Can Nikki Haley take a big step forward? What to watch during the Republican debate


NEW YORK (AP) — Five Republicans He will appear on stage Wednesday evening In Miami for the third Republican presidential primary debate. The group is the smallest to qualify for the debate stage so far, but it is unclear whether increased airtime for the shrinking group will fundamentally change the 2024 GOP presidential nomination fight.

Donald Trump He remains the overwhelming leader in the race. He decided to skip this debate, as he had done in the first two debates, citing his significant advantage in the opinion polls. Nearly a year after launching his 2024 campaign, a clear alternative to Trump has yet to emerge.

Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, who was expected to fill the role earlier in the year, is locked in a fierce battle for second place. He’s betting that the strong debate performance — two days after he won the Iowa governor’s endorsement — will continue. Kim Reynolds — will help convince a skeptical GOP that it has fully recovered from its early missteps.

Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations and the only woman in this field, is gaining attention after two strong debates. Another big debate performance could give her a boost over DeSantis.

Don’t count out the 38-year-old conservative businessman Vivek RamaswamyAn ardent debater, he played a central role in the first two meetings. And look at Chris ChristieFormer New Jersey Governor and South Carolina Senator. Tim Scott To try to stand out in what could be their last chance at the discussion stage.

Here’s what we’re watching on Wednesday night:

How does Israel fit into the Republican Party’s “America First” message?

The war between Israel and Hamas It had not yet erupted the last time Republicans met on the debate stage. Even then, foreign policy was a flashpoint as foreign policy hawks like Haley insisted on strong support for Ukraine, while DeSantis and Ramaswamy, who leaned toward Trump’s “America First” populism, called for less foreign interference.

Politics in Israel is different.

Indeed, DeSantis appears to be siding with Haley and others who have called for unconditional support for Israel. Ramaswamy may be the only participant to call for limited US support for Israel, in keeping with his argument against aid to Ukraine. Polls suggest such a position could be somewhat popular with the Republican base, even if it doesn’t sit well with evangelicals and some GOP donors.

It’s easy to see the conflict over Israel emerging as a dominant issue — especially with the Republican Jewish Coalition serving as co-sponsor of the event.

Can Hailey take a big step forward?

Haley is receiving great attention in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but she has not yet emerged as a clear alternative to Trump.

The 51-year-old former South Carolina governor has a chance to take a big step forward Wednesday night. Its competitors won’t make it easy, of course.

Given the heightened focus on her candidacy, Haley enters the night with a target on her back in the same way DeSantis did in the first debate and Ramaswamy did in the second. She hopes to do what her competitors couldn’t when their moments come and go.

Current events seem to play a role in its power.

As a former ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has more foreign policy experience than anyone else on stage. This has been demonstrated in previous debates, especially in the clashes against Ramaswamy when the discussion turned to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Haley’s preference for a strong foreign policy could better influence Israel.

However, it is unclear whether one issue alone will be enough to convince donors and voters alike that they should rally behind her as a clear alternative to Trump. DeSantis, among others, are offering much the same idea.

The longer it takes Republicans to unite behind a single Trump alternative, the tighter Trump’s grip on the nomination will become.

Is DeSantis entering “small hands” territory?

It’s hard to forget (as much as we’d like to) Marco Rubio’s desperate attempt to unseat Trump by insulting his manhood during a 2016 presidential primary debate.

Maybe DeSantis is laying the groundwork to do something similar.

It didn’t end well for Rubio, of course. The Florida senator was forced to suspend his presidential campaign less than two weeks after suggesting that Trump had small hands on the debate stage.

Despite Rubio’s downfall, DeSantis in recent days has repeatedly questioned whether Trump has the “courage” to participate in the debate. The Florida governor’s campaign is even selling a set of golf balls as part of a messaging campaign.

The whole thing is likely more than just a fundraising scheme. But the speech highlights a fundamental dilemma facing every Trump challenger: If multiple indictments, attacks on democracy, and countless documented lies about issues big and small don’t undermine Trump’s candidacy, what might?

Trump’s rivals have launched lukewarm policy attacks against him in the first two debates. Most of them also raised their hands, saying they would support him even if he was a convicted felon. Everything they do doesn’t seem to work.

We’ll see if DeSantis tries something different.

Will they help — or hurt — the GOP’s outreach to Hispanics?

The Miami location for Wednesday’s debate ensures that the candidates will take heat on the GOP’s strained relationship with Latino voters.

Latino voters have overwhelmingly supported Democrats in recent decades, and continue to do so, despite concern that the growing voting bloc — especially young people — is drifting to the right. Debate participants now have a prime-time opportunity to help — or hurt — the GOP’s appeal to Latinos.

All Republican candidates are keen to talk about the need to crack down on illegal immigration, especially along the US-Mexico border. They have been far less willing to make clear plans for those of the more than 10 million immigrants in the country illegally, who include many children brought to the country by their parents. Some, especially DeSantis, have promoted policies aimed at making life in the United States difficult for these immigrants.

DeSantis faced strong backlash from Florida’s immigrant community earlier this year after signing into law a measure limiting social services for immigrants who lack permanent legal status. Another provision requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on admission forms, which critics said is intended to discourage immigrants living in the United States illegally from seeking medical care.

Look for pressure on DeSantis and others to defend such policies. As the Republican National Committee has acknowledged, tone matters when trying to connect with voters of color.

Last chance for Scott and others?

For some, this may be their final debate appearance.

Scott, in particular, may face difficulties meeting the fundraising and polling thresholds set by the Republican National Committee for the December 6 debate in Alabama, which will require participants to finish at 6% in two national polls or a combination of national polls. and early statewide preliminary polls. Christie may miss that cut, too, while Ramaswamy is hovering at 6% in some polls.

This possibility would create a real urgency for lower-level candidates to emerge.

Christie and Ramaswamy have shown a willingness to impress when given the opportunity. Scott was less comfortable with direct confrontation, preferring to stay true to his “happy warrior” profile.

But the possibility of elimination makes any of them a serious wild card for the other participants.

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