Four takeaways from the fourth Republican debate: Haley is the target, Vivek is a conspiracy theorist, and no-one wants to dunk on Trump except Christie

1ee-b7b6-4f35a6ab2a39" rel="noopener">Donald Trump was the winner simply by staying away and the nation gave a collective yawn as the fourth Republican debate failed to trouble the upper reaches of the TV ratings.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Wednesday’s showdown in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was the same as the rest: Republican hopefuls slam each other without any of them doing enough to have a breakout moment.

But with the smallest debate field so far and coming 40 days before Iowa‘s pivotal caucuses, it was one of the last, best chances to showcase policy beliefs.

And there was, at times, as much light as heat. 

These are the takeaways from the fourth Republican debate:

And then there were four. Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy took the stage for the fourth Republican presidential debate in Alabama Wednesday

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endured a night of attacks, signaling that she was seen as the most dangerous candidate on stage by her rivals

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley endured a night of attacks, signaling that she was seen as the most dangerous candidate on stage by her rivals 

Haley is seen as the clear danger 

Not because she had a good night (although she did) but because for stretches of the night the former governor of South Carolina was the main focus of attack, particularly from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

‘I love all the attention, fellas, thank you for that,’ she said.

DeSantis accused Haley of not supporting a ban on gender-affirming medical care for young people and opposing bathroom laws when she was governor, both of which she denied. 

And he questioned whether she would act in the best interests of ordinary Americans or Wall Street donors.

‘We know from her history Nikki will cave to those big donors when it counts and that is not acceptable,’ DeSantis said. 

Ramaswamy hit her even harder, also bringing up her support from big donors and her time on the board of Boeing Co., and suggesting that she was bankrupt when she left office.

‘It adds up the fact that you are corrupt,’ he said.

Haley was ready for that line of attack. 

‘And in terms of these donors that are supporting me, they’re just jealous,’ she told the audience. ‘They wish that they were supporting them.’ 

The attacks and her responses made her the focal point of the night, and her name led Google searches for the candidates for most of the night, according to the analytics service Google Trends. 

Democrats are not going to get help bringing down Trump

Another good night for former President Donald Trump, as most of his rivals tied themselves up in knots what asked about the frontrunner for the Republican nomination

Another good night for former President Donald Trump, as most of his rivals tied themselves up in knots what asked about the frontrunner for the Republican nomination

Democrat strategists have been hoping for a messy Republican primary, with rivals ganging up on each other to leave the eventual nominee weakened.

Just one problem: The power of Donald Trump means that three of the four people on stage on Wednesday steered clear of a full-frontal assault on the frontrunner for fear of alienating his base.

Chris Christie was the exception, as he has been throughout the race. He called Trump a ‘dictator and a bully.’

He also pointed out the reluctance of his rivals.

‘We’re 17 minutes into this debate and … we’ve had these three acting as if this race is between the four of us,’ he said before going on to describe how he was treated like ‘Voldemort’ in the Harry Potter tales, with everyone reluctant to say his name. 

He was booed later when he said Trump would be convicted, and his rivals greeted most of his comments with silence.

Haley at one point added her voice to the criticism, saying Trump had not been tough enough on China.

But moderators let them all off the hook, not returning to the subject until more than an hour into the debate.

Ramaswamy is a conspiracy theorist

Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy laid out a string of conspiracy theories

Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy laid out a string of conspiracy theories

The biotech entrepreneur has excited viewers throughout previous debates by being the loudest voice in the room and the most Trumpy of the candidates.

On Wednesday, he took things to the next level in what could after all be his last appearance on the national debate stage. 

He claimed that the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was an ‘inside job’ rather than an assault by Trump supporters – an idea propagated by the far right but widely debunked.

‘That the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11,’ he said, citing another conspiracy theory that lacks proof, before moving on to a theory that is popular on Fox News that Democrats are welcoming illegal ethnic minorities in order to retain their grip on power.

‘That the great replacement theory is not some grand right wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform.

‘That the 2020 election was indeed stolen by big tech, that the 2016 election, the one that Trump won, for sure, was also one that was stolen from him by the national security establishment in the Trump Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false.’

All of them are ideas put around dark corners of the internet but lack evidence. 

Christie thinks his rivals are idiots 

Christie had to wait for his moment, but for chunks of the night he dominated proceedings

Christie had to wait for his moment, but for chunks of the night he dominated proceedings

It took almost 14 minutes for the former New Jersey governor to be called on to speak.

‘I’m just usually not somebody who gets missed, but OK, let’s go,’ he said.

Up to that point he leaned on his lectern watching the three other candidates with a bemused look on his face.

And then he did go. He trained his fire on those around him, calling Ramaswamy ‘the most obnoxious blowhard in America.’

He laid into DeSantis, as the Florida governor danced around a question about whether Trump was fit to be president. ‘He doesn’t want to answer,’ said Christie, pointing out what everyone could see. 

The only person he didn’t savage was Haley. In fact he came to her defense — if only to better savage Ramaswamy who had called her intelligence into question.

‘All he knows how to do, all he knows how to do is insult good people,’ said Christie, before claiming to have known Haley for 12 years — longer that Ramaswamy has been a Republican.