Fourth Republican debate sees candidates trade barbs; Nikki Haley a top target of rivals

DeSantis put up a stronger performance than at some of his past debates

US-FOURTH-REPUBLICAN-PRESIDENTIAL-DEBATE-HELD-IN-TUSCALOOSA,-ALA Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama | AFP

The fourth Republican debate held just 40 days before the voting at the Iowa caucuses, saw candidates trade barbs at each other's political lives, with Nikki Haley taking in most of the brunt, a reflection of her rise over the last several weeks.

In former President Donald Trump's absence, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie went after one another. DeSantis kicked off the debate by aiming at Haley in his bid to become an alternative to Trump.

DeSantis, followed by Ramaswamy, attacked Haley over transgender issues, her China policy and for accepting funds from some donors like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. "Nikki will cave to those big donors when it counts," said DeSantis. "She caves any time the left comes after her," DeSantis said as he slammed her record. "Any time the media comes after her."

Ramaswamy too joined the attack, flaying Haley for her hawkish approach towards national security. He called her "more fascist" than President Joe Biden's administration. Later in the debate, Ramaswamy held up his notepad on which he had written "Nikki = Corrupt."

Haley shot back: "They’re just jealous of my new donors. They wish they were supporting them."

However, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Haley's defence as Ramaswamy attacked her for her foreign policy chops. "We disagree about some issues, and we disagree about who should be president of the United States, but we don’t disagree on this: This is a smart accomplished woman," Christie said.

But, Christie was scathing in his attack of DeSantis, painting him as someone unwilling to answer basic questions. He was referring to DeSantis sidestepping direct questions repeatedly about sending US military to Gaza to secure hostages or shooting suspected drug dealers as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Ron gets asked a question, and he doesn’t answer it," he said. "When you're president of the United States, you're not going to have a choice whether to answer that question or not. ... You can't give a 90-second speech about your military service."

Christie didn't spare Ramaswamy either. "You would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America," he told Ramaswamy.

Christie was also probably the one who took on frontrunner Trump. Comparing Trump, in a Harry Potter reference, to the evil wizard  Voldemort, Christine said his on-stage rivals were too scared to say Trump's name out loud and make a robust case against his re-election. 

Despite his absence, Trump continued to shine in the fourth debate too. The former President is currently leading by more than 40 percentage points in most opinion polls. His campaign released a new advertisement during the debate portraying Biden as weak, signalling he is focused on the general election and not his Republican rivals. 

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