Republicans will debate for the third time, again without Trump | ET REALITY

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The third Republican presidential debate will take place Wednesday night in Miami with the smallest number of contenders yet: just five candidates. That’s less than the vociferous group of eight who shouted and pushed their way during the first meeting in Milwaukee in August.

Fewer candidates will mean less competition for time, which could make it easier for one candidate to stand out and, at least potentially, be seen as Donald J. Trump’s main rival. (The former president, who skipped the previous two debates, will organize a rally on the outskirts of Miami while his rivals argue.) And the time for debate is ticking; At this time, there is only one more scheduled, on December 6. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, so candidates will seek to make the most of this televised moment.

The changing landscape will most likely alter the strategic calculations of candidates who qualified under Republican National Committee rules: Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former ambassador to the United Nations; Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida; Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey; Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman; and Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina.

Here are some things to watch over the course of the two-hour debate airing on NBC.

It’s Nikki Haley time

Haley has drawn more attention in recent weeks as other candidates, notably former Vice President Mike Pence, have lost support or dropped out. She has a chance to build on her momentum to eclipse DeSantis, her most serious rival in the race, and become the leading alternative to Trump.

“Haley is now the only candidate with a clear path to breaking with Trump,” said Mike Murphy, a longtime adviser to Republican presidential candidates who is not involved in this campaign. He said he expected the debate to revolve around “her doubling down on her momentum as the race heats up.”

Haley has a choice here: Will she spend more time attacking Trump or challenging DeSantis? Her campaign released a video Tuesday attacking the governor over his energy policy, suggesting DeSantis should not expect an easy night.

Can DeSantis still be the favorite?

In the first two debates, DeSantis played as a favorite, attacking his opponents only when he was hit first. That may no longer work, as he is under increasing pressure to slow Haley’s rise in the polls and reassure voters who may have come to question his political agility and his strength as an election candidate. general.

This hasn’t been an easy stretch for DeSantis, largely due to Trump’s attacks on everything from his foreign policy credentials to his height. But DeSantis is in friendly territory in Miami: He won re-election as governor last year in a landslide defeat. And this week he earned the endorsement of Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa. DeSantis has staked his bet on his performance in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 15.

But in a sign that DeSantis’ status may be declining, Christie said he would likely largely ignore his rival tonight.

“What do you attack?” he said in an interview. “If you say something that I think deserves to be answered, I will answer it. But I’ve been on the debate stage with him for four hours now and I haven’t heard him say anything worthy of a response.”

A world in turmoil

Foreign policy, with some notable exceptions over the years, has not been decisive in presidential elections. But the war in Ukraine and bloodshed in the Middle East are likely to feature prominently in Wednesday’s debate.

The issue of US aid to Ukraine has divided the Republican Party and could show clear differences between the candidates over whether they would follow Trump’s populist and isolationist path. The candidates are likely to come under pressure over whether to back House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first major proposal: a plan to tie money for Ukraine to a border bill unpopular with Democrats.

While the Republican Party is more unified in its support for Israel (in contrast to the Democratic Party), the conflict has prompted some of the harshest criticism of Trump.

At the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting last month, Haley, who has more foreign policy experience than her rivals on stage, attacked Trump for calling Hezbollah “very smart” and describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as weak. days after. Hamas’ deadly attack on Israeli settlers.

DeSantis offered similar criticism of the president while campaigning in New Hampshire in October. “Now is not the time to do what Donald Trump did by attacking Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, attacking Israel’s defense minister and somehow saying that Hezbollah was ‘very smart.’” he said.

Does anyone else have a chance?

Of the three cards, Scott is, in the opinion of Republicans, the only one who seems to have a good chance of breaking through. He has so far been eliminated by high-profile opponents, and the likelihood that this debate will center on Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis won’t make things any easier for him.

Ramaswamy proved to be a forceful debater in the first debate, but in the second debate he became a bigger target. As he clocks in single digits in many polls, he doesn’t look like a major force in tonight’s race. And Christie could hardly be more out of step with much of the Republican Party with his relentless attacks on Trump: He is routinely booed at Republican events.

Anyone there?

An important question is how many people will be watching. Viewership fell to just under 10 million in the second debate from 12 million in the first debate. Unless Trump makes a dramatic last-minute appearance on stage, that seems unlikely to change.

The audience decline is perhaps not a surprise given Trump’s dominance. With Trump enjoying a wide lead over the rest of the Republican field in most polls, the race may appear over before a single vote is cast, even though large swaths of Republicans have said they are at least open to nominating someone other than Mr. Trump.

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