The big winner of the GOP primary debate in Miami on Wednesday was consolidation. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis showed exactly why they are head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in polling as they came out swinging at the absent frontrunner, Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump is missing in action. He should be here on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record,” DeSantis said in his first answer, posing a series of questions to Trump and attacking him by name more aggressively than in past debates.
Haley’s tone on Trump was slightly softer: “He was the right president at the right time. I don’t think he’s the right president now,” she said.
Haley once again mixed it up with Vivek Ramaswamy, who accused her of being “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels.”
“I’d first like to say they’re 5-inch heels, and I don’t wear them unless you can run in them,” Haley shot back.
The two also sparred after Ramaswamy brought Haley’s adult daughter into a discussion about TikTok, accusing Haley of hypocrisy as she preaches the dangers of the Chinese social media app.
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” she said, before following up with, “You’re just scum.”
But she reserved her substantive attacks for DeSantis, whom she accused of running an “economic development agency that as of last week said Florida is the ideal place for Chinese businesses.”
DeSantis retorted that he “abolished that agency.”
The two also sparred on fracking and drilling in Florida, with Haley telling DeSantis to “own it” if he’s a “liberal on the environment.”
“We’re absolutely going to frack, but I disagree with Nikki Haley. I don’t think it’s a good idea to drill in the Florida Everglades, and I know most Floridians agree with me,” DeSantis replied.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Chris Christie or Sen. Tim Scott. There’s a reason for that.
Aside from Ramaswamy’s gadfly routine, which is sending his unfavorable numbers up daily, nothing punctured what almost looked like a head-to-head debate between the two figures with the best chance to contest Trump.
Haley and DeSantis continue to battle it out for that second-place position as Christie and Scott fall. Their rhetoric matched their polls on Wednesday, falling flat in the room. Christie made an argument he’s a uniter and a truth-teller. He and Haley notably took on entitlements and the idea of adjustments to the retirement age, differentiating themselves from Trump.
Scott went to his life story again, but it just isn’t the punchy tack that makes debate headlines. If the next debate subtracted everyone but Haley and DeSantis and added Trump, voters would be well-served.