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If it was anybody’s evening on the talk stage Wednesday, it was Nikki Haley’s. The previous South Carolina governor was the main focus of assaults from a struggling Ron DeSantis and an more and more determined Vivek Ramaswamy—as clear a mirrored image as any that she has the momentum within the second-place race. However like the primary three primetime quarrels, the final word victor within the fourth GOP major debate was the man who wasn’t on the stage—and who leads those that have been by about 30 factors mixed. “The fifth man, who doesn’t have the center to indicate up and stand right here, he’s the one who’s method forward within the polls,” as Chris Christie, polling within the low single digits, identified in the course of the showdown. “And but I’ve obtained these three guys who’re all seeming to compete with Voldemort, he who shall not be named.”

“They don’t wish to discuss him,” Christie mentioned.

The bickering bunch had little to say in response to Christie’s criticism, as a result of he was proper: For all of the jabs the contenders have been desperate to throw at each other, they proceed to principally pull punches with regards to Donald Trump, who skipped the talk to joke to Sean Hannity that he would solely abuse his energy on “day one” of his potential return to energy. “After that, I’m not a dictator,” the previous president mentioned.

Nothing that occurred on the stage in his absence Wednesday appeared more likely to get in the way in which of this aspiring autocrat’s path to the GOP nomination. Haley, who passes for a average on this iteration of the Republican Celebration, endured her opponents’ barbs with poise. DeSantis—coming off a poor efficiency in an much more pointless debate in opposition to California Governor Gavin Newsom—leaned exhausting on his drained and grotesque tradition battle shtick. And Ramaswamy, frantically clinging to his undeserved relevance, went into all-out crank mode—confidently theorizing that the January 6 assault was an “inside job,” that local weather change is a “hoax,” and that the “Nice Substitute” concept will not be some racist paranoia, however a “fundamental assertion of the Democratic Celebration platform.”

“That is the fourth debate that you’d be voted within the first 20 minutes as probably the most obnoxious blowhard in America,” Christie informed Ramaswamy at one level, defending Haley from an assault on her “fundamental intelligence.” “So shut up for a short while.”

Christie, as soon as once more, was proper. But it surely nonetheless doesn’t appear to be getting him wherever on this race. As he made his case in opposition to Trump, noting the previous president’s precarious authorized place, the group jeered. “You’ll be able to boo about all of it you want,” Christie mentioned, “and proceed to disclaim actuality.”

However denying actuality is, at this level, a central tenet of the GOP. Election denialism, COVID denialism, local weather change denialism—these sort of issues animate the Republican Celebration these days. And whereas the GOP major’s closing 4 challengers all give voice to these components in various methods and to numerous levels, none embody that nihilism extra fully than Trump himself. Haley and her fellow contenders need to the Iowa caucus, six weeks away, to no less than make Trump’s path to the nomination appear much less inevitable. However even these tempered hopes could also be fading: As Bloomberg Information reported earlier this week, DeSantis has “privately acknowledged” that the frontrunner “holds a lot sway over GOP voters that it leaves little room for various candidates” like himself. “The timing,” as allies informed the outlet, “could not have been proper for DeSantis to run.”