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Candidates competing for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will meet for a third debate in Miami tonight. NBC News will host the debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which will air from 8 to 10 p.m. ET.
This is the smallest list of candidates on stage yet. Only five candidates met the Republican National Committee’s eligibility rules this time: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, US Sen. Tim Scott and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who was in the first two debates, did not qualify this time. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who appeared in the first debate, has not qualified for these last two events. And former Vice President Mike Pence is not on stage tonight as he recently dropped out of the 2024 presidential race.
This is also the third debate in which the party’s front-runner for the nomination, former President Donald Trump, is not present.
As in the last two debates, Trump is doing some counterprogramming. He holds a convention in nearby Hialeah, Fla.
Strongly supports Israel
This is the first debate since Israel was attacked by Hamas on October 7. Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, questioned the candidates about the Israel-Hamas conflict as well as anti-Semitism in the United States
Ahead of the debate, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said she expected the candidates to reaffirm the Republican Party’s unwavering support for Israel. That was the case with all five candidates. Additionally, on the college issue, several candidates criticized college students and administrators for anti-Semitism that some Jewish students have faced on campus. These responses were not just about Israel and Palestine; they also continued a lengthy narrative. Long before the attacks on Israel, higher education was one of the main targets of the Republican culture war.
Candidates filed their cases against Trump
The debate started with a simple question posed to all five candidates on stage: Why should you be nominated instead of Trump?
The candidates gave a range of answers. DeSantis and Scott both made some sort of electability argument. Invoking the Trump quote that Republicans would be “tired of winning” if he was elected president, DeSantis said he was “tired of losing.” DeSantis pointed to Tuesday night’s election, where Republicans largely did poorly, then said he knows how to win.
For his part, Scott argued that he could bring in independents and voters of color if nominated — voters the GOP has struggled to bring in in recent years.
But the candidates should be aware that Trump remains popular in the party. Haley was careful not to slam Trump too hard: “Trump was the right president at the right time,” she said. “I don’t think he’s the right president right now.” She said she could boost the economy for people who are struggling.
Christie said the nation needs a serious leader amid war in the Middle East and Ukraine.
And then there was Ramaswamy, who switched from responding to attacking the moderators because, in his mind, they were too liberal. Arguing that Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk should moderate the debate, Ramaswamy claimed (falsely) that the media “rigged the 2020 election.”