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Foreign Policy Dominates Third Republican Debate as GOP Hopefuls Jockey for Second Place Behind Trump

Will the third debate change the trajectory of the primary or was last night’s forum just part of the race for second place?


Five Republican candidates took the stage in Miami for the third Republican presidential primary debate as the time to overtake Donald Trump in the polls grows shorter and the Iowa Caucus grows ever closer. Will the third debate change the trajectory or was last night’s forum just part of the race for second place?

  • Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has risen in the polls after the first two debates and was the target of attacks by her rivals.
  • In one particularly nasty broadside, Vivek Ramaswamy attacked Haley’s daughter. “In the last debate, [Haley] made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might want to take care of your family first.”
  • “Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Haley retorted as Ramaswamy was greeted by a chorus of boos from the crowd. “You’re just scum.”
  • Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the two leading candidates for a distant second place behind Trump, clashed at several points during the debate. Each knocked the other as weak on China, while Haley attacked DeSantis as a “liberal” on the environment.
  • The candidates showcased their differences on foreign policy. Haley and Christie advocated for supporting Israel and Ukraine and working with US allies to counter China, Russia, and Iran. Scott and DeSantis seemed to hedge on supporting Ukraine without offering solid answers, while Ramaswamy made an incoherent and at-times-self-contradictory case for isolationism.
  • Former President Donald Trump skipped the third debate after skipping the first two. He held a lightly attended rally in nearby Hialeah. Trump bragged about speaking to a crowd of “tens of thousands” at a venue that only seats 5,200 people and had many empty seats.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times covered the “long-running mystery” that was finally solved on Wednesday night: the identity of Sen. Tim Scott’s girlfriend. Scott has been vague when asked about being in a relationship, so the presence of a blonde woman with him onstage after the event was a surprise. Scott’s girlfriend was later identified as Mindy Noce, a manager at a real estate company in South Carolina.
  • The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake considered Trump and abortion rights to be the only winners of the debate. He knocked DeSantis and Haley as “losers” who “didn’t do much to really change the race,” while Ramaswamy is another “loser” who “appears to have lost his moment in this race” and “reeked of desperation.”
  • From NBC News’ Jonathan Allen: “Republican strategists who spoke to NBC News after the debate said DeSantis and Haley were in a class by themselves — but that it won’t matter, because Trump wasn’t there and he suffered no serious damage for his absence. ‘Haley and DeSantis clearly stand out on that stage,’ said a veteran GOP strategist who isn’t aligned with any campaign. ‘Nothing tonight matters by the time [of the] Panthers-Bears kickoff in a barnburner ‘Thursday Night Football’ game in 22 hours.’”



  • “I hate to have to state the obvious, but the reality is that the only real takeaway from the Miami debate is that there is still not a genuine contest for the Republican presidential nomination,” wrote Philip Klein for National Review. “Debates are not meaningful if they’re merely exhibition sparring contests. They only matter if they change the trajectory of the race. With Donald Trump up over 40 points nationally and 30 points in early primary states, it would have taken something major for anything to truly shake up the dynamic, and nothing remotely major occurred.”
  • Commentary’s John Podhoretz called it “one of the best debates in the history of debates,” but wonders, “who was watching? And how can I be sure what I was watching wasn’t just a dream?” As Podhoretz points out, “these candidates are running behind Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes of 2024 and barring some bizarre twist of historical reality of the Aaron-Rodgers-is-eliminated-in-the-fourth-play-of-the-season variety, they are unlikely even to have a chance. Elsewhere in Florida last night, Donald Trump was speaking at a rally at which he said he ‘loved’ Hannibal Lecter because, he said, Hannibal Lecter said he loved Donald Trump. There’s no way of knowing what on earth he meant, except that the guy can say anything.”
  • The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote Haley “stands out” on foreign policy thanks to her “clear conviction” compared to “hedgers” like Scott and DeSantis. The board slammed Ramaswamy for using “a slur pulled from the 1930s history of isolationism by denouncing that ‘bloodthirsty members of both parties’ have a ‘hunger’ for war and get rich off it. If Mr. Ramaswamy believes this, he should be running as an antiwar, left-wing Democrat.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023