Key takeaways from the third Republican debate

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Giselle Balido

November 9, 2023

With the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses approaching, there was no shortage of confrontations on stage as the participants debated the future of abortion rights and the elephant in the room: no-show Trump.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As they battle to emerge as a clear alternative to former President Donald Trump, five Republican presidential candidates gathered Wednesday for the party’s latest debate.

Trump, the overwhelming front-runner in the race, skipped the event, as he has the first two, citing his polling advantage. Instead, Trump held a rally in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, a community with a strong Cuban American population where Trump criticized President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on Cuba and accused Biden and the Democrats of going “after Catholics,” failing to add that Biden himself is Catholic.

Here are some debate takeaways:

A path forward on abortion

Republicans have had no answers on abortion ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In election after election, including several this week, Democrats have run on abortion rights and won.

On Wednesday night, Haley, the only woman onstage, tried to give her party a path forward for navigating the delicate political issue.

“I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” she said, suggesting that she respected the decisions of states to protect abortion rights even if she didn’t agree with them.

And she made clear that the next Republican president would not be in position to institute a national ban on abortion without 60 votes in the Senate, which isn’t anywhere close to the horizon. Instead, she suggested Republicans in Washington work for what could be achievable: a ban on late-term abortions (which make up fewer than 1% of abortions and usually occur due to fetal anomalies or danger to the pregnant woman’s health), policies that encourage adoption, and increased accessibility of contraception.

For his part, DeSantis embraced a favored (and inaccurate) right-wing talking point, attacking Democrats for supporting abortions without any time restrictions. Echoing the criticism, Scott said it was “unethical and immoral” to allow abortions up to the day of birth. In reality, 99% of all abortions take place before 20 weeks, “abortions up to the day of birth” are virtually nonexistent, and most Democrats support restoring the Roe standard, which allowed abortion until fetal viability (usually around 23-24 weeks).

DeSantis lashes out

There was hardly a robust takedown of Trump, who remains popular among the GOP base and hosted a rival event Wednesday. But DeSantis was the most forceful.

“Donald Trump’s a lot different guy than he was in 2016,” he said, declaring that Trump owed it to Republican primary voters to show up and explain his record.

The Florida governor called out Trump for boasting during his 2016 presidential campaign that “Republicans were gonna get tired of winning.” He also blasted the former president for skipping Wednesday’s debate, his failure to make Mexico pay for a border wall, and the additional national debt –which increased by $7.8 trillion under his presidency.

“I’m sick of Republicans losing in Florida,” DeSantis said when asked by NBC moderator Lester Holt why the candidates should be nominated instead of Trump.

DeSantis also criticized Haley for recruiting a Chinese fiberglass company to come to her state during her tenure as governor, claiming that she “welcomed them into South Carolina, gave them land near a military base, wrote the Chinese ambassador a love letter, saying what a great friend they were.” 

Ramaswamy said DeSantis was “correct” to point out Haley’s previous support of Chinese investment, but then criticized him over ties to a donor who lobbied on behalf of Chinese investment in the US. DeSantis denied Ramaswamy’s assertions.

Once thought to be a formidable challenger for Trump, DeSantis’ campaign has been floundering in the past several months, with poll numbers shrinking dramatically and donors abandoning him as he struggles to hold onto a second place in the race against Haley.

Additional reporting by Giselle Balido


  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.


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