DemDaily: The Race for Second Place. The Third GOP Debate

November 10, 2023

Five of the GOP presidential candidates faced off at the in Miami, Florida Wednesday night in the third Republican debate of the 2024 primary.

On the stage was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.

To qualify for the debate, candidates had to poll at least 4% in either two national polls, or one national poll and two polls from separate early nominating states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina). Candidates also had to have reached at least 70,000 unique donors, with at least 200 unique donors in 20+ states or territories.

The event was a welcome departure from the first two chaotic debates, in which a larger field of candidates, unchecked by moderators, argued over each other for 30-second sound bites.

The more substantive and disciplined stage, under the direction of NBC moderators Lester Holt and Kristen Welker, and conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt, focused on the international crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, competition with China, the economy, social security, fentanyl, abortion and, of course, Donald Trump.

Going into the debate, polling averages showed Trump leading the field with 56%, more than the other seven candidates combined. DeSantis still maintains the second place slot at 14%, followed by Haley with 9%, Ramaswamy 5%, Chrtistie 3%, Scott at just over 2%, and the remaining two candidates -- North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not qualify for debate -- hovering below 1%. Former Vice President Mike Pence dropped out of the race October 28.

The Highlights
Holt addressed the elephant not in the room at the outset, asking the candidates why they deserved the nomination over Trump -- who once again snubbed the debate, choosing to hold a counter rally in neighboring Hialeah.

DeSantis, who received high ratings for his performance, promised to "lead this country's revival," while saying Trump “owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance. He should explain why he didn’t have Mexico pay for border wall...why he racked up so much debt, why he didn’t drain the swamp."

Of Trump, Haley said, “he was the right president at the right time. I don’t think he is the right president now. He put us $8 trillion dollars in debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for that."

Ramaswamy pivoted on Trump, instead blaming Democratic victories in yesterday's election on RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel who he called “a cancer in the Republican establishment.” He also directly attacked "the corrupt media establishment" that "rigged the presidential election".and Welker specifically, for pushing "the Trump-Russia collusion hoax" on the network for years.

Scott also sidestepped the subject of Trump, pitching himself as a president who could "help restore faith in god, faith in each other and faith in our future."

Christie, who was articulate and characteristically straightforward throughout the evening, said of Trump, “Anybody who is going to be spending the next year and a half of their life focusing on keeping themselves out of jail and courtrooms cannot lead this party or this country and it needs to be said plainly.”

The war in Gaza and its international and domestic implications dominated the first part of the debate, with all candidates expressing strong support for Israel, and displaying a hawkish stance toward Iran and it allies.

Ramaswamy, in one of many diatribes, warned against “Corrupt politicians in both parties [who] spent trillions, killed millions, made billions for themselves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan." He accused Joe Biden of "selling off our foreign policy," sending $200 billion to Ukraine because they bribed Biden’s son, Hunter -- before segueing into accusing Haley of making millions off her position as Ambassador to the United Nations.

"Do you want a leader from a different generation who’s going to put this country first or do you want Dick Cheney in three inch heels?," said Ramaswamy, referring to Haley, who later corrected him, saying, “They’re five-inch heels,” and "they’re not for a fashion statement, they’re for ammunition."

Haley took most of the jabs, but threw out plenty of her own. After Ramaswamy argued that “Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy,” and that its war with Russia is not representative of “some sort of battle between good and evil,” she quipped. “I am telling you: [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping are salivating at the thought that someone like that can be president.”

Scott, who received more air time than previous debates, said he is supportive of "America’s national vital interest in Ukraine [which is] in degrading the Russian military. We’ve been very effective using our resources and our weaponry and the incredibly high price of Ukrainian blood to achieve that objective." However, he said, Americans, are frustrated by the lack of accountability by Biden in revealing how the funds are spent.

Candidate Speaking Time in Minutes: Scott: 18:55, Haley: 17.50, Ramaswamy: 17.27, Ron DeSantis: 16.36, Christie: 16:15

On the subject of China, Hewitt asked candidates about a potential ban on TikTok, which House leadership has called “Predatory, controlled by America’s preeminent adversary," and "used to push propaganda and divide America."

DeSantis agreed, saying China, which he regards as America's top threat, was "polluting the minds of our young people."

Ramaswamy, who was criticized in the last debate by Haley for being on TikTok, accused the former South Carolina Governor of hypocrisy because her daughter had used the app for a long time -- saying, "So you might want to take care of your family first before preaching.” A furious Haley shot back, “Keep my daughter's name out of your voice!" adding, “You’re just scum.”

Scott, seemingly ignorant of the whipping Republicans got this week in the elections on abortion, called on his colleagues to join him in supporting a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The other candidates deferred -- with DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban into law this year, and called for a 15-week national ban, said only that each state is "doing it a little bit different" and "We're better off when we can promote a culture of life.

Christie said it is an issue that should be decided by the states, and Ramaswamy blamed Republicans in Ohio for not offering "an alternative amendment" as a countermeasure to the constitutional amendment that passed.

In one of her standout moments, Haley, taking a deceivingly moderate tone, said, "This is a personal issue for every woman and every man...As much as I'm pro-life, I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice." She reiterated that abortion is s a state issue, and that nationwide ban in unrealistic and politically impossible to enact. "So let's find consensus...Let's focus on how to save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can and stop the judgment. We don't need to divide America over this issue anymore."

FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos post-debate poll showed 34% of debate watchers felt Haley performed best. DeSantis was a distant second with 23% rating him best, and Ramaswamy made a relatively negative impression, with 29% of debate watchers saying he performed the worst.

The fourth Republican presidential debate will take place on Wednesday, December 6 from 7:00-9:00 pm Central time at the University of Alabama's Frank Moody Music Building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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Sources: Aljazeera, NPR, Reuters, NBC, New York Times, ABC, Rev


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