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Trump emerges from debate unscathed — again

First Read is your briefing from the NBC News Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
rom left, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott and Mike Pence attend the second Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif
From left, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott and Mike Pence attend the second Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file

Happening this Thursday: President Biden, in Arizona, delivers speech promoting democracy and attacking the MAGA movement… Donald Trump, skipping the GOP debate, blasts Biden in remarks to Michigan autoworkers (though few were striking UAW members)… House Oversight Committee holds first impeachment-inquiry hearing into Biden at 10:00 am ET… NBC News poll finds majority of voters opposing impeachment hearings into Biden… And Washington gets closer to government shutdown.

But FIRST… For a second time, former President Donald Trump’s Republican rivals participated in a debate with Trump not on the debate stage. 

And for a second time, as NBC’s Kristen Welker observed last night, those same rivals were likely unable to change the trajectory of a GOP presidential race where Trump leads by more than 40 points nationally. 

Yes, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knocked Trump for not showing up to the debate. “Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be on this stage tonight,” DeSantis said. 

They once again criticized his administration for adding to the nation’s debt. “He put $7 trillion on the debt. He should be in this room to answer those questions,” Christie said.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley hit him once over China: “[Trump] focused on trade with China. He didn’t focus on the fact that they were buying up our farmland.”

DeSantis was the only one to criticize Trump’s abortion comments on “Meet the Press.” “He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.”

And Christie made one reference to Trump’s multiple indictments. 

That’s it — in a two-hour debate. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the debate focused on Haley battling again with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (“Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” Haley told him); on Haley squaring off against fellow South Carolinian Tim Scott; and on — yes — Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence talking about sleeping with school teachers.

Headline of the dayThe number of the day is … 56%

That’s the share of registered voters who say that Congress should not hold impeachment hearings to remove Joe Biden from the presidency, per a new national NBC News poll

As House Republicans hold their first impeachment inquiry hearing on Thursday, the findings show that American voters are divided on impeachment along party lines.

Almost three-quarters of Republicans — 73% — support congressional impeachment hearings against Biden. And 88% of Democrats oppose the hearings. Six in 10 independents — a crucial group ahead of next year’s presidential election — oppose impeachment hearings, while 29% support them.

To read more about public opinion on impeachment hearings, check out

Other numbers to know:

15: The number of times Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke on the debate stage last night, more than any other candidate. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy had the most speaking time of any candidate, narrowly edging out DeSantis, speaking for 12 minutes, per NBC News’ Brennan Leach.

9: How many times Ramaswamy was attacked on the debate stage last night, the most of anyone on the stage, per an NBC News analysis. 

14: The number of attacks former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivered on the debate stage last night, the most of any candidate, per an NBC News analysis. 

14: The number of senators on the Senate Banking Committee who voted to advance marijuana-related legislation to the floor on Wednesday.

34: The number of days the longest government shutdown lasted, which was in 2018

4: The number of people who have been cut from the disinformation and election integrity team at X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

371: How many days NASA Astronaut Frank Rubio stayed in space before landing back on Earth Wednesday, setting a record for longest U.S. spaceflight.

Eyes on 2024: Biden to tackle “extreme MAGA ideology” after GOP debate

President Joe Biden was the most-attacked figure on the GOP debate stage last night, with candidates targeting him 24 times, according to an NBC News analysis.

On Thursday, he’ll have the chance to push back, as he heads to Arizona for a speech on democracy and the threat of “extreme MAGA ideology,” NBC News’ Mike Memoli reports.

Biden plans to sharpen his rhetoric against Republicans and tell Americans that preserving democracy has been the “central cause” of his presidency. 

But Memoli adds that Biden is not seeking to blame all Republicans for extremism, and he plans to say, “Not every Republican — not even the majority of Republicans — adhere to the extremist MAGA ideology … But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists.”

It won’t be a direct response to attacks from the debate stage, though, as most of the GOP candidates focused on hitting Biden on energy policy, foreign policy, climate policy and the economy. 

The president’s campaign tried to pre-empt those attacks on Wednesday, characterizing Republican economic platforms and policies as “MAGAnomics,” NBC News’ Megan Lebowitz reports

Still, all eyes will be on Arizona Thursday, where Biden will zero in on what he says should be the focus of the campaign — preserving democracy, doubling down on a message that worked for him in 2020.

In other campaign news…

Michigan man: Trump pre-empted the debate by delivering an economic speech Wednesday in Michigan, where he called on the United Auto Workers leaders to endorse him and promised a “revival” of economic nationalism, NBC News’ Henry J. Gomez, Vaughn Hillyard and Dan Gallo report. 

On the airwaves: President Biden’s campaign released a TV ad on Wednesday hitting former President Trump over auto-manufacturing. “Trump passed tax breaks for his rich friends while automakers shuttered their plants and Michigan lost manufacturing jobs,” a narrator in the ad says.

See you on the socials: Biden’s campaign is also launching a new digital rapid-response operation aimed at pumping out viral content, Politico reports. 

Will Will keep running? Former Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd said his campaign is “at an inflection point” in a new statement after missing the cut for the GOP debate where he adds his campaign is “evaluating whether we have the resources to chart a path to victory.”

A wrinkle in the plan: NBC’s Scott Wong reports that Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’ refusal to resign after he was indicted on charges of bribery and corruption are a stain on Democrats’ plan to run “as the party of ethical behavior and good governance” in 2024. Meanwhile, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Frank Thorp V note that Menendez “single-handedly blocked passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020 that would have strengthened the law regulating foreign influence and lobbying in Washington.”

She’s running: Arizona Republican Kari Lake told the Wall Street Journal she’s announcing her Senate campaign at a rally on Oct. 10. 

He’s running: Former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson formally kicked off his campaign to succeed retiring Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, at an event Wednesday night.

Another politician charged: California Republican Omar Navarro, who challenged Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters four times over the last decade and won the backing of Trump allies like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, has been charged with 43 counts of misusing campaign funds, per the Los Angeles Times

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

The Biden administration has accepted Israel into a program that allows its citizens to travel to the U.S. without visas (and will allow Americans to do the same in Israel), NBC News’ Julia Jester reports. 

A Montana judge temporarily blocked a state law barring gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.