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Here are some of the memorable moments in the third GOP presidential debate

Republican presidential candidates former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott participate in the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Thursday in Miami.
Joe Raedle
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Republican presidential candidates former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott participate in the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Thursday in Miami.

Updated November 8, 2023 at 10:37 PM ET

Viewers of the third 2024 Republican presidential primary debate in Miami Wednesday night may have noticed some differences from past debates.

Most notably, it was the smallest slate of candidates onstage yet. Just five candidates met the Republican National Committee's qualifying rules this time around: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who was in the first two debates, did not qualify. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who appeared in the first debate, didn't qualify either. And former Vice President Mike Pence recently dropped out of the 2024 presidential race.

But as with the prior two debates, one particular absence stood out: Donald Trump once again didn't participate, holding a rally in nearby Hialeah, Fla.

And while candidates answered questions on foreign policy and economics, another big question loomed over them: Why should Republicans choose them over Trump, who has a commanding lead in many polls?

These are some of the highlights of the non-Trump GOP candidates' latest appeals to voters.

Big question, few answers on abortion politics

Abortion rights advocates had a good night the night before the debate, passing an Ohio ballot measure to codify the right to an abortion in the state's constitution. In Virginia's elections, the issue is also considered a big reason why Democrats won both state legislature houses.

Tonight, moderators asked the candidates what the "path forward" on abortion is for the party, given that abortion rights have been popular even in red states like Kentucky and Kansas.

Answers were rare. Candidates reiterated their anti-abortion-rights stances and debated whether or not they support a federal abortion ban. But there was little attempt to address whether — and how — the Republican party might need to shift its stance or rhetoric on the topic. DeSantis offered only that abortion rights opponents "gotta do a better job on these referenda."

Ramaswamy, for his part, said he wants there to be more "sexual responsibility for men." He didn't get into detail on the debate stage, but this week, he told CNN's Kaitlin Collins that he wants to "put more of a burden, financially and otherwise, on the father when it's a confirmed paternity test."

A split over Social Security

Moderators asked candidates to weigh in on how to keep Social Security solvent, and there was genuine disagreement. Christie and Haley, for example, argued for means testing the program and raising the retirement age, though they wouldn't specify what the ideal age would be.

Scott, meanwhile, said he wouldn't raise the age, arguing that to do so would be unfair to people with particularly physical jobs, like farmers.

"You're just scum."

Ramaswamy attacked Haley repeatedly throughout the debate, but he finally seemed to cross a line halfway through, when he brought Haley's adult daughter into his attacks.

The moderators asked the candidates what they would do about Chinese-owned Tiktok, amid worries about the app collecting data, as well as allegations that the company is promoting antisemitic posts in the hopes of dividing America.

When Ramaswamy was asked about his TikTok use in campaigning, he claimed that Haley's adult daughter has used TikTok: "You might want to take care of your family first," he said.

"Leave my daughter out of your voice," she shot back, clearly angry. When Ramaswamy continued talking, she added: "You're just scum."

The exchange echoed one from the last debate, when – again in response to a question about TikTok – Haley and Ramaswamy clashed, culminating in Haley telling him, "Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber."

Staunchly backing Israel

This is the first debate since Israel was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7. Matthew Brooks, CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, posed questions to the candidates about the Israel-Hamas conflict, as well as antisemitism in the U.S.

Prior to the debate, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said she expected the candidates would reaffirm the Republican Party's unwavering support of Israel. That was the case with all five candidates. In addition, on the college question, multiple candidates slammed college students and administrators for antisemitism some Jewish students have faced on campus. These answers were not only about Israel and Palestinians; they also continued a long-standing narrative. Well before the attacks on Israel, higher education was one of the main targets of the Republican culture war.

Candidates made their cases against Trump

The debate kicked off with a simple question posed to all five candidates on stage, in turn: Why should you be nominated instead of Trump?

The candidates gave an array of answers. DeSantis and Scott both made some form of electability argument. DeSantis invoked the Trump quote that Republicans would get "tired of winning" if he was elected president, saying that he was "tired of losing." DeSantis pointed to Tuesday night's elections, in which Republicans largely fared poorly, then said that he knows how to win.

For his part, Scott argued he could bring in independents and voters of color if nominated — voters that the GOP has struggled to bring in in recent years.

But candidates had to be mindful that Trump remains popular in the party. Haley was careful not to slam Trump too hard: "Trump was the right president at the right time," she said. "I don't think he's the right president right now." She made the case that she could boost the economy for people who are struggling.

Christie made the case that amid war in the Middle East and Ukraine, the nation needs a serious leader.

And then there was Ramaswamy, who pivoted from answering to attacking the moderators for being, in his mind, too liberal. Ramaswamy argued that Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk should be moderating the debate, and claimed (falsely) that the media "rigged the 2020 election."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
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