A night after a stinging series of election losses at the hands of Democrats, Republican candidates vented their frustrations on the stage of the third Republican presidential debate on Wednesday.
“I’m sick of Republicans losing,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
Mr DeSantis has long contrasted his successful re-election last year in Florida with Republican setbacks in the last few elections, including Donald Trump’s loss in 2020.
Earlier in the day, his campaign argued that backing Mr Trump cost candidates seats in races such as the one for governor of Kentucky, where Republican Daniel Cameron lost to Democrat Andy Beshear.
Republicans were also left reeling on Wednesday by the success of a ballot issue in Ohio that enshrined a right to abortion in the state constitution, as well as the loss of state legislative control in Virginia.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy blamed Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), instead of Mr Trump, for the party’s recent performance.
“We’ve become a party of losers,” he said. “We have to have accountability in our party.”
Ms McDaniel was Mr Trump’s hand-picked choice to lead the RNC in 2017, and the committee was a sponsor of Wednesday’s debate.
Ramaswamy comes out swinging
It was clear from the outset that Vivek Ganapathy Ramaswamy, whose candidacy has faded since the first debate, was determined to be a spoiler and throw elbows in every direction while on stage.
Mr Ramaswamy, a businessman with no political experience, attacked former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Mr DeSantis right out of the gate.
In an exchange regarding the conflict in Israel, Mr Ramaswamy warned that the two leading candidates on the stage could drag America into a bloody war in Europe, while also channeling speculation that Mr DeSantis wears lifts inside his boots.
"Do you want Dick Cheney in three-inch heels? Because you've got two of them on stage tonight," he said in reference to Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis, while invoking the Republican former vice president who was known for his neoconservative views.
"They're five-inch heels, and I don't wear them unless I can run in them,” Ms Haley later shot back. “They are not a fashion statement, they are ammunition.”
Mr Ramaswamy wasn’t finished going after Ms Haley. During a discussion over banning the Chinese short video app TikTok, he mentioned that Ms Haley’s daughter used the platform. “You might want to take care of your family first,” he said.
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Ms Haley countered, adding under her breath, “You’re just scum.”
Given his lagging poll numbers, the Miami debate could end up being Mr Ramaswamy’s final one. Ms Haley will not miss him.
Haley and DeSantis on China
All eyes were on Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis, who were widely expected to go after each other in a bid to establish themselves as the top challenger to Mr Trump in the Republican nominating contest.
After circling each other for half the debate, they finally went on the attack over the other's dealings with China.
Both said their opponent had cosied up to Chinese industry as governors – Ms Haley in South Carolina and Mr DeSantis in Florida. Both, unsurprisingly, disagreed, leading to a heated exchange.
While all candidates on the stage portray themselves as tough on China, Ms Haley has been at pains for months to establish herself as the top China hawk in the field.
The DeSantis campaign, meanwhile, has tried to attack Ms Haley on that issue, accusing her of welcoming a Chinese company into her state.