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Republican debate highlights: Candidates clash over Trump, China and Israel-Hamas

The debate featured only four candidates, the smallest stage of the cycle so far.

What to know about tonight's GOP debate:

  • Four candidates battled during tonight's fourth Republican presidential primary debate, the smallest stage of the cycle so far: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
  • Haley faced a deluge of attacks from her fellow candidates, although Christie vigorously defended her against Ramaswamy in one particularly fiery moment.
  • Former President Donald Trump, who is the front-runner in the polls, skipped the debate again. The candidates took a handful of shots at Trump's record and his absence.
  • The debate was hosted by NewsNation, “The Megyn Kelly Show” on SiriusXM and The Washington Free Beacon. It was moderated by Kelly, Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson and NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas.

Ramaswamy appears to have cribbed a line from Barack Obama — again. In the debate, he said, “We don’t have a health care system in this country; we have a sick care system.” That’s very similar to a line Obama liked to use during his presidency as he promoted the Affordable Care Act, though Obama might have borrowed it from another Democrat who used it even earlier, former Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

In the first GOP debate this year, Ramaswamy was accused of cribbing a different Obama line by calling himself a “skinny kid with a funny last name,” which is very similar to a famous line from Obama’s breakout Democratic convention speech in 2004, when he called himself a “skinny with a funny name.”

Ramaswamy had the most talking time. Christie had the least.

Ramaswamy spoke for the longest time during the debate, topping out at 21 minutes. Following Ramaswamy were DeSantis, who spoke for 20.05 minutes; Haley, who spoke for 17.7 minutes; and Christie, who spoke for 16.7 minutes.

DeSantis spoke the most frequently, 23 times. Haley was next, at 17. Ramaswamy spoke 16 times, and Christie spoke the least, at 14 times.

Biden campaign slams Republicans on health care policies

The Biden campaign slammed the Republicans' health care policy positions in a statement after the debate.

"Here’s a fact that conveniently didn’t come up on tonight’s debate stage: The Republicans running for president — led by Donald J. Trump — will make sure that the millions of Americans benefiting from lifesaving health care suffer if Republicans have their way and dismantle the ACA," campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said.

Munoz went on to criticize Republicans' positions on the Inflation Reduction Act, a signature part of Biden's economic agenda. He also provided a list of instances when the candidates criticized Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, by calling it "out of control" and "disastrous."

"For Joe Biden and Democrats, health care is a right. For Republicans, it’s a privilege," Munoz said.

Got to wonder if Haley was referring to DeSantis when she just said there would be no “drama” in her administration. DeSantis world has been deluged with internal drama in recent weeks.

After a debate of attacks, Haley is finally back on her usual stump speech — in substance, tone and cadence.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

A temperature check after the final commercial break:

Nathan Seal, 23, says of Ramaswamy: “It’s frustrating when he says such crazy things and such sensible things. So I don’t know how much to hate him.”

Christopher Ford, 22, has been impressed by Christie. “I think Chris Christie has taken the floor with a lot of it. He has shown he has clear stances and clear plans for if he were the president,” he said. “I think Vivek Ramaswamy has done a good job at explaining his stances and explaining his policies but has not done a good job at explaining how his policies would be implemented if he were in office."

After watching four debates, I'm surprised at Haley’s performance tonight, in which she has seemed less aggressive, choosing to ignore at times rather than fire back. Does “above the fray” work?

As the candidates answer the final question before closing statements, it appears this is the first debate at which Republicans were not asked about abortion, which is expected to be a major issue in the 2024 election. 

Even though Christie barely made it into this debate, this would’ve been a wildly different event tonight without him.

There are multiple TikTok ads about how great TikTok is during this debate — placed during an event at which the company would expect to be criticized by candidates onstage (and it has been).

Quite the juxtaposition of candidates slamming China and then cutting to commercial breaks filled with TikTok.

On "Meet The Press" last weekend, DeSantis said he’d announce a plan for health care that would “supersede” Obamacare.

He did not offer any specifics about what the plan would entail but said he would announce it “in the spring,” long after any of the early states vote in the primaries.

Congressional Democrats are eager for Republicans to make 2024 a referendum on health care and access. And when you look at the gains they made in 2018 after the Trump-era repeal-and-replace movement, for instance, it makes sense why.

Ramaswamy resumes his inability to answer a question without inserting a reference to Haley.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Vibe check after the third commercial break:

“I feel Vivek is very immature for holding up that sign,” said Travis Riccio, 18. “He wants to lead a country but shows his immaturity.”

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Travis Riccio.Emma Barnett / NBC News

“He’s definitely done his homework, Vivek. I think a lot of what he’s saying is very inappropriate,” said Nathan Seal, 23.

politics gop watch debate
Nathan Seal.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Gabriel Reynolds, 19, said, “Vivek Ramaswamy is a fascist — I am just going to put that out on the board right now.”

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Gabriel Reynolds.Emma Barnett / NBC News

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

Tim and Kristy Beckwith, of Ankeny, Iowa, aren’t convinced "ballot harvesting" — when a third party collects completed absentee ballots to turn them in — is as much of an issue in the country as DeSantis made it out to be.

"I’ve worked elections," Tim Beckwith said. "Counting the ballots is not the issue.

"There are other things that sway the elections that are more important than what they’re talking about,” he added, unconvinced that ballot harvesting needs to be addressed.

The Beckwiths, who usually decide whom they’ll caucus for much closer to the caucus date, made their decision early this cycle. They’re all in on Haley.

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Tim and Kristy Beckwith.Alex Tabet / NBC News

Our most recent national NBC News poll found bipartisan support for more funding and military aid for Taiwan as it faces a potential threat from China. Among Republican voters, 52% supported more aid to Taiwan, and 38% opposed it.

In Texas, six lawsuits were just filed against the 2023 constitutional amendment lowering property taxes and dedicating billions of dollars to parks, power plants and other items. The lawsuits claim voting machines were connected to the internet and compromised. Election workers and officials say that did not happen.

It’s a good example of how election misinformation may affect everyday people: delaying major savings in property taxes because the courts have to figure out the lawsuit before the election results become reality.

Phil Prazan is a politics reporter for NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Florida’s election integrity unit faced some challenges late last year. Many of the people charged with voting illegally in 2020 say they thought they were eligible to vote, despite past felony convictions, because the state had given them voter registration cards.

The Tampa Bay Times obtained this video of an arrest in which the accused was visibly confused.

It’s an interesting choice to have Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton asking questions at this debate.

He was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Georgia state case against Trump and allies, and he has promoted the false claim that the election was stolen from Trump. Fitton was called to testify before the Washington, D.C., grand jury investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

DeSantis took time to praise him personally for all the work he does in responding to a question from him.

While DeSantis did make changes to Florida’s election laws, most of the big changes came after the great “hanging chads” debacle of 2000. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush overhauled the way Florida conducted its elections to respond to valid criticisms then.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

After Ramaswamy held up his notepad, which said “Nikki = Corrupt,” Jaren Noorda, 19, said, “I appreciate Nikki Haley taking the high road and not responding to Ramaswamy.”

The biggest difference in this debate is DeSantis' taking a much, much harder line with Haley. Adding that element to Ramaswamy’s nonstop bashing of her, and she’s suddenly drowning in attacks. Almost every time she speaks, it’s to defend herself.

NBC News is watching the debate in Atlanta with Republican voters from DeKalb, Cobb and Fulton counties.

Ramaswamy’s “I don’t have a woman problem, you have a corruption problem” line to Haley got huge whoops at this party, with one voter shouting, “He went full Ross Perot!”

I don’t think I can remember a debate in recent history at which a candidate didn’t take the opportunity to respond to an attack until when Haley told Ramaswamy: "No, it’s not worth my time to respond to him.”

If Haley didn’t talk about being a woman, voters would still see she’s a woman. Ramaswamy's acting as if she’s playing identity politics is why Republican women have to tread much more carefully talking about who they are and how that informs their policy and political lives.

Haley usually brings much more “red meat” and typical anti-trans language on the campaign trail. She seemed softer on this issue tonight.

About what Christie did in New Jersey, according to GLAAD: In 2017 he “signed two bills instituting broad new protections for transgender New Jersey residents: one directing schools to let students use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity or provide ‘reasonable alternative arrangements,’ and another prohibiting health insurers from discriminating against transgender residents.” 

In 2015, he vetoed “a bill that would have eased access to accurate birth certificates for transgender people.”

“I’ve become almost a single-issue voter on what we’re doing to children in the trans lane,” Megyn Kelly was quoted saying in a RealClearPolitics article published last week previewing tonight's debate.

The first campaign fundraising email from Trump during the debate just dropped:

“With our historic 60-point lead and only 40 days to go until the FIRST VOTE of 2024 is cast, you’d think even the disloyal 'Republicans' (RINOs, as we like to call them) would have finally trained their fire on Crooked Joe.

"But no… as I’ve always said, you can never count on a special interest RINO to do what’s right.”

Trump added that while he is being attacked by RINO’s live on TV right now, recipients can show their support by donating in order to help him lock up the GOP nomination.

It's worth noting that Alabama has one of the strictest laws in the nation regarding gender-affirming care. In April 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law criminalizing gender-affirming care, making it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for doctors to treat people under 19 with puberty blockers or hormones to help affirm their gender identities.

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

Rachel Murdock, a 57-year-old moderate who is leaning toward caucusing for Haley in January, said she was surprised by the level of criticism directed toward Haley onstage tonight.

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Rachel Murdock.Alex Tabet / NBC News

“I was a little taken aback at the viciousness of the early attacks. But I guess it makes sense, because they’re being threatened by her,” she said.

Murdock added that she thinks DeSantis sounds stronger tonight but that she still doesn’t agree with his policy proposals.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Taking the temperature of the room during the second commercial break:

Nathan Seal, 23, criticized Ramaswamy, saying that “threatening to eliminate 75% of the federal government is very good for getting sound bites, but I really don’t see how that would help America.”

Seal also said he loves what DeSantis said about his idea to have university-backed loans. “That’s the kind of market market-aligned incentives that we need, and I would love to look more into that idea," he said.

Travis Riccio, 18, thinks DeSantis was really strong in this quarter. He said DeSantis “wants to shut down the southern border, stop fentanyl from coming in, which I think was one of the best things we can do.”

Riccio also said he liked that DeSantis was pro-blue-collar worker. "He really talked about truck drivers and people that really drive America. I think those people are really underappreciated in society," he said. "You don’t need a four-year degree to be successful; you can do anything to be successful.”

Christopher Ford, 22, said a strong moment in this quarter of the debate was Ramaswamy's “bringing up mental health and his reaction to the fentanyl crisis and the overall drug crisis that’s going on in America and how our failure abroad is affecting that domestic policy and how this is also stemming from a mental health crisis.”

However, Ford said the strongest moment was when DeSantis talked about education and how you don't need a four-year degree to get to “a great point in your life.”

Listening to Christie’s entire answer on transgender health care for children, it sounds pretty similar to how a Democrat would talk about abortion rights.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Nathan Seal, 23, said, “Republican debate moderators need mute capabilities. The candidates don’t respect the process or idea of a democratic-republic meritocracy.”

As he suggests Jan. 6 was an “inside job,” a reminder that Ramaswamy is also the candidate who got in trouble for suggesting 9/11 was an inside job.

Jan. 6 looks like it was an inside job? Wasn’t the person who was “inside” on Jan. 6, 2021, President Donald Trump?

Ramaswamy verified with production staff members onstage before the debate started which camera was “his.” Now we see why: lots of eye contact with the camera.

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

Dr. Gabe Conley, 30, of Des Moines, Iowa, is happy with the change of tenor of the debate.

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Dr. Gabe Conley.Alex Tabet / NBC News

“The second phase of the debate was all very reasoned; it was less of a food fight,” said Conley, who was happy with the recent lack of interruptions between the candidates. Conley, a physician, plans to caucus for Ramaswamy in January and says there’s a time and a place for kerfuffles between candidates.

“When it’s one v. one, like Vivek directly challenging Haley on knowing the provinces in Ukraine, I like that, because she should know the answer to that if she wants to send billions of dollars to Ukraine,” Conley added. Haley named the provinces during the debate, but it was drowned out by the bickering of other candidates.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Gabriel Reynolds, 19, says, “They refuse to target the root issues behind immigration which is poor economic conditions in those countries.” Reynolds added, “They are using economic and moral concerns to mask xenophobia.”

“Father Time is undefeated” is actually so bleak, though.

DeSantis is defending Trump, saying he wouldn’t be a dictator, by pointing out all the things Trump didn’t succeed in doing in his first term. That’s a remarkable position, essentially saying, "He didn’t build a wall, so I don’t think he will use the government to exact revenge."

It’s still stunning that Christie's criticizing Trump for multiple felony charges puts him out of step with the rest of the GOP, the "law and order" party.

Christie was booed for his attacks on Trump there.

It's notable that as we enter the second hour of this debate, Ramaswamy hasn’t slammed the Republican National Committee or its chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, yet. During the third GOP debate, Ramaswamy opened his remarks by attacking McDaniel. At an Alabama GOP event last night in Birmingham, he said he was likely to do it again tonight from the stage.

That question actually felt like a microcosm of what’s gone on in this race. A question designed to draw Haley into criticizing Trump, which she has been sometimes willing to do, instead becomes one for which she has to change the subject because she’s part of the policy in question — and DeSantis and Ramaswamy jump in to defend it. How does any of that make any of them more competitive with Trump? It doesn’t.

Christie appears to be the only current presidential candidate saying he would send U.S. troops to Israel

Christie said he would “absolutely” send American troops to Israel to “get our people home.” 

“If they had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely,” he said, “you’re damn right, I’d send the American Army in there to get our people home and get ’em home now, and I’ll answer that question directly.”

That appears to be an escalation in his rhetoric. He has previously said the U.S. must do “whatever it takes” to support Israel, and in the last debate, he said he would tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “America is here, no matter what it is you need.”

The comment also appears to separate him from his fellow candidates. Though North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum had said he would consider sending U.S troops into Israel, Burgum exited the race this week.

Haley can’t attack the Muslim ban. She was in the Trump administration when it was in place.

Moderators just teased the next topic: Trump. As Christie pointed out, the topic hasn’t come up much, despite both DeSantis' and Haley’s zeroing in on Trump more on the trail.

On Ramaswamy’s crypto plan: He announced his policy in Fort Worth, Texas, a few weeks ago at the North American Blockchain Summit.

Why Texas? Texas is the center of bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining in the country. It has actually been somewhat controversial during our hot summer, with Bitcoin miners using large amounts of energy when the grid is in a fragile position.

Phil Prazan is a politics reporter for NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Is this the longest anyone has spoken uninterrupted all debate?

And how many American voters know what Ethereum is?

This question feels like it was teed up for DeSantis — his answer about both parties racking up debt is straight out of his stump speech.

Even when the moderators drop a clean Trump attack opportunity in his lap, DeSantis won’t take it. Talking about “Republicans in D.C.” who share responsibility for inflation — which Republicans, Governor?

As Chicago reels from where to house migrants sent here — the discussion of whether or not to build a southern border wall has become an issue that was not a priority in 2020.

Mary Ann Ahern is a politics reporter for NBC Chicago.

Youth voters react to debate: Too many attacks

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Young voters’ reactions to the debate during the first commercial break:

Travis Riccio, 18, says so far he thinks Haley is doing the best. “She is defending herself against everyone. I think all the guys have been attacking her, besides Chris Christie.”

gop watch politics
Travis Riccio.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Chase Champine, 21, said, “They all seem to be attacking people, not their policy.”

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Chase Champine.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Valerie McDonnell, 19, said, “I don’t feel we have learned that much anything this debate.” McDonnell later added, “The only thing I’d say we learned so far is Chris Christie has a watch.”

politics gop debate watch watcher
Valerie McDonnell.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Christopher Ford, 22, said, “So far, the candidates have continued to fight each other on personal differences rather than political policy differences.”

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Christopher Ford.Emma Barnett / NBC News

On the trail, Haley talks about housing prices in personal terms — saying that she ran partly for president because her daughter struggled to buy a home and recently that the American dream is out of reach.

But it's worth nothing that her daughter is 25 years old — about half the age of the statistic she just used.

There’s been a lot of talk nationwide about how large cities are struggling to provide services for the thousands of migrants coming into the country. Let’s remember, Abbott launched Operation Lone Star to bus those migrants north to the big cities for other states to share the load of providing for migrants. Immigration courts are clogged, and many believe the immigration system is broken. a governor on the Southern border plays a huge role in deciding where those new people will be living while they’re being processed.

Haley has consistently turned the southern border debate into one involving China, which sends fentanyl ingredients. DeSantis uses that opportunity to hit Haley once again. It’s a wash over whom that exchange benefited as they both tangle over who had been more sympathetic to China as governor.

Candidates' calling out Trump for not building the border wall may have little impact on voters. NBC News was in McAllen, Texas, with Trump in November and spoke to residents and a border patrol agent who all said they “felt safer” under Trump and weren’t bothered by the lack of border wall sections put up by his administration.

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

Dennis McLaughlin, 56, of Pleasantville, is undecided about whom he’s caucusing for and is deciding between Haley and DeSantis. But the candidate who has impressed him the most tonight? Christie.

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Dennis McLaughlin.Alex Tabet / NBC News

“I liked the fact that he brought attention back to Trump, I’m frustrated how they’re going after each other,” said McLaughlin, an IT specialist.

“They should be talking about Voldemort,” he said, urging the other candidates to invoke Trump’s name directly like Christie has. “I really like Christie. I just wish he was relevant.”

Also here in Texas, lawmakers just approved Senate Bill 4. Once Gov. Greg Abbott signs it, which is expected, local and state police will be able to arrest and remove people they suspect crossed into Texas illegally.

Legislators here hope to avoid the precedent set by Arizona v. U.S. — which struck down a similar law — by focusing not on immigration status but on the physical act of crossing the Rio Grande. The author of the bill and local sheriffs told NBC Dallas-Fortorth they expect the law will be rarely enforced outside the border counties. Democrats fear it will lead to racial profiling. LULAC, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union have threatened legal action once Abbott signs it into law.

Ramaswamy is really trying to show off his foreign policy knowledge. In previous debates, he took hits from Haley — a former U.N. ambassador — for his lack of experience. He's tried to make up for that on the campaign trail by asking voters to question him on his foreign policy stances so that he can show what he knows.

Taking action on the southern border is a remarkably popular position among GOP voters. Our latest NBC News poll found 93% of GOP voters say they support “providing more funding for border security along the U.S. border with Mexico.” And 74% of all voters say they favor that, too. 

DeSantis brings up Trump’s failure to build the border wall — and having Mexico pay for it — without mentioning Trump. Last debate, he called out Trump by name for failing to build the wall.

DeSantis likes to say that he will Build the Wall™, unlike Trump, and has turned it into a joke on the stump, saying that if voters elect him president, he’ll keep Trump’s promises for him.

My goodness, DeSantis just said Al Qaeda members were walking around wearing “man dresses."

As we head to immigration and border security, a reminder that Texas has the longest border with Mexico out of the states. Many new migrants coming to America will come through Texas. The No. 1 issue for GOP primary voters is border security, followed by immigration. The latest “most important issue” poll from the UT/Texas Politics Project found that 36% of GOP voters have border security as their No. 1 issue; 22% have immigration. The next-closest was Covid, at 4%. Not even close.

In a heated exchange, Christie said he was serving the country while Ramaswamy was “running his smart-ass mouth at Harvard — and by the way, he was a Democrat.”

Christie is wrong that Ramaswamy was a Democrat at Harvard — he was a libertarian. But Christie is right that Ramaswamy was a self-described “contrarian” who loved to argue for the sake of argument.

At the end of the day, while those exchanges between Christie and Ramaswamy were definitely attention-grabbing, it was also a debate between two people at the very bottom: 2% and 4% (in today’s Monmouth poll).

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

There was laughter throughout the debate watch party when Ramaswamy took a dig at Christie for the Fort Lee lane closure scandal, or “Bridgegate."

The scandal is about a decade old and more than a thousand miles away from Des Moines — and the attack still lands with the audience.

Onstage tonight we’ve had one Republican call the front-runner a dictator and another call his rivals fascists.

Seriously, that has to be the first time in a GOP debate one Republican called another a “fascist.”

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Jaren Noorda, 19, says: “I love that Christie defended Haley; that was really kind. Not a fan of Ramaswamy and DeSantis ripping on the other candidates.”

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Jaren Noorda.Emma Barnett / NBC News

I think it was smart for the moderators to take a back seat and mostly let that heated exchange just flow. I feel like we got one of our most unvarnished looks yet at these four candidates just getting honestly angry and having it out.

Christie’s endorsement shook the GOP in 2016 — I remember, I was in the room! Does he still pack that same sway? And could he for Haley?

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Nathan Seal, 23, said it is clear that “Nikki is definitely the star of the show, so far.”

“Name recognition is big in politics, and Vivek and Ron don’t seem to understand that they’re helping her define herself,” he said. “Every time these men point their finger at her policy or history, she gets more time to speak to the American people.”

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Nathan Seal.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Seal also said that he liked her comments about service and that Ramaswamy’s point about her wealth did not come off well. "He’s rich and said she only has $100,000 in the bank," Seal said.

He added that Christie has a point “when he explains Trump is the elephant in the room.”

It’s hard to imagine how Ramaswamy is doing anything more than digging himself into a hole of being perceived as a smarmy know-it-all millennial who doesn’t have any experience and can only call names.

The Democratic National Committee in a statement argued that the GOP presidential candidates are “all running the Trump playbook, and they’ll all lose.”

“Every single Republican 2024 presidential candidate is running on an extreme and deeply unpopular MAGA agenda,” said the statement, which was blasted out shortly after the debate began.

Christie takes on Ramaswamy with a vigor we haven’t seen — defending Haley by suggesting Ramaswamy’s attacks are sexist. Ramaswamy seems to be losing the audience with each exchange.

Christie is here to defend the rational factions of his party, and backing Haley against Ramaswamy very much hews to that ethos.

This is the Chris Christie whom a lot of folks expected we’d see for four debates ... but now he’s here.

Christie’s first answer: Why are you guys arguing with each other and ignoring Trump?

Christie 10 minutes later: A heated back-and-forth with Ramaswamy that will have no bearing on the primary campaign.

If Haley doesn’t have foreign policy experience of the candidates on this stage, as Ramaswamy just tried to say, then who does?

Christie has been going after Haley lately more on the trail, but he just stepped in to defend her against Ramaswamy’s attacks. 

Haley argues on the trail that there can’t be a choice between helping Ukraine compared to Israel. A strong American leader, she argues, has to help both.

It’s wild how much this Israel section sounds identical to the part of the NBC News debate on Israel, both in terms of line of questioning and answers. Certainly, there have been many developments in the Israel-Hamas war over the last month, but you wouldn’t know it if you were consuming only these debates.

So “punching” Iran doesn’t mean bombing, nor does it mean pulling back sanctions, Haley says. But she also doesn’t detail what exactly it means to “punch” them and show the strength she says Iran responds to.

Christie told me ahead of the debate he was coming into tonight's debate as a prosecutor. He said he was planning to listen to the “witness” and not shy away from highlighting inconsistencies or attempts to evade answers. Christie's jumping in to respond to DeSantis is him doing just that.

Reporting from Texas: When the candidates talk about sending troops to the Middle East to help Israel, many of those troops would be Texans. According to Governing.com, Texas has the second most military members after California.

DeSantis and Christie highlight their support for Israel — a position popular among GOP voters. In our latest NBC News poll, 66% of GOP voters said they support “providing more funding and military aid to Israel.”

DeSantis often dances around the question of whether he would send U.S. forces to assist the Israelis. His usual answer on the trail is that the Israelis are able to ask and like to handle these battles themselves.

Hearing how forceful Christie was in calling Trump “unfit” for office, I have to wonder whether there are any minds left to change in this party …

If voters want directness, Christie is more than ticking that box tonight— and calling his competitors out for not doing the same.

After DeSantis accused Haley of being soft on trans rights, she said he was misrepresenting her record: “I actually said his 'Don’t Say Gay' bill didn’t go far enough,” Haley said.

That comment is likely to live on after the debate, because it provides ammunition to Haley’s critics on both ideological sides. It was immediately clipped by the Biden campaign, presumably as an example of what it would call GOP extremism on social issues, while it came under immediate criticism online from some on the right for, conservatives said, validating the left’s view of DeSantis' law by calling it the “don’t say gay bill” — a framing DeSantis and the right roundly rejected.

Christie comes out swinging at Trump in his first question. This is a big departure from the third debate, when Christie wasn’t as forceful about Trump. “He is unfit,” Christie said of Trump. 

Haley explained her social media proposal on the "Ruthless" podcast on Nov. 14, saying: “I want the country to see the algorithm so you can see how these companies move. The second thing is they need to verify every single person on their outlet, because — and I want it by name.”

After backlash from DeSantis, Ramaswamy and others, she said the proposal was specifically to go after foreign accounts. “I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech. What I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech," she said.

Christie straight up just called Trump a dictator. (At a town hall last night, Trump said he would be a dictator only on “Day One” of his presidency, then back to not being a dictator!)

Christie seems to be the only one willing to speak to the reality: Trump’s not here, but he’s still way ahead of everyone else in the polls.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Travis Riccio, 18, said: “I really like how Nikki wants to hold social media companies accountable and track what they do and what the users do.”

This is the first question to Christie, who happens to be the most unpopular figure on the stage among Republican primary voters, according to the latest Monmouth University poll.

Just 12% of Republican voters have favorable views of him, while 76% view Trump favorably, 62% view DeSantis favorably, 42% view Haley favorably, and 36% view Ramaswamy favorably.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Jaren Noorda, 19, says he likes Ramaswamy’s view on having a younger president: “I think that’s really great and some of what we’ve been lacking.”

Nathan Seal, 23, says he agrees with Ramaswamy that there needs to be a younger leader, “but experience is better than ‘fresh legs’ for POTUS.”

If you knew absolutely nothing about the state of this race but just watched the first five minutes of this debate, you’d have no question in your mind that Haley is the front-runner who must be stopped at all costs.

Allan Smith writes: DeSantis and Ramaswamy's are teaming up against Haley to attack her for being supported by Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, who they say is at the forefront of the ESG effort — a top target for conservatives in recent years. You’ve got to be very much in the weeds to be up to speed on this. But it’s a way to attack her for her donor support.

Matt Dixon adds: DeSantis has tried to make something happen with ESG for a while now. It's just not happening for him in a real way.

Haley argues on the campaign trail that having people identify themselves on social media addresses national security issues.

Haley's saying Ramaswamy and DeSantis were jealous of her really seemed to set them off.

It’s clear this is starting with a Haley pile-on. So far she seems prepared for it. 

Ramaswamy used a Trump talking point, calling the Biden administration "fascists" and attacking special counsel Jack Smith by name.

About 12 minutes in, and Christie hasn’t jumped into the fray yet. Still waiting for a question even as his other three competitors are already going back and forth with one another.

While this is a big night for the candidates, it’s also a big night for NewsNation, which is owned by Nexstar Media Group, based in Irving, Texas. With this debate, the new cable channel is trying to compete with its other, much larger competitors.

Ramaswamy's describing having $100,000 as being “bankrupt” seems a little out of touch with average Americans who would probably love to have $100,000 in the bank.

The Haley campaign came into this debate expecting a “target on her back,” and that has so far come to fruition, with both DeSantis and Ramaswamy using their first answers to go after her.

“Your donors are secretly liberals who nobody has ever heard of” seems like big-time inside baseball and perhaps not the thing to grab the attention of disengaged, undecided voters.

The Haley team told me earlier that it knew she would be the target tonight, and so far she’s the only one facing incoming from her opponents on this stage.

Ramaswamy called DeSantis a good person. Didn’t see that coming.

Ramaswamy calls DeSantis a "good person." On the trail, he often calls his competitors “good people” and “patriots."

As the four candidates take the stage tonight, Trump is still ahead in Texas — by far. One poll from an ultra-conservative group had Trump at 61% of GOP primary voters, then Haley and DeSantis tied with 11%. Trump just received the backing of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and has other major statewide leaders on his side. DeSantis has a decent organization already in the state because of his Never Back Down PAC, which uses many Ted Cruz advisers and politicos.

DeSantis says the pollsters don’t matter; they won’t determine this race. But the hole both he and Haley are in is ... massive.

It would be an unprecedented comeback should either one win. And the hole is so deep that some Republicans who want a Trump alternative are thinking maybe the best route is to finish a “strong” second and, well, hope for the best with Trump’s legal peril or advanced age.

DeSantis appears to be a little more comfortable fighting with Haley onstage. He hasn’t been very combative in any previous debate. Maybe his tune-up with Gavin Newsom helped him loosen up?

That was a tough question to Nikki Haley from Megyn Kelly about going from $500,000 to $8 million in income after serving in the Trump administration: “Aren’t you too tight with the banks and the billionaires?”

This is feeding right into Ramaswamy, who has repeatedly hit Haley on this issue.

That DeSantis dig at Haley has been weeks in the making. On the trail, in media appearances and on social media, DeSantis frames her as being aligned with “establishment interests,” particularly after Haley won Americans for Prosperity’s backing in the primary.

We’ve previously reported on these private speeches, which the Haley camp says it doesn't have transcripts of.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Nathan Seal, 23, is an undeclared voter in New Hampshire who plans to vote in the Republican primary. Seal says he has not decided whom to vote for yet.

“In tonight’s debate, I’m looking for someone that’s sane, willing to compromise and has credentials and a team. Just kind of an ability to get things done instead of just talk,” Seal said.

In 2020, Seal voted for Biden in the general election. He says he does not know whether he would vote for Biden again.

Jaren Noorda, 19, is an undeclared voter in New Hampshire. Noorda is still unsure whom he is going to vote for.

"I’m just really looking for someone who resonates with me," he said.

DeSantis is hitting Haley right off the bat — which makes sense, given a new group has just popped up with the sole purpose of … hitting Haley as she surges past DeSantis.

“Nikki Haley is beating you” is a rough way to kick off the first question to DeSantis, who looked visibly irked by the question.

Megyn Kelly saying the quiet part out loud: Trump might not be on the stage, but he’s the man they all still have to beat if they want to win.

This is an awfully long windup for the first question from Megyn Kelly.

Haley got by far the biggest applause walking onstage. It was clearly notable compared to the others. Feels like it could be her crowd tonight.

In the spin room, we are watching the raw feed as we await the start of the debate. Three of the four candidates are furiously scribbling notes. Christie is mostly watching Haley.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

Valerie McDonnell, 19, a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University, says she is supporting Trump this election cycle.

“He seems to be ahead in, it appears to be, in almost every poll, and he has a good approval rating in New Hampshire, and he’s done it before,” she said. “And I think it’s important that the Republican Party unifies behind one candidate, and he appears to be the candidate that the majority of Republicans in New Hampshire especially are supporting.”

McDonnell says, “I know he has some troubles and controversies around him, but every time another scandal comes out, he seems to get more support, so I think it helps unify the party.”

During tonight’s debate, McDonnell is looking for someone who would be a good second-choice candidate if something does not work out with Trump.

Here is what NBC's "Meet the Press" host, Kristen Welker, is watching for in tonight's debate:

Will the candidates take on Trump over his comments that he wouldn’t be a dictator ‘except for day one’?

So far only Christie has taken off the gloves when it comes to Trump. While Haley and DeSantis have criticized Trump and tried to draw distinctions with him. They have chosen their words carefully — will that change tonight? Trump won’t be on the stage again — but he will be front and center.

What will the candidates say about health care?

Trump revived his threat to repeal and replace Obamacare. When I asked DeSantis whether he has the same plans on "Meet the Press," he said that he wants to “supersede” Obamacare but that he wouldn’t put out a specific plan until the spring. Will he be pressed about this tonight? What will the other candidates say their plans are for health care reform? Trump tried but failed to repeal Obamacare when he was in office.

What does a ‘breakout moment’ translate into at this point?

With Trump dominating the polls, it’s hard to see any of the candidates breaking away based on this fourth debate. The better question to ask may be: Could something happen that gives Haley more of a boost after she has had three strong debate performances? Or does this debate give DeSantis an opportunity to regain the momentum he has lost? Will Christie or Ramaswamy find a way to gain some ground in the polls? So far this has remained a fight for second place, and there is no sense that dynamic will change any time soon.

NBC News is watching the debate with an eight-person youth voter watch panel at New England College in Henniker, N.H. All participants are Republicans or Independents.

politics gop debate watch
Chase Champine.Emma Barnett / NBC News

Chase Champine, 21, is a junior at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, who says he is “tired of seeing politicians act like children, like, calling each other out over things that don’t matter to political debate versus to things that actually matter to actual Americans.”

Champine is an undeclared voter in New Hampshire who has not decided whom to vote for yet. In the 2020 election, he voted for Joe Biden. He said “never could” vote for Trump.

The issues Champine cares the most about are the minimum wage, health care and education.

For one Trump supporter, there is nothing to pull him away

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

gop debate watcher politics
Gary Leffler.Alex Tabet / NBC News

When Gary Leffler, 62, walked into the bar he joked “I’m undecided!” The contractor and Trump campaign volunteers from West Des Moines, Iowa, says there’s nothing any other candidate can do on tonight’s debate stage that will sway him away from Trump.

“In the first three debates, every question they ask, my wife and I were kind of look at each other and go ‘Trump’s already done that; they’re talking about it,’” Leffler said.

Leffler says there’s too much uproar about Trump’s recent comment that he would be a dictator on the first day of his next term if he’s re-elected.

“What he said was tongue-in-cheek,” Leffler said.

Ramaswamy leans into a contentious issue in Iowa in a late bid for traction

With the Iowa caucuses closing in, Vivek Ramaswamy is homing in on a local struggle that’s led to an unlikely union between environmental activists and landowners and farmers in the state seeking to protect their property.

Ramaswamy has started devoting a significant part of his stump speeches to addressing concerns about efforts by Summit Carbon Solutions to build underground pipelines to move carbon dioxide emitted from ethanol and industrial plants in Iowa to North Dakota. Landowners who do not want the pipelines installed on their property are concerned that the state government may use eminent domain, which allows the government to seize private lands for public projects, to build them anyway.

In a rare speech last week dedicated solely to the carbon capture pipelines, Ramaswamy warned of the ramifications of using eminent domain for private construction.  

Read the full story here.

For one Iowa voter, Haley and Ramaswamy offer appeal

NBC News is watching the debate with 30 Iowa caucus-goers at a bar in Des Moines. All are Republicans or independents considering registering with the GOP.

gop debate watch
Josiah Carter.Alex Tabet / NBC News

Josiah Carter, 37, voted for Biden in 2020 but is considering caucusing for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley or businessman Vivek Ramaswamy this time. The financier says he expects his two favorite candidates to tussle in Tuscaloosa tonight and hopes Ramaswamy will be more mature in his attacks on Haley after he criticized Haley’s 25-year-old daughter for her use of TikTok last time around.

“When he’s intellectual, with deep historical knowledge of facts and situations, I appreciate that,” Carter says. “When he gets more aggressive and maybe, not childish but, you know, less professional in his debate, that’s where I get a little turned off.”

As for what’s holding him back from fully committing to Haley, Carter says he’s not crazy about her foreign policy philosophy. “I’m not a big fan of her views on Ukraine and investing more in the war,” he says.

Trump would ‘come after’ media and government critics in second term, top ally says

Trump ally Kash Patel said yesterday that if Trump is elected to a second term he’ll “come after” the “conspirators” in the media and the government who “helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections.”

“We’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out,” Patel, a National Security Council and Defense Department official during the first Trump administration, told Steve Bannon on his podcast.

Bannon, a senior adviser in the Trump White House who has pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in New York state court, had asked Patel, who could be in a top position in a second Trump term, whether he felt “confident” that he’d able to dole out “serious prosecutions and accountability” against the “deep state.”

“I know you’re probably going to be head of the CIA,” Bannon said. “Do you believe you can deliver the goods on this?”

Read the full story here.

Alabama senator endorses Trump hours before debate

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., announced today that she is endorsing Trump, locking down Trump’s support among the state’s congressional delegation.

With Britt’s endorsement, Trump now has the backing of both Alabama senators and all six Alabama Republican House members.

“One candidate has already proven he’s more than up for the job — because he’s done the job successfully. There is one candidate I know will secure the border — because he’s done it. There is one candidate I know will achieve peace through strength — because he’s done it,” Britt wrote in an op-ed in Yellowhammer News.

“And that’s why President Donald Trump has my endorsement to be our 47th President,” Britt wrote.

It has been more than five months since a Republican member of Congress endorsed a presidential candidate other than Trump.

Christie: Trump 'intends on being a dictator for all the days of his presidency'

Ahead of tonight’s debate, Christie responded to Trump’s “dictator” comments, telling NBC News, “I think [Trump] intends on being a dictator for all the days of his presidency.”

“He’s right, and he’s telling the truth,” Christie said. "Trump can’t help himself. Every once in a while, he makes a big mistake: He tells the truth. Doesn’t happen all the time.”

During a town hall yesterday, Trump said he wouldn't be a dictator if he were elected, "except for Day One."


Biden campaign highlights questions for GOP candidates ahead of debate

In a statement, the Biden campaign released questions it has for Republican candidates, arguing that the "six or seven Americans" tuning into the debate will hear a "very real and very bad blueprint for America."

"Do you support Donald Trump’s plans to be a dictator on day 1?" read the first question, referring to Trump's comments at a town hall last night, when he said he wouldn't be a dictator, "except for Day One."

"Will you accept the results of the 2024 election unequivocally?" another question said.

"These are the issues that will be on the ballot next November," the statement concluded. "The GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has been pretty clear where he stands on them. The rest of the field should too."

What's changed — and not changed — since the last debate

There have been some notable changes since in the month since the last Republican debate.

The field has thinned further, with Sen. Tim Scott, S.C., and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum dropping out. There’s been some poll movement, with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley jumping solidly into double digits and even pulling ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in some surveys. And there’ve been some major endorsements: Bob Vander Plaats, an influential evangelical figure in Iowa, where nearly two-thirds of the caucus vote will be cast by evangelical Christians, has thrown in with DeSantis, while Americans for Prosperity Action, a Koch-founded donor network, has backed Haley.

What remains unchanged, though, is Donald Trump’s huge lead in both national and key early state polling — despite (or perhaps because of?) his decision to boycott these debates, as he will again tonight in Tuscaloosa.

That will leave just four candidates on the stage this evening, the smallest contingent yet. And the question, with just over five weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, is whether any of them can use this debate to break clear from the others and gain meaningful traction against Trump.

Realistically, only two of them seem to have even the potential to do it. With his stubbornly sky-high unfavorable ratings among Republicans, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is fighting what looks like a prohibitive ceiling. And while he’s garnered significant attention with his various provocations, Vivek Ramaswamy continues to lag in low- to mid-single digits and risks potential exclusion from future debates if polling remains a key part of the criteria.

That leaves DeSantis and Haley. And each faces a different challenge. 

Arguably, DeSantis has the more surmountable of the two. The simple reason: Despite falling far behind Trump, there’s no evidence Republican voters are turning on him personally. In the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register poll, for instance, DeSantis racked up the highest personal favorability score of any GOP candidate, Trump included. Similar findings are evident in other early state and national polls. It remains the case that DeSantis has broad popularity and appeal to Republican voters; his problem is that, for months now, they’ve been telling pollsters that they simply prefer Trump as their nominee.

The DeSantis strategy to reverse this trend, it’s become clear, is built around Iowa, where in addition to Vander Plaats he’s also locked down endorsements from Gov. Kim Reynolds and several dozen state legislators. Iowa caucusgoers in both parties tend to be particularly engaged, watching the race closely and often attending campaign events in person. Late dramatic polling swings, as voters make up their minds in the closing days, are not unheard of. After languishing for months in 2011, Rick Santorum surged in the closing days of the 2012 caucus campaign and actually bested Republican front-runner Mitt Romney to win the state. 

It’s unclear what exactly DeSantis can do — if he can do anything at all — to convert his popularity with Republican voters into actual support. But that popularity, coupled with his intense focus on Iowa, the inroads he’s made with influential conservatives in the state, as the history of the caucuses, at least creates an opportunity for him to notch a surprise in the first-in-the-nation state. If he fails to do it, his campaign could essentially be over when the caucus votes are counted. Tonight is a crucial opportunity for DeSantis to turn Republicans who like him into Republicans who will vote for him.

Then there’s Haley, and here things get a little more complicated. While she has undeniably moved up in the polls, she continues to draw the bulk of her support from groups that are a distinct minority in the GOP primary process. For example, in the most recent NBC national poll, she attracts 31 percent of support from independents who are likely to vote in the GOP primaries, compared to only 10 percent from “core” Republicans — a vastly larger group.

There’s also a college divide within the Republican Party, and again it’s working against Haley right now. Among those with a college or graduate degree, Haley is attracting 22 percent support. But this group only makes up about one-third of the GOP primary electorate; among the two-thirds who don’t have a degree, she’s not even breaking into double digits. She also performs well with Republicans who don’t like Trump — again, a clear minority within the party.

Haley’s positioning calls to mind that of John McCain in his 2000 primary campaign against George W. Bush. McCain, drawing on tremendously positive media coverage, racked up massive support from independent voters and even Democrats in states where they were permitted to vote in GOP primaries. This led to a blowout win for McCain in New Hampshire, a state where independent voters make up an atypically large share of the GOP primary electorate. But it also opened him to charges from the Bush campaign that he was enjoying success only because of the support of non-Republicans and (in the view of many Bush supporters) the media itself. 

The Bush argument resonated with Republican voters, who rallied around him and helped him deliver a swift series of knockout blows to McCain. From the vantage point, it’s not hard to imagine a similar fate for Haley: The better she does with non-Republicans and Trump-skeptics, the more the (much larger) core Republican and Trump-friendly wing of the party will view her with suspicion.

Her challenge tonight, then, is to defuse this suspicion and to deliver a performance that appeals not just to independents and college grads, but to the large majority of Republican voters who say they simply like Trump. To have any chance of winning the nomination, Haley must win them over — many of them — and cannot afford antagonizing or alienating them. 

Tim Scott reiterates he won’t be endorsing ‘anytime soon’ in GOP presidential race

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who recently dropped out of the GOP presidential race, said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he won’t publicly back a candidate “anytime soon.”

“I said, when I withdrew from the presidential race, that [I] would not be endorsing anytime soon. It certainly won’t happen this year, if I do it at all,” he said.

He added that he dropped out of the race because he said Republican voters want a candidate “just as angry as they are.”

Haley campaign previews attacks against DeSantis

Ahead of tonight's debate, Haley’s campaign previewed their attacks against DeSantis and defenses against what they call his “many lies.”

In a press release titled “Debate #4 Cheat Sheet,” Haley’s campaign points to several polls in the battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that show her polling higher than the Florida governor.

Under a section titled “Ron DeSantis’ Many Lies,” Haley’s campaign said DeSantis had lied about her record on Gaza refugees, banning fracking and off-shore drilling, her comments on Hillary Clinton, and his role in recruiting Chinese companies and investment in his state.

The release also notes several reports on staffing changes within the DeSantis campaign, such as the recent hiring of the third CEO of a DeSantis super PAC.

As the GOP primary narrows, Vivek Ramaswamy mulls a new possibility: Defeat

DES MOINES, Iowa — Vivek Ramaswamy is talking about something new on the trail: There is a chance he will not be successful in the upcoming primary races. 

The entrepreneur has long told voters that he is “going to shock the world” and “be successful” in 2024 after coming out of nowhere to play a role in the presidential race. But lately, he has started pairing those sentiments with a caveat.

“I get a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, I like what you’re saying, if you don’t do it this time, do it in the future.’ That’s fine for me, I don’t think our country has that kind of timeline,” he told a group of voters at a Pizza Ranch in Carroll, Iowa, on Nov. 30. 

Read the full story here.

DNC puts up health care billboards around GOP debate site

The Democratic National Committee has launched a billboard campaign around Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Four billboards placed around the city feature former President Donald Trump, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with the same message on each: “No to health care repeal, no to slashing Medicare & Medicaid, no to extreme abortion bans.” Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — who will appear on the debate stage alongside Haley, DeSantis and Christie — was not included in the billboards. 

The focus on health care comes after recent comments by Trump that he was “seriously looking at alternatives” to the Affordable Care Act, reviving an issue Republicans had largely set aside since failing to repeal and replace the health care law in 2017. 

The “debate is a reminder of the choice facing voters next November: President Biden’s plan to protect Americans’ health care and their fundamental freedoms, or the extreme MAGA agenda that would rip away health care coverage, jack up families’ health care costs, and ban abortion across the country,” DNC national press secretary Sarafina Chitika said in a statement about the billboard campaign.

Biden says that 'if Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running'

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that his re-election campaign was prompted in part by Donald Trump’s decision to run for president again and an effort to block his predecessor from reclaiming the White House.

“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running,” Biden said at a campaign event in Boston, adding that he “cannot let him win.”

Upon returning to the White House on Tuesday night, Biden was asked by a reporter if he would bow out of the race if Trump drops out. “No, not now,” the president responded.

Biden has faced criticism from within his party, including from Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who is mounting a last-minute primary challenge, that he is too old and should step aside to let a younger generation take the torch. But Biden has opted to run anyway, a move that has long been seen as driven by the former Republican president and a belief by Biden that he is the only one who can defeat Trump.

Read the full story here.

Here’s who’s dropped out since the previous debate

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum abandoned his presidential bid this week after failing to qualify for tonight's debate.

He is the latest candidate to drop out of the Republican primary since the last debate in Miami on Nov. 8.

A few days after that debate, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina unexpectedly ended his campaign for the White House.

What to watch in tonight's debate

Without Trump, the ongoing battle for second place is sure to get even hotter, with Haley and DeSantis, the two top-polling candidates onstage, certain to take aim at each other as they look to separate themselves and roll into Iowa as the clear alternative to Trump.

With only four candidates onstage for the debate, which takes place at 8 p.m. ET, look for both to earn more speaking time than they have previously — particularly with Scott, who had the most time during the third debate — no longer there.

Read the full story here.

Here’s who will be on stage tonight

Tonight's debate will feature the smallest pool of 2024 contenders yet, with just four candidates expected to be on stage.

The four qualifiers are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie was the final candidate to qualify for the debate, shortly before Monday’s deadline.

Trump has continued to dominate polls, but has not appeared on the debate stage against his Republican rivals.