A third Republican debate with barely ANY mention of Trump – and even fewer consequences: DeSantis stands firm and Haley beats up a volatile Vivek in the battle for a distant second place in the GOP race for the White House
Ron DeSantis advanced his talking points without taking the bait from moderators or rivals. Nikki Haley beat up Vivek Ramaswamy, who beat up the TV hosts and the entire Republican Party.
Tim Scott offered a more optimistic vision of America, while Chris Christie treated his opponents with weary contempt.
Time is running out for the five Republican candidates who took the debate stage in Miami on Wednesday evening.
But you wouldn’t have known it from their two-hour televised duel. They all stuck tenaciously to the strategies that set them adrift, vying for a distant second place to Donald Trump, who did it along with a crowd of adoring fans at a rally just down the road.
One of their main arguments, that they are more electable than the four-time indicted former president, disappeared this weekend in a New York Times/Siena College poll that showed Trump beating President Joe Biden in five of six swing states.
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and US Senator Tim Scott
While the five other candidates were slugging it out in the third Republican debate in Miami, former President Donald Trump was shouting it out a few miles away with a crowd of adoring fans.
Still, DeSantis stuck with the same argument that he was more likely to win.
“He said Republicans were going to get tired of winning,” DeSantis said before bringing up Tuesday’s disappointing election results. “Well, we saw last night: I’m tired of Republicans losing.”
He has done enough for his supporters to show that he is the only alternative to Trump.
“He did what he had to do and then some,” said donor Dan Eberhart, who added that the evening should be taken together with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent endorsement in Iowa to show the upward trajectory.
Trump and his campaign labeled the debate as the “undercard” of the evening before his rally. At other times, they have characterized the contest as an audition for the vice presidency, or “first loser.”
But for all his barbs against DeSantis and Haley, who are vying for second place in the primaries, they had to be careful not to hit back too hard.
“Everyone wants to talk about President Trump. I can tell you that I think he was the right president at the right time,” Haley said when asked why she would be a better president than Trump. “I don’t think he’s the right president right now.”
The candidates do not want to alienate Trump’s supporters. Even if it just makes them wave at each other.
Haley reserved her hardest hits for Ramaswamy, who is currently in the low single digits and has no chance of securing the nomination.
“You’re scum,” she fired back when he tried to entice her daughter into a fight via TikTok.
Haley and Ramaswamy provided the biggest sparks of the night when she called him “scum” for getting her daughter into a fight over TikTok
The contenders lined up in front of the White House backdrop at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday evening.
It was more raucous on the road where Trump was at Ted Hendricks Stadium
Without Trump on stage, it’s hard to see how the debate moves the overall rankings. That’s exactly why Trump was at a different stage further down the line.
Jenni Lim, co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, said Haley had demonstrated her foreign policy skills; Ramaswamy came across as ‘unhinged’; while it was unclear what Scott and Christie were doing on stage.
“Honestly, I don’t think it changed anything,” she said. “Trump continues to prove the truth of his claim that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue and still win the vote.”
The Trump campaign couldn’t contain its joy.
“Unless you’re a fan of cheap knockoffs or bogus tribute bands, tonight’s GOP debate was a complete waste of time and money,” said senior adviser Chris Lacivita.
The Trump team quickly announced that he will not attend the fourth debate in Alabama.
This time, his campaign paid little attention to the debate. They didn’t host a dinner for journalists or send supporters like they did at the first debate in Milwaukee. Instead, people like ally Kari Lake came to his meeting.
Even the Miami press room was quieter than previous debates, which have drawn dwindling television audiences. The second had fewer than ten million viewers.
Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy came out swinging and attacked the debate organizer, the Republican National Committee and the NBC anchors.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie talks with US Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and his mother Frances after the third Republican debate
And if the campaigns have shown little interest in changing things, it may be because they have concluded that the only thing that can change the overall calculus is out of their hands.
Last weekend’s New York Times/Siena College poll showed Trump handily leading Biden in five of the six swing states likely to decide the 2024 election.
There is a caveat to these figures.
If the former president is convicted, as could easily happen in the January 6 case in Washington DC next year, some voters will think twice.
The poll found that about 6 percent of voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would switch to vote for Biden. That’s enough to throw the election back to the Democratic candidate, and provide a lifeline to the five candidates vying for second place.
With the first Republican state nominating contest in Iowa just over 60 days away, Trump’s rivals may not have many chances left to erase his 30-plus point lead.
Especially if the big beast in the party stays away from their regular events.
“It’s kind of like watching the Kansas City Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes,” said one Republican congressional aide, using a football metaphor to explain why he wouldn’t watch the debate.