Haley spars with Republican rivals at 3rd primary debate as Trump still looms

The night heavily focused on international affairs.

By538 and ABC News
Last Updated: November 9, 2023, 10:31 AM EST

The third Republican debate of the 2024 presidential primary was held Wednesday night in Miami.

Five candidates took the stage: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

Missing -- again -- was front-runner Donald Trump, who instead hosted a rally not far away, in Hialeah, Florida.

ABC News and the analysts at 538 live-blogged every major moment and highlight from the debate. PolitiFact made real-time fact checks of key statements.

Key moments:

Here's how the news developed. All times Eastern.
Nov 09, 2023, 10:31 AM EST

Closing thoughts: DeSantis had a strong performance, Christie's focus wasn't on Trump

Coming into this debate, these five Republican candidates had different missions -- some wanted to just stay alive, while others wanted to break through and maybe, just maybe, close the gap with Trump.

For DeSantis, it was about the latter goal. And on the whole, he seemed very on his game in his home state debate. He took the occasional dig at Trump, like saying he'd actually get Mexico to pay for the wall, which Trump said he'd do but failed to accomplish as president. Throughout the debate, DeSantis often pivoted to immigration and financial concerns in his answers, which was wise as polls show those are principal concerns for Republicans.

Republican presidential candidate former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Nov. 8, 2023, in Miami, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On the other end of the spectrum, Christie was looking to remain relevant in this campaign. And while he's made his name as the most anti-Trump candidate in the GOP primary, he mostly avoided talking about Trump in Miami.

Now, the major focus on foreign policy and immigration as topics may have helped Christie by keeping away from topics that would lead him to go after the former president. Could this buoy Christie's numbers just a little? Hard to say, given that he's got terrible favorability numbers among Republicans, who are generally pro-Trump in their views. But it was a change for Christie from what we've seen in previous debates.

-Analysis by Geoffrey Skelley of 538

Nov 09, 2023, 10:31 AM EST

Closing thoughts: Fireworks from Haley and Ramaswamy

This was a substantive debate, with in-depth exchanges on topics as wonky as Social Security and ships in the Navy. It wasn’t nearly as chaotic and negative as the last debate, although perhaps the headline was the emerging rivalry between Haley and Ramaswamy, who went out of their way to attack each other throughout the night. To me, it seemed that Haley got the better of those exchanges, as Ramaswamy came off as too aggressive. But we’ll know for sure what Republican voters thought when we get the results of the next 538/Washington Post/Ipsos poll on Thursday.

-Analysis by Nathaniel Rakich of 538

Nov 09, 2023, 10:30 AM EST

What Trump said at his rally near the debate

While five of his primary challengers were on stage in Miami debating each other and sometimes pointedly attacking him, Trump was rallying supporters in nearby Hialeah, Florida, a heavily Hispanic community.

The former president's remarks tied his familiar attacks on his legal troubles -- he denies all wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty in four criminal cases -- to the language of being persecuted like in "communist Cuba," in what appeared to be a push to galvanize the local audience.

“We have some great Cubans here,” he said.

He also repeated his recent campaign rhetoric about keeping America and the world safe and peaceful, insisting that under his watch, attacks against Israel and the Russia-Ukraine war would not have happened.

Of the debate, he said, “Nobody's talking about it. Everybody's watching this.”

Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo was also invited on stage by Trump where Bovo announced he will ask the City Council to authorize a street named after Trump.

-ABC News’ Lalee Ibssa and Soo Rin Kim

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Ted Hendricks Stadium in Hialeah, Florida, Nov. 8, 2023.
Octavio Jones/Reuters

Nov 09, 2023, 12:01 AM EST

Scott's personal life gets some attention

After the debate, the South Carolina senator was seen taking a photo with a blonde-haired woman. The two were physically affectionate, including with their hands interlocked -- and Scott, later asked by a reporter who it was, said, "Oh, my girlfriend."

Scott had said in September that he was dating someone -- "a smart, Christian woman" -- while declining to bring her on the trail, saying that he would introduce her "at some point."

"I have been very protective of my family and my loved ones," he told The Washington Post in September. "I signed up for this. If we make it, she will be signing up for it as well, but at least then she'll know what she's getting into."

-ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey and Fritz Farrow

Sen. Tim Scott stands with a woman after the third Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate in Miami, Fla., on Nov. 8, 2023.
ABC News