Republican candidates clashed over the economy, immigration and China at the second 2024 US presidential debate - as Donald Trump was branded “Donald Duck” for skipping the event.
The candidates stepped up their attacks on Mr Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, as he missed the Fox Business debate in California.
Mr Trump had instead gone to the key state of Michigan to deliver a speech amid the backdrop of a car manufacturer’s strike.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said just a few minutes into proceedings 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 Governor 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.”
Addressing the former president directly, Mr Christie said: “Donald, I know you’re watching. You can’t help yourself.
“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.”
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 it.”
Mr 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.
Immigration, the influx of migrants and drugs across the US southern border, which have been leading concerns among Republican voters and came up through the two-hour debate between seven other candidates for the nomination.
Mr DeSantis vowed to treat Mexican drug cartels “as the foreign terrorists that they are”, while former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said she “will send in our special operations and we will take out the cartels”.
The future of US-China relations, and the perceived threat posed by the Asian superpower, also came under scrutiny.
Mr DeSantis said “elites” in Washington had chosen to “surrender” to the Chinese Communist Party, while North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum attacked the Biden administration for a “policy of appeasement”.
Mr Pence argued that President Biden’s climate policies were only “good for Beijing” and Ms Haley lamented the flow of the deadly drug fentanyl from China to the US over the border with Mexico.
The night ended when the candidates refused to be drawn in to a game of Survivor, after being asked who they would vote to eliminate from the field.