For two hours, five Republican presidential candidates sparred in a debate dominated by foreign policy questions, that at times descended into personal attacks.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in particular, found herself both serving and receiving attacks from rivals, most notably businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
The Nov. 8 Miami event competed against a rally by former President Donald J. Trump just a few miles away in Hialeah, Florida.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the event:
Foreign Policy Often Dominates; Haley Calls Ramaswamy ‘Scum’
“Given the critical issues we’re facing specifically on the world stage, we want everyone to hear every word you have to say,” moderator Lester Holt of NBC said in his introduction ahead of the debate.
The broadcast did not disappoint in that regard, as moderators and speakers delved into the United States’ relationship with Israel, Ukraine, Venezuela, Taiwan, Iran, and other countries.
In particular, the debate allowed Mr. Ramaswamy to further differentiate himself from the competition, particularly Ms. Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
He clashed with the former South Carolina governor over Israel and Ukraine. He also dubbed Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.”
Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis talked over each other while discussing South Carolina’s relationship with China during Ms. Haley’s time as governor. New reporting from ABC suggests that her state was a major draw for Chinese investment while she was in office.
Mr. DeSantis said he would build a wall on the southern border of the United States “like Donald Trump promised.” As he and others have in the past, he discussed military responses to the powerful drug cartels at the heart of human and drug tracking across the southern border—measures that would necessarily entangle the governments of the United States and Mexico.
One of the ugliest moments of the night centered on foreign policy.
In one memorable exchange, Mr. Ramaswamy and Ms. Haley clashed over TikTok, a social media app with link to China’s communist regime. He has come under fire for using it as a campaign tool to target young voters.
“How do you get TikTok banned if you use it?” moderator Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host, asked the candidate.
Mr. Ramaswamy pointed out that Ms. Haley’s daughter has used the app.
“You might want to take care of your family first,” he told her.
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Ms. Haley replied.
“You’re just scum,” she added as Mr. Ramaswamy continued speaking.
Candidates Talked Trump—Yet Nothing Took Him Down
The candidates discussed the elephant in the room—President Trump—in response to the first question of the debate, which concerned why Republican voters should drop their favored candidate for any of the five debaters in Miami.
“He [Trump] owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance,” Mr. DeSantis said, pointing out that debt piled up under President Trump’s leadership.
Ms. Haley made spending during the Trump administration an even bigger focus of her answer. She accused President Trump of “getting weak in the knees” on foreign policy.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was, not unexpectedly, sharply critical of the previous Republican commander-in-chief.
“Anybody who’s going to be spending the next year-and-a-half of their life focusing on keeping themselves out of jail and courtrooms cannot lead this party or this country,” he said.
Mr. Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) deflected the question in their own ways.
The businessman used his time to criticize the media and Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Mr. Scott, often discussed as a possible vice-presidential pick, didn’t criticize President Trump in strong terms either. The African-American lawmaker instead appealed to his ability to “solidify and attract independent voters into our party,” specifically citing Hispanic and black Americans who have not flocked to the Republican Party in the past.
Yet, for all the Trump talk in Miami, nothing that happened there seemed to make much of a dent in the leading candidate’s rise among Republicans.
From Hialeah, where President Trump held his rally, Kari Lake of Arizona summarized the feeling among many who support the former president.
“These are vanity projects. They don’t have a chance,” she told The Epoch Times, referring to the other campaigns.
Ms. Lake argued that Republicans part ways with each other on a very small number of issues—“the five percent that we don’t agree on.”
She urged her fellow GOPers to “save our country—and then we can argue and make deals and debate over that five percent.”
A Disciplined Debate
This debate was more disciplined than previous ones this cycle, particularly the second one that took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Moderators Mr. Holt and Kristen Welker, of NBC, and Mr. Hewitt, of the Salem Radio Network, kept things on track, preventing various speakers from talking out of turn under most circumstances.
In addition, while some conservatives feared the hosts would ask overtly partisan questions, the tone was relatively even-handed. Of course, the two NBC moderators were paired with Mr. Hewitt, a conservative talk show host. That may have kept things in a better balance, along with warnings beforehand from prominent conservatives.
At the beginning of the night, Mr. Holt laid out the ground rules, noting his and his colleagues’ discretion when it came to permitting responses and the fact that repeated interruptions could end up being penalized.
“If you talk over each other, the voters can’t hear you,” Mr. Holt pointed out.
While some candidates may not have gotten in as many detailed responses as they would have liked, the ultimate outcome was a less chaotic conversation—though still one lacking the main Republican hopeful, President Trump.
“We should unite behind President Trump and focus on beating Joe Biden,” Jason Miller, a senior advisor to President Trump, told The Epoch Times after the debate.
The three moderators in Miami were only contending with five debaters—Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Haley, Mr. Ramaswamy, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Christie.
That’s easier than corralling the lesser figures that Alan Schroeder, an emeritus journalism professor at Northeastern University, described as “fringe contenders” who “compete desperately for attention” in an interview with The Epoch Times.
On the flip side, an NBC producer silenced the crowd’s chant of “Trump!” during the debate, according to widely circulated clips on social media.
For his part, Mr. Ramaswamy used his opening question to turn the tables on the moderators, asking them about media bias.
“The Trump-Russia collusion hoax that you pushed on this network for years—was that real?” Mr. Ramaswamy asked.
Mr. Ramaswamy suggested that Elon Musk, Tucker Carlson, and Joe Rogan should have been moderators rather than the media figures who sat before him.
Janice Hisile contributed to the report.