Two Republicans tried to present themselves as the best alternative to the big favorite Donald Trump for the US presidential election, while sparing him, during a televised face-to-face on Wednesday evening less than a week before the start of the elections. primaries.
Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, well ahead of Donald Trump in the polls for the Republican nomination, were playing a bit of a game of double or nothing during this last debate before the choice of voters in Iowa, a small state where the stakes are high. .
But it quickly became apparent that they were mainly competing to be the former president’s heir apparent and not to be ahead of him. They thus avoided opportunities to criticize him.
Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor and die-hard conservative, set the tone from the start by calling Mme Haley from “slack-mouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear.”
“Donald Trump is running to defend his ideas. Nikki Haley is running to advocate for her donors. I am running to defend your interests and those of your family and to fix this country,” he continued, using one of his favorite campaign phrases.
Mme Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, denounced Mr. DeSantis’s spending spree and repeatedly referred viewers to a website dedicated to listing all of his opponent’s “lies.”
The two candidates spent a large part of the debate alternating between monologues and aggressively attacking their records and the policies carried out in their respective states.
Christie throws in the towel
Three hours before the opening of the debate, the only candidate who criticized Donald Trump bluntly, Chris Christie, announced that he was throwing in the towel. He was so low in the polls that he did not meet the criteria set by the party to participate in Wednesday’s debate.
“It is certain tonight that there is no path for me to win the nomination” of the Republican Party for the White House, “so tonight I am suspending my campaign for President of the United States,” Mr. Christie told his supporters from Windham, New Hampshire.
Former governor of New Jersey, the 61-year-old was once a supporter of Donald Trump but has since portrayed the billionaire as egocentric and dishonest.
Donald Trump once again chose to snub the debate, believing he had too big a lead and that he had nothing to gain by exposing himself to a possible barrage of criticism.
But he once again took care to organize counterprogramming, with a campaign event in the same city broadcast by the conservative channel Fox News while his two rivals debated on CNN.
Mr. DeSantis “would be working at a pizza place or maybe a law firm” without her career help, the former president said.
He also sought to allay fears that he would abandon the rule of law if he returned to the White House, saying he was “not going to be a dictator.” “I will manage like we did,” he added. “We were so successful that the country came together.”
According to poll aggregator RealClearPolitics, Trump leads the way in Iowa with 52.3% of voting intentions, far ahead of Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis each around 16%.
Nationally, the businessman is credited with 51.5%.
Springboard for Haley
His lead does not weaken despite the legal proceedings against him, the calendar of which is almost intertwined with that of the primaries. On the contrary, the tycoon has integrated indictments and trials into his campaign strategy, going so far as to use his mugshot on mugs and t-shirts.
On Tuesday, he was before the federal appeals court in Washington which is examining his request to benefit from criminal immunity as a former president. And on Thursday, he will again be before the New York court which is trying him in a civil case for suspicion of fraud in the management of the Trump Organization.
Once presented as a serious threat to Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis never managed to emerge.
So much so that he now finds himself trying to stay in contact with Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s rival with the most momentum, and his future almost necessarily involves a very solid result in Iowa.
For Nikki Haley, a good performance in Iowa would be an ideal springboard towards the next election, on January 23 in New Hampshire, where independent voters can vote for the Republican primaries. The latter could favor him more than Donald Trump, potentially tightening the race.