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Who won the Republican presidential debate? Haley was the target, but how did she do? | Opinion

Maybe it’s a holiday blessing, but Wednesday brought the last Republican presidential debate before the new year, at least. Frontrunner Donald Trump, of course, didn’t show. How did those trying to catch him do?

WINNERS

Donald Trump: He came in for plenty of criticism, but really, this debate was four candidates arguing for a distant second place. Nothing that happened Wednesday night imperils his commanding lead in the GOP race.

Newsnation: The little-known network featured a panel of three strong female journalists — Megyn Kelly, Eliana Johnson and Elizabeth Vargas — as moderators. This setup is a first for any of the Republican debates. All three did a good job maintaining order, without any annoying extraneous devices or sounds. They asked thorough questions, even if they were similar in theme to the previous debates.

Chris Christie: He has no chance to actually become the Republican nominee, but kudos to him for being the first candidate within the first hour to slam Donald Trump for his absence during the debates and for “being unfit” to be president again. He called Trump “Voldemort” and “a dictator, a bully.” It won’t make much difference, but he deserves points for honesty.

Nikki Haley: The former United Nations ambassador has risen in the polls enough to be neck-to-neck with Ron DeSantis, further than most predicted she’d get. While she didn’t say much we hadn’t already heard in previous debates, her decision not to respond to Vivek Ramaswamy’s sarcastic remarks showed unusual but impressive self-restraint.

From left: Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Dec. 6.
From left: Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Dec. 6.

LOSERS

Ron DeSantis: He’s solid on every issue that matters to Republicans, but he never finds a way to differentiate himself from Trump. In every debate, his failed strategy is on display — appeal to Trump voters but find no way to distinguish himself from the man himself.

Vivek Ramaswany: There were so many terrible moments. But the richest of all was when Ramaswamy, who has campaigned as a Trump fanboy, had the gall to criticize his opponents for sucking up to Trump. He has no standards and no shame. Christie called him “’the most obnoxious blowhard in America” and on this, we agree.

China: From COVID to trade to Taiwan, each of the candidates took after America’s biggest strategic rival. Dealing with China as president will be much more complicated, but each seems to recognize the real threat.

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