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Seven candidates have qualified for the second Republican presidential primary debate. PolitiFact will be fact-checking the candidates live. (AP photos) Seven candidates have qualified for the second Republican presidential primary debate. PolitiFact will be fact-checking the candidates live. (AP photos)

Seven candidates have qualified for the second Republican presidential primary debate. PolitiFact will be fact-checking the candidates live. (AP photos)

Ellen Hine
By Ellen Hine September 27, 2023

At the first Republican primary debate, eight presidential candidates sparred over climate change, abortion, education and aid to foreign countries. 

Now seven contenders will meet again Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, to duke it out on the debate stage. 

The leading candidate, former President Donald Trump, plans to skip the second debate and instead deliver a speech to current and former autoworkers union members in Detroit, according to The New York Times. Trump also did not participate in the first debate.

Read our full fact-checking: What Republican candidates claimed in the second presidential primary debate >>

Live fact checks from the debate

Fact-checking Pence’s claim about passing the largest tax cuts in American history

Pence and Trump keep trying to claim they passed the largest tax cuts in American history as if one time it might be true.

It is not.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the 2017 tax bill is the fourth-largest since 1940. And as a percentage of GDP, it ranks seventh.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:56 ET

Fact-checking DeSantis on fracking

DeSantis misleads on his position. DeSantis said Haley wasn't telling the truth about the Florida governor's actions on fracking. But it's DeSantis who is the one who needs to do more explaining.

Even before he entered office, DeSantis promised to urge Florida's legislature to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, statewide.

"With Florida's geological makeup of limestone and shallow water sources, fracking presents a danger to our state that is not acceptable," the governor's campaign website read, adding that fighting fracking was a day one action.

Almost all of the action DeSantis took on fracking occurred shortly after he became governor. Just two days into his term, DeSantis issued an executive order with several water policy reforms and a line directing the Department of Environmental Protection to push to end all fracking in Florida.

The order instructed the department to "take necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida." Fracking injects water, chemicals and sand at ultrahigh pressure to force open layers of rock and unearth the oil (or sometimes natural gas) that's trapped inside.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:52 ET

Fact-checking Pence's claim about energy independence

Mike Pence said "in just a few short years, we achieved energy independence" while he was in office. Half True.

The U.S. did become a net energy exporter and began producing more energy than it consumed.

However, this didn’t happen in a few years as Pence claimed. The achievement built on more than a decade of improvements in shale oil and gas production, as well as renewables.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:47 ET

Fact-checking Ramaswamy's claim that Ukraine banned 11 political parties

Vivek Ramaswamy differed with some of his opponents on the issue of Ukraine, arguing the United States should limit its support for the country in its fight against Russia.

"The reality is just because ... Putin's an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties," Ramaswamy said.

The point about political parties is accurate, but needs context.

Ukraine banned 11 pro-Russian parties — the largest of which occupied 44 out of 450 seats in parliament, according to Radio Free Europe. The leader of the party, Viktor Medvedchuk, is aligned with Putin. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk's daughter, Radio Free Europe reported.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:38 ET

Flip-flop on TikTok?

PolitiFact has a feature we call the Flip-O-Meter. It measures — you guessed it — flip flops.

Vivek Ramaswamy entered the flip zone when he criticized TikTok and then created an account on the platform.

"I am very open to banning TikTok outright," he wrote on X in February. "In the meantime, we sit on our hands and do nothing as kids get addicted to it like it’s digital fentanyl."

Later, on Sept. 13, Ramaswamy announced that he was joining TikTok. "Yes, kids under age 16 shouldn’t be using it, but the fact is that many young voters are & we’re not going to change this country without winning," he wrote on X. "We can’t just talk about the importance of the GOP ‘reaching young voters’ while hiding in our own echo chambers."

Ramaswamy is not the first candidate to criticize a social media platform while simultaneously using it. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren advertised on Facebook while also saying that big tech had too much power.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:23 ET

Fact-checking DeSantis’s claim that Florida proposal to teach that enslaved people benefited from slavery was a ‘hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris’

DeSantis is dodging the facts.

The Florida Board of Education set new social studies standards for middle schoolers July 19.

In a section about the duties and trades performed by enslaved people, the state adopted a clarification that said "instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

Experts on Black history said that such language is factually misleading and offensive.

Marvin Dunn, a psychology professor emeritus at Florida International University, has authored several books on the history of African Americans.

"Most enslaved people had no special skills at all that benefited them following their enslavement," Dunn said. "For almost all their skill was picking cotton. An enslaved man who was made to be a blacksmith might have been a king had he not been captured and taken from his country. Is he supposed to be grateful? Enslavement prevented people from becoming who and what they might have been and that was slavery's greatest injury to humankind."

Bruce Levine, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Illinois and author of "Half Slave & Half Free: The Roots of Civil War," was one of several scholars of the period who told PolitiFact that they rejected the value of spotlighting "skills" learned while enslaved.

"Very simply, can you imagine saying this about ‘skills’ developed in Nazi forced-labor camps?"
Updated Sept. 27, 10:19 ET

Fact-checking DeSantis’s claim about the number of uninsured Floridians

When Stuart Varney pressed DeSantis on the relatively high number of Floridians without insurance — Varney said 2.6 million — DeSantis blamed Washington.

"I think this is a symptom of our overall economic decline," DeSantis said.

But the numbers from DeSantis’s own Florida Department of Health don’t show any correlation between the state of the economy and the number of Floridians without health care.

Despite population growth, and despite changes in the economy, Florida has more than 2.5 million people without health insurance at least since 2012, according to Florida Department of Health Data.

The total number of uninsured Floridians has remained relatively stable since 2018, according to the state.

Updated Sept. 27, 10:06 ET

Fact-checking DeSantis on using the military to go after drug cartels 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said if elected president, "I'm going to use the U.S. military to go after the Mexican drug cartels."

A president can deploy the military to a foreign country only if there is an "imminent attack" or if it is in the United States’ national interest. Only Congress has the power to declare war.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:57 ET

Fact-checking DeSantis’s claim that Florida’s crime rate is at a 50-year low

The data for this claim is incomplete. Crime figures are low in Florida, but DeSantis’ figure comes from a database containing information from law enforcement agencies that represent only around 57 percent of the state’s population, a Sept. 20 NBC News report found.

The patchy data is related to Florida’s transition to incident-based crime reporting, the new federal standard, rather than the summary-based reports it has used since the 1970s. With summary reporting, if one incident resulted in multiple crimes, only the most serious would be reported. In 2021, the federal government stopped accepting this type of data, and now requires states to report each crime.

FBI’s crime reporting database doesn’t support DeSantis’ figure either. Only 48 out of 757 Florida law enforcement agencies participated in the FBI’s data collection in 2021. The numbers appear to be similar for 2022, according to a Marshall Project analysis.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:53 ET

Fact-checking Pence’s claim that Trump administration reduced ‘illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90 percent’

That's False. Pence has used this 90 percent drop statistic many times, but has never explained where it comes from.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, immigration drastically dropped worldwide as governments enacted policies limiting people’s movement. In the U.S., Trump instituted Title 42, a public health policy that authorized the Border Patrol to immediately return most immigrants back to Mexico. The increased use of this policy decreased the use of other programs, including "Remain in Mexico."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the pandemic also adopted a new way of reporting migrant encounters. Before the pandemic, it only reported enforcement actions under immigration law; its data during the pandemic includes actions taken under both immigration law and the public health policy. Therefore, 2020 data isn’t entirely comparable to pre-pandemic numbers.

Accounting for challenges in data comparisons, our review found an increase of 300 percent in illegal immigration from Trump’s first full month in office, February 2017, to his last full month, December 2020.

One way to get close to Pence’s alleged 90 percent decrease in illegal immigration is by comparing data from May 2019, the month during the administration that had the highest apprehensions, to April 2020, the month with the lowest enforcement actions in calendar year 2020.

But that’s a severely cherry-picked time period.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:50 ET

Is Florida spending up 30% under Ron DeSantis?

Former Vice President Pence said to Forida Gov. Ron DeSantis, you "talk a really good game about cutting spending, but you've increased spending and Florida by 30%."

We rated a similar claim by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Half True. Then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, his last year in office, signed an $88.7 billion budget. In 2023, DeSantis signed a $116.5 billion budget. That’s a 31% increase.

But tax revenue rose about the same percentage during that period as the state’s population grew. Pandemic federal aid boosted Florida’s budget, as it did in other states. And the Florida Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget for DeSantis to sign.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:46 ET

Fact-checking Nikki Haley's claim that ‘Congress has only delivered a budget on time four times’

This is accurate. From our colleagues at the Pew Research Center:

"In the nearly five decades that the current system for budgeting and spending tax dollars has been in place, Congress has passed all its required appropriations measures on time only four times: fiscal 1977 (the first full fiscal year under the current system), 1989, 1995 and 1997. And even those last three times, Congress was late in passing the budget blueprint that, in theory at least, precedes the actual spending bills."

Updated Sept. 27, 9:37 ET

Fact-checking Mike Pence on wages 

Former Vice President Mike Pence said "wages are not keeping up with inflation." We rated this inverse of this claim by President Joe Biden "Wages are up after being adjusted for inflation" Half True.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:33 ET

Fact-checking Chris Christie on border barrier miles

The Trump administration built 52 miles of new primary border barriers — the first impediment people encounter if they’re trying to cross the southern border with Mexico, that can block access either for people on foot or for vehicles — where there were none before.

The administration built 458 total miles of primary and secondary border barriers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows. The majority were replacements of smaller, dilapidated barriers.

The U.S.-Mexico border stretches for 2,000 miles across four states and a variety of terrain.

Updated Sept. 27, 9:28 ET

Fact-checking Tim Scott on ‘open borders’

Sen. Tim Scott said the southern border "is unsafe, wide open and insecure, leading to the deaths of 70,000 Americans in the last 12 months."

Scott's claim is misleading. Deaths from fentanyl jumped 23 percent in Biden’s first year in office to more than 70,000, but they’ve been increasing since 2014 and also rose during Trump’s administration.

Although immigration encounters at the southern U.S. border have spiked under Biden’s watch, experts say most of the fentanyl coming into the U.S. from Mexico is coming through legal ports of entry. The vast majority of people sentenced for fentanyl trafficking are U.S. citizens, data shows. 

Updated Sept. 27, 9:28 ET

- Aaron Sharockman


Here’s what to know about watching the debate: 

Where can I watch the debate?

The debate will air at 9 p.m. ET on the Fox Business Network and other Fox channels. A Spanish-language version of the debate will air on Univision and stream on ViX. Fox’s Stuart Varney and Dana Perino and Univision’s Ilia Calderón will moderate the debate. 

​​The Republican National Committee has also partnered with Rumble to livestream the second debate.

Which candidates will be at the debate?

Seven candidates have qualified for the second debate: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. 

How can I follow PolitiFact’s fact-checking of the debate?

PolitiFact will fact-check the debate live on our website and across our social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Threads, TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter). We will work with our partner ABC News to provide fact-checking of candidates on the ABC debate live blog.

If you prefer a roundup of the most notable claims from the debate, subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get our fact-checking straight to your inbox. 

Hear something that sounds off? Suggest a fact-check of a candidates’ claim by emailing [email protected].

How has PolitiFact rated the current GOP presidential field on our Truth-O-Meter? 

Here’s how PolitiFact has rated statements made by the Republican presidential candidates using our Truth-O-Meter, which helps us rate claims based on their relative accuracy. 

RELATED: The Principles of the Truth-O-Meter: PolitiFact’s methodology for independent fact-checking

Ron DeSantis has been rated 52 times since 2013.

Mike Pence has been rated 75 times since 2009.

Chris Christie has been rated 105 times since 2011.

Nikki Haley has been rated 17 times since 2012. 

Tim Scott has been rated nine times since 2012. 

Vivek Ramaswamy has been rated 4 times since 2023. 

Doug Burgum has never had a claim rated on our Truth-O-Meter.

Here is how we've rated the presidential candidates in 2023. 

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Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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