Who won the third GOP debate? Your guide to the winners and losers

Nikki Haley has a breakout night as Republicans pile on Vivek Ramaswamy

Eric Garcia
Thursday 09 November 2023 09:56 GMT
Haley calls Ramaswamy 'scum' for referencing her daughter during debate

Republican presidential candidates descended on Miami for a debate on Wednesday – and the third one without former president Donald Trump sharing the stage.

All of the Republican candidates continue to trail behind the twice-impeached, four-times-indicted former president. Still, some of the sharpest exchanges took place when discussing foreign policy, the Israel-Hamas war, Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and China’s rising influence. Many of the Republican presidential candidates once again attacked Vivek Ramaswamy as the millennial businessman came out swinging.

Here are the winners and losers from the third Republican debate.

Winner: Nikki Haley

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on November 8, 2023 (Getty Images)

The former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations was able to land decent blows against her fellow Republican candidates. When Mr Ramaswamy accused her of being “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels,” she responded by saying that they were five inches and “not for a fashion statement. They’re for ammunition.” In addition, she offered some of the most vociferous arguments for supporting Ukraine, while at the same time saying she would not support more aid in the form of money.

But perhaps her biggest moment came when Mr Ramaswamy mentioned her daughter using TikTok, which led to her saying, “Leave my daughter out of your voice” and “you are just scum.” Ms Haley has seen her numbers rise in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. This will likely give her more momentum. However, President Joe Biden will likely hammer her for her calls to raise the age of Social Security, something that has historically been unpopular.

Still, as the only woman on the stage, Ms Haley also attempted to find a third way that could appeal to voters on abortion after Republicans suffered devastating losses in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia on Tuesday.

Neutral: Florida Gov Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the third Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate (REUTERS)

Mr DeSantis’s candidacy has been floundering ever since it kicked off. But he received an unexpected boost when Iowa Gov Kim Reynolds announced her endorsement of him earlier this week.

Mr DeSantis occasionally tussled with his fellow candidates on Tuesday. At the same time, he absorbed some devastating blows, particularly from Ms Haley, who accused him of being too friendly to the environment. At the same time, he did not have any breakout moments in attacking any of his opponents and aside from his introduction when he was asked about it, did not mention his former political benefactor and current constituent Mr Trump.

Loser: Sen Tim Scott

Republican donors and activists have long said that the South Carolina Republican has an “inspiring story.” But so far, he’s failed to break out from the middle of the pack. According to an analysis by The New York Times, he actually spoke more than his opponents. But his answers often droned on for extra time that failed to connect with the audience. And he often failed to give straightforward answers. He failed to directly address questions about supporting Ukraine, pivoting to the US-Mexico border and only responded to questions about raising Social Security’s age in passing. If he hopes to grow his support, this will not help.

Winner: Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli prime minister has become quite unpopular in his home country ever since the deadly attack on 7 October, which killed at least 1,400 people and led to Hamas taking at least 230 hostages. But Mr Netanyahu might as well be Mr Trump’s running mate given how so many of the presidential candidates offered their full-throated support of the prime minister. When asked what advice he would give Mr Netanyahu, Florida Gov Ron DeSantis said “I will be telling Bibi ‘finish the job once and for all with these butchers.’” Similarly, when Ms Haley was asked about a humanitarian pause to allow Gazan civilians to flee, she said simply “finish them.” Despite this, Republicans did not speak about what specific types of aid or support they would send to Israel.

Neutral: Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor will likely never be president and he is likely not running for president to do so but rather to weaken Mr Trump. At the same time, while he delivered standard talking points about supporting Ukraine, talked tough on China and spoke about the economy, he had no breakout moments. Indeed, he often seemed to echo Ms Haley. The closest he got was when he said that TikTok “is polluting the minds of American young people all throughout this country.”

Winner: Vivek Ramaswamy

Former biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy speaks at the third Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida (REUTERS)

Mr Ramaswamy has for the longest time thrived simply by the fact he has been able to insert himself deeply underneath the skin of his opponents and utterly annoy them until they get flustered and make a misstep. He likely hoped to do the same thing when he lashed out at the debate moderators and said that Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk should moderate the debate. He has also seemed to take special pleasure in tweaking Ms Haley.

But he likely finally found a line he could not cross when he attacked Ms Haley’s daughter, which allowed her to deliver the most devastating blow on him. The crisis in Israel also seemed to show how out of step he is with the GOP electorate given how he said Israel shouldn’t have to depend on anybody else, including the United States and said he didn’t want to be like “neocons.” Given how much Republicans support helping Israel, that fell flat.

Mr Ramaswamy misstepped when he discussed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Mr Ramaswamy at one point appeared to call a “Nazi”. It was more of an awkwardly worded remark not directed towards Mr Zelensky, but it nonetheless earned the GOP hopeful a heap of condemnation.

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