The third GOP debate, which occurred on November 8 in Miami, Florida, had it all.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy called former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley “Cheney in three-inch heels,” Haley called Ramaswamy “scum,” Florida Governor DeSantis continued to underwhelm, and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) once again attempted to regain any sense of the relevancy on the debate stage that he may have once held. Meanwhile, disgraced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie predictably continued his tired assault on Trump while inexplicably asserting that he was best suited of all the candidates to deal with Russia.
Yes, the debate had comedy, chaos, and drama. But it didn’t have the power to persuade unenthusiastic voters that any candidate on the stage could overturn former president Donald Trump’s status as the front-runner of the 2024 GOP primary.
For his part, Trump was again a no-show on the debate stage, opting to hold a rally in Hialeah, Florida, instead. During the rally, Trump received an endorsement from Arkansas governor and former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
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Trump continues to express his reluctance to participate in debates despite facing backlash and disapproval for his continued absence, arguing that his strong standing in the polls among GOP voters gives him little reason to subject himself to criticism from other candidates. He already plans to miss the fourth GOP debate in Alabama next month.
A year ago, DeSantis secured a decisive victory in his gubernatorial reelection race and emerged as the Republican Party’s top contender for a post-Trump candidate capable of challenging Biden. However, his prospects have dwindled in recent months, and DeSantis arrived in Miami with Haley nipping at his heels in the polls.
During the event on Wednesday, DeSantis reiterated many of his favorite talking points, including disappointment with Trump and reaffirming his commitment to combat Mexican drug cartels. He resurrected his old, familiar talking points but lacked any significant moment that would sway voters or donors.
Christie may have ended his chances at the nomination. When asked about maintaining the financial stability of social security, he emphasized that there were only three factors to consider: retirement age, eligibility criteria, and taxes. He ruled out the option of raising taxes as a solution. His remarks could raise concerns among Americans nearing retirement age that, if elected president, he would advocate for raising the age and increasing eligibility requirements for receiving social security. For many Americans, that is a non-starter.
Haley was the only one who referenced lessons learned from the elections on Tuesday – abortion matters. While Ron DeSantis gave a standard pro-life response to an abortion question, Haley, although pro-life herself, expressed a more tolerant stance, stating that she doesn’t judge those who are pro-choice and doesn’t want them to judge her for being pro-life. She acknowledged the diversity of state approaches on the issue, some leaning pro-life and others pro-choice, respecting the choices made by the people.
“Let’s focus on how to save as many babies as we can, support as many moms as we can, and stop the judgment,” she said. “We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore.” Her stance on abortion might be enough to tip the scales in her favor and make her an appealing choice across the party divide.
Ramaswamy proposed the idea of constructing a wall on the U.S.-Canada border to prevent the flow of fentanyl from the northern neighbor, highlighting the severity of the issue by noting that enough fentanyl was seized at the north border last year to kill three million Americans. He emphasized the importance of looking ahead and suggested building walls at the southern and northern borders.
But Ramaswamy faced a sharp rebuke from Haley when he reiterated his opposition to the U.S. aiding Ukraine in its defense against Russian invaders. He criticized “Ukraine hawks” on the stage, explicitly targeting Haley, and expressed his view that Ukraine is not a model of democracy. He referred to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “comedian in cargo pants.” Haley responded, “I’m telling you, Putin and President Xi are salivating at the thought that someone like that could become president.”
Scott had more speaking time than the other four candidates. However, his most memorable moment from the debate was when he introduced his girlfriend, Mindy Noce, on the debate stage, alleviating concerns that he might become the first bachelor president since James Buchanan.
The third GOP debate proved to be a predictable and tedious mud-slinging spectacle that, in the end, fell far short of swaying the nomination away from Trump and toward any candidate on the stage. As conservative podcaster Megyn Kelly noted on social media, “Nothing changed. Trump won.”