Republican TV duel: It’s no longer about who can beat Trump

Five Republicans tried to present themselves as a Trump alternative at the third TV debate in Miami. The question has long been whether the ex-president will ask one of them to be at his side.

Donald Trump has never been so close to his competition: When the former US President came on stage in Hialeah in South Florida on Wednesday evening, around 5,000 supporters cheered him on. At the same time in Miami, four men and a woman are trying to explain why they would be the better alternative to Trump in the upcoming election campaign – and all this less than 30 minutes away from Trump’s rally. But two months before the first primary election in Iowa, it’s no longer about who can beat Trump. The question is: Who suits Trump?

At the third meeting of the Republican presidential candidates, the moderators initially focused on international politics: Israel, Ukraine, China. Domestic political issues – abortion, pensions, border protection – followed in the second half. And while the five candidates competed against each other, Donald Trump made fun of the fact that they were still debating at his rival event. Depending on the state and the poll, the ex-president is 30 to 50 percentage points ahead of his challengers. The hope of some that the many indictments and trials could harm Trump was deceptive. The Republicans are likely to go into the next election with him again.

So why are the five of them still standing there doing this to each other? Some may hope that Trump could choose her as his running mate. Others are already thinking about the election after next. Because regardless of whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins, neither of them could run again in 2028. Anyone who achieves respectable results next year and takes a good second place will immediately be put on the list for the election campaign in four years.

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, especially needs such a long-term plan. He was once a close ally of Trump. Now hardly a day goes by when the ex-president doesn’t make fun of his former protégé. Political observers believe it is almost impossible that Trump could ask DeSantis to join him in the election campaign against Joe Biden. And that’s why DeSantis is now trying to stay in the race as long as possible and be remembered as a decent Republican.

For DeSantis, it’s about the 2028 election instead of Trump

At the debate in Miami, he tried out pithy sayings. “I would tell Bibi,” DeSantis said to Netanyahu, “finish the job, once and for all.” Israel should destroy Hamas, DeSantis rejects calls for a ceasefire. He also emphasized again that the Europeans would have to find a solution to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine without American help and that no cuts in pensions would be expected with him at the helm of the state. DeSantis represents Donald Trump’s positions almost identically. And he hopes that this will make him the new leader of the Republicans when the ex-president is eventually history.

The situation is different for Nikki Haley, who served as UN ambassador in New York during Trump’s first presidency. Her former boss also makes fun of Haley at his rallies. The relationship between the two is tense, but is not considered to be completely broken. In the polls she is now in third place behind Trump and DeSantis. The better Haley does in the primaries, the more Trump will think about bringing her onto his team.

Haley could help the ex-president appeal to female voters in particular. During the TV debate, she appeared to be a pragmatist on the abortion issue: “As much as I am pro-life, I don’t judge anyone who is pro-choice. And I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life am.” Many of her male competitors advocate a national ban on abortion after a certain number of weeks. Haley knows that the Republicans will not achieve the necessary 60 percent majority in the Senate. She therefore suggests banning late-term abortions and providing better support for adoptions. She would probably quickly agree with Trump on the subject. The ex-president is not considered a hardliner on abortion issues.

Haley calls competitors ‘scum’

Things are likely to become much more difficult between the two in Ukraine politics. Trump wants to stop military aid to the country, Haley is convinced that it is in the US national interest to support Ukraine. In the television debates she repeatedly clashed with Vivek Ramaswamy about this. The 38-year-old entrepreneur presents himself as a younger and more extreme version of Trump. In Miami he advocated building a wall not only to Mexico, but also to Canada. Not even Trump has come up with this idea yet. After a temporary high, Ramaswamy is falling back in the polls. Many people now doubt whether he could really help Trump.

There was a memorable scene between Ramaswamy and Haley during the TV debate. She criticized him for campaigning on TikTok. The Chinese platform is frowned upon by Republicans. Ramaswamy referred to Haley’s daughter, who is said to have once used TikTok herself. “Keep my daughter out of this,” the former ambassador replied, before finally calling Ramaswamy “scum.”

The moment was widely discussed on television and on social networks afterwards. He gives Haley and Ramaswamy attention – that is the currency in which Donald Trump thinks.