The third Republican debate is tonight: Here are 5 things to watch

Five Republicans will take the stage in Miami tonight for the third GOP presidential primary debate. This is the smallest group to qualify for the debate so far. However, it remains to be seen whether the increased airtime for this shrinking group will have a fundamental impact on the 2024 Republican presidential nomination fight.




Donald Trump, who continues to be the clear front-runner in the race, has chosen to skip this debate, as he did with the previous two debates. He cites his significant polling advantage as his reason. Despite a full year passing since he launched his 2024 campaign, there has yet to emerge a clear alternative to Trump.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was initially expected to fill that role earlier this year, is currently engaged in a fierce battle for second place. He is banking on a strong debate performance, just two days after securing the endorsement of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, to convince skeptical Republicans that he has fully recovered from his early missteps.


Nikki Haley, the former United Nations Ambassador and the sole woman in the field, has been gaining attention due to her impressive performances in the previous debates. Another strong showing in this debate could give her an edge over DeSantis.


It would be a mistake to overlook conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who, at 38 years old, is a passionate debater and has played a significant role in the first two debates. Additionally, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott will likely try to distinguish themselves on the debate stage, potentially their final opportunity to do so.




How does Israel fit into the GOP's 'America First' message?

Foreign policy was already a contentious issue amongst Republicans during previous debates, with Haley advocating for strong support for Ukraine, while DeSantis and Ramaswamy, who lean towards Trump's populism, argued for less foreign intervention.


However, the politics surrounding Israel differ from other foreign policy matters.

DeSantis appears to be aligning himself with Haley and others who call for unconditional support for Israel. On the other hand, Ramaswamy may be the only participant who argues for limited U.S. support for Israel, aligning with his stance on aid for Ukraine. Surprisingly, polling suggests that such a position could resonate somewhat with the Republican base, despite it diverging from the views of evangelicals and certain GOP donors.


Can Haley make significant progress?

The issue of Israel could become a dominant topic, particularly with the Republican Jewish Coalition as an event co-sponsor.


Haley is gaining attention in Iowa and New Hampshire, but she has yet to establish herself as the clear alternative to Trump.


As the former governor of South Carolina, Haley possesses more foreign policy experience than anyone else on stage. This has been evident in previous debates, especially during clashes with Ramaswamy regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, her preference for a robust foreign policy may resonate even more strongly in discussions about Israel.


Nevertheless, it remains uncertain whether one issue alone will be enough to convince both donors and voters to rally behind Haley as the definitive alternative to Trump. DeSantis and others are also making similar pitches.


Is DeSantis heading toward a fiasco like 'small hands'?

The longer it takes for Republicans to coalesce around a single alternative to Trump, the tighter Trump's grip on the nomination becomes. It's hard to forget Marco Rubio's ill-fated attempt to take down Trump by mocking his manhood during the 2016 presidential primary debate.


DeSantis may be attempting to lay the groundwork for a similar strategy.

However, as history has shown, this did not end well for Rubio. He was forced to suspend his presidential campaign less than two weeks after making comments about Trump's hands on the debate stage.

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