Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to learn from a crucial mistake he made in the first Republican presidential debate.
DeSantis attended the second primary debate Wednesday night alongside six other Republican candidates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, California, in which he sought to portray himself as the candidate best suited to advance a conservative agenda to the White House next year while fending off attacks from his rivals.
The debate was a pivotal moment for the governor, who has faced questions about his ability to compete on a national platform as his poll numbers have fluctuated in recent weeks even as he believed he was the Republican with the best chance of winning beat former President Donald Trump for the nomination.
The governor showed a stronger sense of leadership Wednesday night than he did during the first debate, where his performance drew only lukewarm reactions from political observers. Perhaps no other moment reflected the change in his approach than the very final minutes of the debate.
Fox News host Dana Perino asked candidates to write down the name of the candidate they think should drop out of the race as the final question of the debate.
“It is now obvious that if you all stay in the race, former President Donald Trump will win the nomination. None of you have indicated that you are leaving. So which of you should be voted off the island on stage tonight? Please write your choice with your marker on the notepad in front of you,” Perino said.
However, DeSantis led the candidates to refuse to do so.
“I reject that with all due respect. I mean, we’re here said.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also asked Perino, “Are you serious?” Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie eventually gave an answer, saying Trump should drop out of the race.
DeSantis’ refusal to answer the question represents a change from a month earlier during the first presidential debate, when he faced criticism after watching other candidates answer the question of whether they would also support Trump as a presidential candidate would still support him if he were “convicted” in court.”
Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum raised their hands while DeSantis appeared to look at the other candidates beforehand, sparking mockery from the Trump campaign. a post on X, formerly Twitter, mocked him as “pathetic.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, whose relationship with Trump soured after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, raised his hand after DeSantis. Ultimately, Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who did not qualify for the second debate, were the only two candidates who did not pledge support for the former president if he were convicted of a crime.
Newsweek asked the DeSantis campaign for comment via email late Wednesday evening.