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Gov. Ron DeSantis may have gotten Wednesday win at 2nd GOP debate but will it matter?

'Donald Trump is missing in action,' DeSantis says during debate
From left to right, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., argue a point during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Posted at 6:12 PM, Sep 29, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's governor is getting positive reviews after the second GOP primary debate, but even if he did win, it doesn't seem to matter much to the former and current president. This week, both acted like the primaries are already over.

Here's a quick look at what happened this week on the 2024 campaign trail.

Point, Gov. Ron DeSantis?

Let's start this week's recap by looking at the middle of it. Seven GOP White House hopefuls were in California on Wednesday for the second Republican primary debate. And Gov. Ron DeSantis may have done exactly what he wanted to.

If you tuned in, you saw it. What some pundits have suggested was DeSantis' best debate to date. The Republican offered aggressive goals, a concise defense of his record, and condemnation for his former ally's absence.

"Donald Trump is missing in action," DeSantis told those watching. "He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added 7.8 trillion to the debt. That set the stage for the inflation that we have."

New polling shows primary voters think DeSantis was "de-winner." A 538/Washington Post/Ipsos survey had 54% of respondents rating the governor's performance as excellent or very good. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was second in the survey with 44%.

Some political experts, however, wonder if it will matter all that much. Barry University political science professor Sean Foreman noted that Trump's margin as GOP frontrunner is huge, 20-30% in some polls.

"You know, Trump's strategy so far is working by skipping the first debate, skipping the second debate," Foreman said. "It has diminished the importance of the debates, and it has given a harder time for his opponents to get traction."

Even so, DeSantis later doubled down. The candidate told Fox News shortly after getting off stage he wanted more, challenging Trump to a one-on-one.

"Maybe we can say — since the former president didn't come here," DeSantis told Sean Hannity. "Maybe he can do one with you and me. I think he owes it to voters."

Trump's campaign spokesman has since swatted down the idea online calling it "desperate."

Swinging by a Swing State

Meanwhile — the former president spent Wednesday in the swing state of Michigan, seemingly more attuned to the general election than the primary. Trump was trying to appeal to striking auto workers in a speech that abutted the GOP debate. The self-described billionaire attempted to relate to the workers, many current or past union members.

"I've risked it all to defend the working class from the corrupt political class that has spent decades sucking the life, wealth and blood out of this country," Trump said. "I side with the auto workers of America and with those who want to make America great again and I always will."

Trump wasn't alone in Michigan. President Joe Biden briefly spoke to picketing workers a day earlier.

"You've earned a hell of a lot more than you're getting paid now," Biden told the group.

Biden's MAGA Focus

Later in the week, Biden was in Arizona to honor longtime friend — the late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. The president delivered an impassioned speech on the future of democracy and targeted MAGA Republicans.

"There's something dangerous happening in America now," Biden said. "There's an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy. The MAGA movement, not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans adhere to the MAGA's extremist ideology. I know because I've been able to work with Republicans my whole career. But there's no question that today's Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA Republican extremists."

Biden later got specific, calling out Trump by name.

"Trump says the Constitution gave him 'the right to do whatever he wants to do as president,'" Biden said. "I've never even heard a president say that in jest."

Biden's focus on Trump and vice versa only further suggests the two candidates are looking ahead to November of next year, well before the rest of this cycle's GOP candidates reach the primaries, which kick off in January.