The Republicans will debate again without Trump

Flipping Switches for a Cause: Ms. Haley, Mr. DeSantis, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy

There is a hundred switches that need to be flipped in order to win. If a group of Republicans support Mr. Trump in an even split, the race for the G.O.P. nomination could turn brutal, and Mr. Trump could become enraged. Survivors of such moments have been rare, but for those who do, like Brian Kemp, the Georgia governor, survival becomes a position of strength. People might forget that Ms. Haley had early campaigns in favor of her easy relationship with Mr. Trump.

She is gaining in the places that matter. And she is running the campaign she’s run before: hard-core conservative on fiscal matters and immigration, kitchen-table pragmatic on basically everything else. A plaintive quality in Ms. Haley’s voice joins up well with the grim statistics she shares about kids’ reading and math proficiency post-pandemic, and about what happens to veterans after they come home. She spends a good deal of time talking about U.S. support for Ukraine (and Israel) as bulwarks against further deterioration of the world order, while also outlining a hawkish “peace through strength” approach toward China.

Just five candidates — Gov. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy — will take the stage for the third Republican presidential debate in Miami on Wednesday.

The strategists of the candidates who qualified for the Republican National Committee rules will likely be altered by the changes in the landscape.

Of the three undercards, Mr. Scott is, in the view of Republicans, the only one who seems to have much chance of breaking through. He has been outmaneuvered by other opponents, and it’s likely that this debate will focus on Ms. Haley and Mr.

At the first two debates, Mr. DeSantis played the front-runner, attacking his opponents only when he was hit first. That might not work anymore as he is under increasing pressure to slow Ms. Haley’s rise in the polls and reassure voters who may have come to question his political agility and strength as a general election candidate.

This has not been an easy stretch for Mr. DeSantis, in no small part because of the attacks from Mr. Trump on everything from his foreign policy credentials to his height. The governor of Florida won another term last year in a romp. He got the support of Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa. Mr. DeSantis has staked his bid on winning the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“What do you attack?” He spoke about it in an interview. “If he says something which I think is worthy of being responded to, I’ll respond to it. But I’ve now spent four hours on the debate stage with him, and I haven’t heard him say one thing worthy of being responded to.”

The GOP Debate on Foreign Policy and the Ukraine Problem: What Does Mr. Trump Really Need to Say next-to-Leading Order?

Foreign policy, with some noteworthy exceptions over the years, has not proved determinative in presidential nominating contests. The debate on Wednesday is likely to focus on the war in Ukraine, and the bloodshed in the Middle East.

The question of U.S. assistance to Ukraine has divided the Republican Party, and could display clear differences among the candidates over whether they would follow Mr. Trump’s isolationist, populist path. The candidates are likely to be pressed on whether they back House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first major proposal — a plan to tie money for Ukraine to a border bill unpopular with Democrats.

The Republican Party is more unified in support of Israel than the Democratic Party is, which has caused some to criticize Mr. Trump.

At the Republican Jewish Coalition gathering last month, Ms. Haley, who has more experience in foreign policy than her rivals on the stage, attacked Mr. Trump for calling Hezbollah “very smart” and describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as weak days after the deadly attack by Hamas on Israeli settlers.

In the first debate Mr. Ramaswamy seemed to be a good debater, but he became a target after the second debate. As he registers in the single-digits in many polls, he does not loom as a major force in the race going into tonight. And Mr. Christie could hardly be more out of step with much of the Republican Party with his relentless attacks on Mr. Trump: He is routinely booed at Republican events.

One major question is how many people will even be watching. Viewership dropped to just under 10 million in the second debate from 12 million in the first debate. Unless Mr. Trump makes a dramatic last-minute appearance on the stage, that seems unlikely to change.

Given Mr. Trumps dominance, the waning audience is not a surprise. With Mr. Trump enjoying wide leads over the rest of the Republican field in most polls, the race can feel like it’s over before a single vote is cast — even though large swaths of Republicans have said they are at least open to nominating someone other than Mr. Trump.

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