Five second-tier Republican candidates sparred on Wednesday night at the third presidential primary debate in Miami. Only two of them made a significant impression.
The first was Vivek Ramaswamy, the Wall Street tycoon who told reporters prior to the debate that his strategy was to "be unhinged."
Ramaswamy came out swinging, attacking the Republican National Committee for allowing journalists from NBC News—members of the "corrupt media establishment" who "rigged" the elections in 2016 and 2020—to moderate the debate, as opposed to former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, podcaster Joe Rogan, and Tesla founder Elon Musk.
Minutes after denouncing "anti-Semitic hate," Ramaswamy proceeded to rant about American support for the war in Ukraine, at one point appearing to echo Russian propaganda by calling the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, a "Nazi ... comedian in cargo pants."
The 38-year-old Ivy League graduate promised to bring a "new generation of leadership" to Washington while attacking "the likes of Nikki Haley" and members of the "neocon establishment," describing the former South Carolina governor as "Dick Cheney in three-inch heels."
Haley was the only other candidate who made her presence felt amid Ramaswamy's incessant yapping. "They're five-inch heels," she retorted. Haley would spend much of the night sparring with her unhinged opponent, and had finally heard enough when Ramaswamy brought Haley's daughter into a conversation about TikTok, the Chinese social media app.
"In the last debate, [Haley] made fun of me for actually joining TikTok," he said. "Well, her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time, so you might want to take care of your family first."
The audience groaned. "Leave my daughter out of your voice," Haley shot back. "You're just scum." Apart from that particular squabble, all of the candidates seemed to agree that TikTok should be banned in the United States for "polluting the minds of American young people," in the words of former Gov. Chris Christie (R., N.J.), who still hasn't dropped out for some reason.
Indeed, the candidates agreed with one another on an array of issues, none more so than U.S. support for Israel's military campaign to eradicate Hamas, the terrorist organization that murdered more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, on October 7.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis said he would urge the Israeli government to "finish the job" by taking out the "butchers" of Hamas. Haley concurred: "Finish them." Ramaswamy, because he's young and hip, wanted Israel to "smoke those terrorists." Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), who was also on stage, put it best: "You cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it."
Meanwhile, former president Donald Trump flaunted his commanding lead in the polls at a rally several miles down the road in Hialeah. "The nation is in very serious trouble, and it's time for the Republican establishment to stop wasting time and resources trying to push weak and ineffective RINOs and Never Trumpers that nobody wants and nobody's gonna vote for," he said.
Trump, who leads by 30 points in early primary states, was occasionally invoked at the debate, but not as much as one might expect under the circumstances. The candidates seemed content to jockey among themselves for second place.
Even so, only three of the people on stage Wednesday night have a realistic shot of becoming the last non-Trump candidate standing. Haley and Ramaswamy will duke it out in the coming weeks and months. DeSantis will hang around. But absent some significant shift in the dynamics of the race, Trump will probably be right that this was all a waste of time.