
prospect of decades in prison. His rivals are running out of time to dent his
lead, which is building a sense of urgency among some to more directly take on
the former president before an audience of millions.
"This is not a nomination that's going to fall in your lap. You have to go
and beat the other candidates and one of those happens to be Donald Trump,"
said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and veteran of Mitt Romney's 2008
and 2012 presidential campaigns. "This debate, it'll be interesting to see
whether or not folks realize that the sand is going through the hourglass
pretty quickly right now."
The former president also skipped the first debate last month in Milwaukee,
where the participants laid into one another while mostly avoiding attacks on
Trump. Nearly 13 million people tuned in anyway.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations
ambassador, drew larger crowds and new interest after her first debate
performance in which she attacked entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on foreign
policy and pointed out that she was the only woman in the field.
Her team has raised expectations even higher going into Wednesday night,
telling donors in a recent pitch that they are "ready to capitalize on the
momentum after Nikki walks off stage."
"As more voters across America tune in to watch the second debate, it'll be
a great opportunity to bring even more supporters into the fold," Haley's
campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, wrote in her email.
Also hoping for a big night is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will be at
center stage despite recent struggles to emerge as the field's top Trump
alternative. His campaign announced that he also saw a jump in fundraising
after the first debate, but a strong performance on Wednesday will likely be
necessary to replicate that.
"It's too late for just a fine performance," said Christine Matthews, a
national Republican pollster. "DeSantis has gone from leading alternative to
Trump to just one of the pack of challengers and he will be under pressure to
Former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and
Ramaswamy are similarly looking for breakout moments. Ramaswamy seized the
spotlight frequently in Milwaukee, but was criticized by many candidates who
sought to expose his lack of political experience.
Also on stage will be North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Chris Christie, the
former New Jersey governor, who has built his White House bid around slamming
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson failed to qualify after making the first
debate. Hutchinson's campaign says he'll also go to Michigan to hold a press
conference criticizing Trump.
Ahead of the debate, many participants were meeting with top supporters,
donors and reporters to make the case that they are best positioned going
Reed Galen, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, an organization founded by
conservatives who oppose Trump, said that while he still believes the former
president will ultimately be the Republican nominee in 2024, Wednesday's debate
offers a chance for others to make up ground.
"There are opportunities in the offing because Trump is taking this for
granted," Galen said.
The site is 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 Reagan library's leaders, Trump has reshaped the party and
pushed away from traditional GOP policy positions -- including a muscular
foreign policy and opposition to Moscow.
While Reagan is remembered for going to a divided Berlin and calling on
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," Trump has often
sympathized with Russian President Vladimir Putin and recently said, "I was the
apple of his eye."
Pence, in a recent speech, called on conservatives to reject Trump's "siren
song of populism." But Ramaswamy attacked Pence in the first debate by
declaring "it's not morning in America" -- a reversal of Reagan's famous 1984
campaign slogan -- and saying Republicans following Reagan were out of step
with a Trump-dominated party.
"The sad thing is, the irony -- and I don't know how many people there will
get it -- is that Ronald Reagan could not get the Republican nomination today,"
said former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who is now
teaming with Democratic voices to promote the centrist Forward Party. "He's not
far enough out there."