The Nikki Haley Pile-On: Rivals Hammer the Rising Republican Contender at GOP Debate, Letting Trump Skate

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was attacked in intensely personal terms by her rivals at the fourth Republican presidential primary debate.


Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was attacked in intensely personal terms by her rivals at the fourth Republican presidential primary debate as the other candidates sought to block her recent surge to a distant second place behind Donald Trump in the polls.

  • At times, the stage appeared to divide between the two leads – Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – and their respective understudies, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy.
  • DeSantis hammered Haley, who has overtaken him in recent polls of New Hampshire and South Carolina. DeSantis slammed her for surrendering to the left, criticized the support she’s received from big donors (some of whom used to support DeSantis), and attack her record on China and transgender surgeries for minors.
  • Haley was more willing to take on Trump, criticizing his polices on China (weak), spending (too much) and leadership (chaos). DeSantis deflected and appeared reluctant to criticize the man leading him in the polls by 30 points.
  • Christie let loose on the former president, branding him an “angry, bitter man” who once campaigned “I am your voice” and now only says “I am your retribution.” He also called DeSantis out for dodging a question about whether Trump was fit for office, repeatedly demanding DeSantis answer “yes or no” to a yes or no question. DeSantis refused.
  • Christie defended Haley from Ramaswamy’s mudslinging – he attacked her intelligence, integrity, and experience in intensely personal terms – in a fiery exchange with the former Soros fellow.
  • “We’re now 25 minutes into this debate and he has insulted Nikki Haley’s basic intelligence. Not her positions, her basic intelligence: She doesn’t know regions and she wouldn’t be able to find something on a map that his three-year-old could find,” Christie said in reply to a series of condescending remarks from Ramasamy about the former UN ambassador.
  • “Nikki and I disagree on some issues, but I’ll tell you this: I’ve known her for 12 years, which is longer than he’s even started to vote in the Republican primary,” Christie added to thunderous applause from the audience. “And while we disagree about some issues that we disagree about, who should be President of the United States, what we don’t disagree [about] is: This is a smart, accomplished woman, and you should stop insulting her.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times’ takeaways included that DeSantis seemed to pull his punches when it came to Donald Trump, despite sharp questions from moderator Megyn Kelly about his electability. The Times also concluded Christie benefitted from the smaller stage and had his strongest debate of the campaign so far.
  • NBC News concluded the attacks on Haley are an indication that she’s gained a lead over the other also-rans in the race for second place. Additionally, the candidates’ reluctance to criticize the man beating them by double-digits indicates “the Trump fear factor is real.”
  • According to Politico, Christie’s kid-gloves approach to Haley is different than his rhetoric on the campaign trail, where he’s attacked her for flip-flopping and for agreeing with Trump on trade with China.



  • Fox News’ takeaways from the debate included the DeSantis-Ramaswamy pile-on of Haley for the support she’s received in recent weeks from Wall Street and wealthy Americans, and Ramaswamy’s obviously pre-planned decision to hold up a notepad reading “Haley = corrupt” during the debate.
  • National Review’s Noah Rothman argued the “desperate” debate ended in “a draw” after it “generated more light than heat.” “Voters who like Ron DeSantis saw him at his best. For the first time in this cycle, DeSantis ran like he was behind in the polls — a prudent calculation, because he very much is,” wrote Rothman. Meanwhile, “Chris Christie dissected him with the surgical acumen he once applied to Marco Rubio, savaging the governor for being evasive — a charge DeSantis confirmed with his habitual evasions.”
  • The New York Post’s “panel of political experts” agreed that Haley emerged as the winner of the debate despite the onslaught of attacks from her rivals. The Post’s panel thought Haley was “the leader on stage from beginning to end” while DeSantis “had his best performance to date, but he continues to look awkward and uncertain on the debate stage at times.”

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© Dominic Moore, 2023