TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Two Republican presidential contenders shared a stage with Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie on Wednesday during the fourth GOP primary debate, co-hosted by the Washington Free Beacon. They wasted no time attacking one another.
Former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley drew fire early and often. The other legitimate contender, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, sought to portray her as someone who "caves" to Democrats on transgender issues and kowtows to Wall Street donors beholden to China.
Haley has enjoyed a surge in support from some Republican donors who have grown increasingly skeptical of DeSantis's ability to challenge former president Donald Trump, whose refusal to participate in the primary debates has not diminished his commanding lead in the polls. Haley suggested her opponents were "jealous." DeSantis "continues to lie because he's losing."
Ramaswamy continued his slide toward irrelevance. The 38-year-old entrepreneur once again played the role of overeager antagonist, earning his title (in Christie's words) as "the most obnoxious blowhard in America." He ranted semi-coherently about "toxic neocons" and attacked Haley as a "fascist" who "should come nowhere near the levers of powers." At one point, Ramaswamy held up his notepad to display the message, "Nikki = Corrupt."
Haley defended herself ably throughout, embracing the criticism as evidence of her campaign's strength. "I love all the attention, fellas," she said. "Thank you for that." Christie came to her defense at times, urging Ramaswamy to shut his "smart-ass mouth" and "stop insulting" such a "smart, accomplished woman." Ramaswamy couldn't stop. He questioned Haley's intelligence by suggesting she couldn't name the Ukrainian provinces under Russian military occupation. (She could.)
Christie also challenged the other candidates on stage to stop being "afraid of Donald Trump," who he denounced as a "dictator" and a "bully" who was "unfit to be president." The candidates accepted the challenge, to varying degrees. DeSantis implied that Trump was too old to serve as president but stopped short when pressed to answer whether or not Trump was "fit" for office. Haley criticized the former president for adding trillions to the national debt, while Ramaswamy raved semi-coherently about being young.
DeSantis turned in another solid performance, focusing most of his attack on Haley and portraying himself as the only candidate who has "delivered results" by standing up to liberal activists in his state. DeSantis and Haley both did well enough to cement themselves as the two most viable Trump alternatives heading into next year's early primaries and caucuses.
Trump remains the strong favorite to win the GOP nomination, but whoever the party's voters end up selecting will be well-positioned to face President Joe Biden, 81, in the general election. Hours before the debate, CNN released a poll that showed the president's approval rating at an all-time low. Just 37 percent of Americans said they approved of Biden's job performance, with a majority siding with the Republican Party on critical issues such as the economy, crime, and immigration.
Republican voters will soon get to weigh in on which candidate they would like to challenge the enfeebled incumbent. The Iowa caucuses are just over a month away.