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Seven Republican presidential candidates stood inside a library named after a former president revered among Republicans and argued policies related to immigration, economy, health care costs and education, among other issues.

It was the second GOP presidential primary debate on a muggy Wednesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, held on a sprawling complex that has hosted numerous presidential debates, influential Republicans and world leaders.

For two hours, with Reagan’s Air Force One hanging above them, candidates debated parental rights in education, protections for farmers and ranchers and the opioid epidemic.

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Not on the stage was former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner who has skipped the debates as he appears set to focus on the general election, rather than the primary. On Wednesday, Trump was in Michigan where he spoke to nonunion auto workers amid the ongoing United Auto Workers strike, a day after President Joe Biden visited UAW members to show support for their strike.

“But why are they there? It’s because of all that spending (Biden’s) pushed through,” said former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, saying the federal government should focus on economic policies that would cut gas taxes but make small business tax cuts permanent.

“Joe Biden is missing in action from leadership. Donald Trump is also missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of his former ally turned nemesis in the campaign.

Earlier this month, about 13,000 U.S. auto workers stopped making vehicles and went on strike after their leaders couldn’t bridge a giant gap between union demands in contract talks and what three major automakers, General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, are willing to pay. Last week, the UAW expanded its strike when an additional 5,600 workers walked out of 38 General Motors and Stellantis parts distribution centers in 20 states.

Biden’s visit to a UAW picket line the day before the debate is believed to be the first time a sitting president who has demonstrated support for labor activity amid an active strike.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott castigated Biden’s picket line trip, saying he should instead be on the southern border.

“Fentanyl has devastated Americans in every single state,” said Scott.

Southern California voters said they wanted to see less bickering at the second debate, but entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy often sparred with those on stage with him, particularly with Haley, Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence, who criticized his past dealings with a Chinese investment firm.

Another hot-button issue for candidates as the sun set in Simi Valley: parental rights in education.

Several candidates decried education systems for focusing on so-called critical race theory or DEI issues. Haley, in particular, said it should be up to individual states to design public education; DeSantis, meanwhile, said the “country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination and denying parents’ rights.”

“We have to protect kids from this radical ideology agenda and empower parents at the state level to decide where their kids got to school and focus on the basics,” said Pence.

Stumping for Biden at the Reagan Library was California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called the candidates on the debate stage a “JV team” while speaking to reporters ahead of the debate.

Newsom dubbed Biden and Trump — Biden first, Trump second — the winners of Wednesday’s contest before it even started.

“These guys are maybe running for vice president,” said Newsom, who has been on a bit of a media frenzy in recent weeks uplifting the Biden administration following months of speculation about his own White House ambitions.

“It’s been a masterclass, the success of the Biden administration,” he said.

David Trulio, the president and CEO of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute picked a debate winner.

“President Reagan’s leadership and legacy won onstage at tonight’s debate,” he said in a statement. “His values — limited government, individual liberty, economic opportunity, peace through strength, freedom and democracy, and national pride — endure as guiding lights in addressing the significant challenges and opportunities America faces.”

Despite his absence, it can’t be said that Trump was particularly missing from the debate. Hoards of supporters gathered at the entrance of the foundation’s grounds decked out in patriotic gear. Large trucks with even larger Trump signs revved their engines on surrounding streets; a plane carrying a white DNC-funded banner with black and red words reading “GOP 2024: A Race For The Extreme MAGA Base” circled from above.

And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, at one point during the debate, looked straight ahead to address Trump: “Donald, I know you’re watching,” he said. “You’re not here tonight because you’re afraid of being on the stage and defending your record.

“No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re going to call you ‘Donald Duck.’”

When asked which candidate on stage should be “voted off the island,” DeSantis refused to give an answer, while Christie said Trump.

“This guy has not only divided our party, he’s divided family, he’s divided friends,” Christie said.

When asked by debate co-host Dana Perino about his mathematical chances at the nomination against Trump, DeSantis said “polls don’t elect presidents, voters elect presidents.”

According to data from the Public Policy Institute of California, 48% of Republican likely voters would vote for Trump if the Republican presidential primary were held today, while 14% said DeSantis.

It wasn’t just Trump supporters who gathered outside the library. Demonstrators rallied in support of Ukraine amid its continued conflict with Russia. CHIRLA Action Fund and SEIU-USWW said it brought hundreds of demonstrators to the base of the library to show support for immigrants.

“We want presidential candidates, especially in the GOP, to know this truth: Immigrants are California,” said Fatima Flores-Lagunas, the CHIRLA Action Fund political director.

The debate was shown on Fox Business and Univision, where it aired in Spanish — the first time a Republican primary debate was broadcast in Spanish, according to the network. Moderator Ilia Calderón, the first Afro-Latina to anchor an evening newscast for a major broadcast network in the U.S., according to a news release, on Wednesday became the first Afro-Latina to co-moderate a Republican primary debate.

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