Five key takeaways from US Republican presidential debate in Iowa

It was a busy night in United States politics.

A Republican presidential hopeful dropped out of the race. Two candidates squabbled in a televised debate. And a former president struck his usual defiant tone.

The fireworks unfolded as the all-important Iowa caucuses loomed on the horizon. With only days until Iowa holds the first presidential primary contest of the 2024 race, the stakes were high for candidates seeking to challenge Republican frontrunner Donald Trump for the party nod.

At Wednesday’s debate – the fifth of the primary calendar – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley traded barbs from the moment they started speaking.

“We don’t need a candidate who’s going to look down on middle America,” DeSantis said of Haley, describing her as “another mealy-mouthed politician”.

The former UN envoy hit back throughout the debate, repeatedly accusing DeSantis of lying and mismanaging his campaign. “Why should we think you can manage or do anything in this country?” she asked.

For his part, Trump opted to skip the debate, which was held at Drake University in the state capital Des Moines. Instead, he was across town holding a competing town hall interview with Fox News, where he faced little in the way of tough questioning from audience members.

Trump remains the heavy favourite for the Republican nomination, while Haley and DeSantis are battling for a distant second.

Just hours before Wednesday’s events began, however, the spotlight briefly shifted to former New Jersey governor and Republican long-shot Chris Christie, as he announced he was suspending his campaign.

During a town hall in New Hampshire, Christie explained could no longer see “a path” to winning the nomination.

“My goal has never been to be just a voice against the hate and the division and the selfishness of what our party has become under Donald Trump,” Christie, one of the former president’s toughest critics, said.

Here are five key takeaways from the debate and Trump’s town hall.

Support for Israel amid war on Gaza

Haley and DeSantis tried to outdo each other on their track records of supporting Israel, which has been waging an unrelenting assault on the Gaza Strip since early October.

DeSantis accused US President Joe Biden – who is seeking re-election and has provided unequivocal support to Israel since the war in Gaza began – of “knee-capping” the Israeli government and its military campaign.

Asked whether he supported the mass removal of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, an idea promoted by far-right Israeli ministers, DeSantis said “There’s a lot of issues with that” but, as president, he would not tell Israel what to do.

“If they make the calculation that to avert a second Holocaust, they need to do that … I think some of these Palestinian Arabs, Saudi Arabia should take some, Egypt should take some,” DeSantis said.

For her part, Haley described Israel as “a bright spot in a tough neighbourhood”. Previously, her staunch defence of Israel as US ambassador to the UN drew criticism from Palestinian rights advocates.

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