Six conclusions from the Republican debate | ET REALITY

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It was the card that disappointed.

The third consecutive Republican presidential debate that former President Donald J. Trump skipped, choosing instead to rally with supporters a few miles away, represented a critical and shrinking opportunity for his rivals to close their chasm of leads in the elections. surveys.

And with only five candidates on stage for the first time (Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott), everyone had a lot more time to speak.

Yet they had very little to say about Trump, even when given the opportunity a little more than two months before the Iowa caucuses.

They clashed in a substantive debate that examined disagreements over aid to Ukraine, Social Security, confrontation with China, the TikTok ban and how to address abortion less than 24 hours after Republicans suffered their latest election setbacks. ​due to the fall of Roe v. Wade.

But there was something surreal about such detailed discussions unfolding between candidates who seem so far from the Oval Office, including DeSantis and Haley, who asserted themselves as the leaders of the non-Trump group.

Here are six takeaways from a debate in Miami that is perhaps best remembered as Ms. Haley snapping at Mr. Ramaswamy: “You’re nothing but scum.”

Nikki Haley emerged as a powerhouse on the debate stage, delivering a forceful performance that leveraged the night’s focus on foreign policy to present a tough, clear view of America’s role in the world.

Drawing on her experience as the US ambassador to the United Nations, she put forward expansive and interventionist positions that run counter to Trump’s “America First” foreign policy vision.

He supported Ukraine to the core. He said he would support military strikes against Iran. And he said the United States needed to support Israel with “whatever it needs and when it needs it.”

Most of the other candidates gave versions of the same answers, but Haley had the advantage of having represented the United States on the world stage.

When the candidates were asked what they would urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to do right now, DeSantis said he would “tell him” to eliminate Hamas. Haley said that she, in fact, told Netanyahu to “finish them.”

As Haley competes with DeSantis to establish herself as the alternative to Trump in the field, some of the party’s biggest donors were closely watching her performance as they weighed whether to spend millions on her behalf in a last-ditch effort to defeat Trump.

Ms. Haley’s competitors recognized her rising status by targeting her.

For a moment it seemed like this would be a different kind of debate for DeSantis. His initial response affirmatively described that he would be better than Trump.

“You should explain why you didn’t make Mexico pay for the border wall,” DeSantis began. “You should explain why you accumulated so much debt. “You should explain why you didn’t drain the swamp.” He went on to say that Trump promised to “win” only to have his party endure years of “losing,” including on Tuesday.

“In Florida, I showed how it’s done,” DeSantis declared, trying to take advantage of a debate held in Miami.

But then he left Trump untouched, content to prosecute his own case and push back against rivals like Haley. It was the same strategy he used in the first two debates, with little traction gained.

DeSantis is clearly more comfortable than in the first debate. However, he surprisingly did not mention an event that his campaign has trumpeted as a game-changer: this week’s endorsement of Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

Once again, the candidates did little to aggressively contrast themselves with Trump, who has made himself unavailable for direct confrontation by refusing to take the stage with his rivals or, for the most part, appear with them at multi-candidate meetings during the election. election campaign.

Without Trump present, the five contenders had to tear each other apart, with varying levels of nastiness.

The first question to the candidates was the fundamental one that most of them have struggled to answer to Republican voters: why they, and not Trump, should be the nominee.

Christie, as expected, was the sharpest in his attack, arguing that someone facing criminal charges from Trump “cannot lead this party or this country.”

But DeSantis only took a brief swipe. Haley praised Trump’s presidency and then criticized him, saying he had “gone weak at the knees” over Ukraine and that his time had passed. Ramaswamy defended Trump in passing. And Mr. Scott talked about himself.

That was almost the extent of the efforts to undermine the fugitive leader. Nearby, Trump held a rally in Hialeah, Florida, and at one point commented that his rivals “were not visible.”

For months, candidates have struggled to find a way to force him into the ring with them, with Christie threatening to follow him on the campaign trail and DeSantis, in recent days, throwing rude responses to Trump’s brutal mockery. In the third debate, none of them knew how to make it work.

After three debates, one thing is clear: some of the candidates on stage really don’t like each other.

The most hated seems to be Ramaswamy, who from the beginning feuded not only with the rivals flanking him but also with the NBC moderators and the head of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, whom he urged to resign in his opening speech.

At times, Ramaswamy almost seemed to be doing Trump’s bidding, attacking NBC’s past coverage of the former president’s scandals.

He launched acid attacks on Ms. Haley, mocking her foreign policy and calling her “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.” He slipped on DeSantis’s shoe, suggesting that the Florida governor too, carried elevators. Mr. DeSantis ignored him. Mrs. Haley said hers were five inches long and “for ammunition.”

When Mr. Ramaswamy later invoked his daughter’s use of TikTok, she demanded: “Leave my daughter out of your voice” and then added almost in disbelief over the exchange: “You’re just scum.”

After Tuesday’s losses, Republican candidates knew they would face questions about the path forward on abortion. But most seemed unsure of what to say.

“We are better off when we can promote a culture of life,” said DeSantis, who signed a six-week ban in his state. He said little about what his party should do or what he would do as president. “At the same time, I understand that some of these states are doing it a little differently.”

Ms. Haley described herself as opposed to abortion but said passing national restrictions would be virtually impossible, arguing it is crucial to be “honest” with the public.

At times, Haley seemed to be trying to appeal to general election voters. “I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice,” she said. It was the kind of line that makes Democratic strategists worry about his strength if he were to win the nomination, but also one that the Republican base probably won’t welcome.

It all amounted to a reminder that Republicans, after decades of campaigning against abortion rights, still haven’t decided what to say after they finally got a Supreme Court to approve their wish that Trump, who also wouldn’t say what his position in a national ban – reformed.

Scott qualified for this debate by the narrowest of margins, with only one poll – the legitimacy of which some of his rivals have privately questioned – securing his spot. But the thresholds will be higher for the next debate in December, and Scott’s allies recognize that he needs to do something, anything, just to remain a factor.

It’s hard to imagine he did anything Wednesday night to change his trajectory. She stuck to the same messages she has been conveying throughout the campaign. She described an America that needs spiritual healing and a return to Judeo-Christian values.

He received more attention for what he did after the debate than for anything he said during it. Mr. Scott, 58, has never been married and entire newspaper stories They have been dedicated to a mysterious girlfriend who has never been seen with him in public.

Until he took her on stage.

miguel gold contributed reporting from Hialeah, Florida.

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