The Republican Presidential debate took place in Miami, Fl. last Wednesday, November 8th. The debate featured 5 of 6 candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination for the 2024 election. The frontrunner in the primary, Donald Trump, was not in attendance — continuing his record as a no-show. The remaining 5 — Ron Desantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy — answered questions ranging from foreign policy to abortion in a heated debate.
Outside of Donald Trump, there are two other candidates considered frontrunner for the nomination at this time. Ron Desantis and Nikki Haley demonstrated their Republican bona fides at the debate. One moment that sticks out, especially after Tuesday’s repudiation of anti-abortion candidates, is Nikki Haley’s moderate rhetoric on the issue. Haley correctly noted that regardless of who the president is, the Republican Party does not have consensus among its elected officials for a 6 week abortion ban. Instead, she urged the party to focus on issues of contraception and sex education. While this moderation is likely more popular in the electorate at large, those talking points are not representative of the Republican Party base and may not play out well in the primary.
Perhaps the most notable moment of the debates came from Haley’s squabble with fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. The latter, a businessman with neither experience as an elected official nor a history of voting in presidential elections, caught some attention after the first Republican debate. In the two debates since, Ramaswamy has been told by Haley that “every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber” and “you are just scum.” The latter comment came after Ramaswamy criticized Haley’s daughter for being on TikTok, despite Haley’s opposition to the company’s ties to the Chinese government.
The other front runner (besides Donald Trump) is Ron Desantis, the governor of Florida and second place in many polls. Previously lauded as “Trump without the baggage,” Desantis has struggled to find support as a Trump alternative in the Republican field. In the most recent Des Moines Register poll, support for Desantis dropped by three percentage points to 16%, leaving him and Haley tied for second place. In the same poll, Trump received 43% of the vote from likely caucus-goers.
In the debate, Desantis tried to make up for lost ground. Running to Donald Trump’s right, Desantis defended his stance on abortion which includes passing a six-week ban as governor of Florida. In one debate moment, Desantis preached the immorality of abortion and tried to draw a contrast with Haley, who has a more moderate stance. Similarly, Desantis has distinguished himself on foreign policy. While other candidates described their reasons for wanting to increase or decrease funding for Ukraine, Desantis’ foreign policy would prioritize a hard-line militarized approach to undocumented immigration.
Yet, Desantis’ loss of support is theorized to come down to a few factors. First and foremost, Desantis is not considered a “personable” politician. Instead, Desantis has been criticized for his “Jekyll and Hyde vibe” and inability to “talk like a human being.” He has also been accused of wearing lifts in his shoes to appear taller. Another issue Desantis faces is the fact that people would rather have the original Trump than the version “without the baggage.”
The rest of the candidates — Christie, Ramaswamy, and Scott — have failed to poll above 10% in national polls. In fact, Tim Scott (R-SC) dropped out of the presidential race 4 days after the debate. Despite the unlikelihood of success (and their stated goals of trying to stop Trump from being the Republican nominee), few candidates have dropped out. In 2016, Donald Trump polled worse than he did today and managed to come in second in Iowa and win New Hampshire. The divided field in 2016 broke up the coalition of those opposed to Trump, leading to his rise as the nominee. As of today, Trump is in a better position to win the nomination than he was in 2016.
Wednesday’s debate stood out from the others in notable ways. Primarily, the debate was not hosted by FOX News. Therefore, the questions encouraged more pointed critiques of Donald Trump and questions regarding the continued losses of abortion restrictions and candidates who support them. This was also the first debate following the increased coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. As a result, the debate focused more substantially on foreign policy issues, resulting in very hawkish and militarized rhetoric from the candidates. It also gave Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., the opportunity to further distinguish herself from other candidates.
Yet, over the last few years, political operatives have disagreed on the merits of a debate. Often watched by the most politically-engaged (and therefore strongly partisan) voters. Few people seem to watch debates to choose their candidate anymore. If anyone is benefiting from a debate among the candidates, Trump appears to be the most victorious. Every other candidate on the debate stage is attacking each other rather than the frontrunner. Meanwhile, Trump is able to hold rallies and fundraise as if the general election has already started. As a result, each debate reads as a race for second place.
Senior Olivia Deelen is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org