Republican presidential rivals lock horns as absent Donald Trump mocks ‘unwatchable’ debate

Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have taken to the stage in Florida as they try to dislodge the frontrunner from his commanding lead in opinion polls.

Local Governor Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley both criticized the former president for skipping a third event.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump – who was holding his own rally just a few miles away – mocked the participants and demanded that the Republican Party stop “wasting time” with “unwatchable” debates.

The candidates spent much of the two-hour event attacking each other.

And with less than 10 weeks before the first state-wide nominating contest in Iowa, they will have one more opportunity to catch up with Trump on 6 December when a fourth debate will take place in Alabama.

With only five candidates qualifying for the stage – DeSantis and Haley were joined by US Senator Tim Scott, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Despite being less chaotic than previous encounters, the debate still had its share of cutting exchanges.

At one point during a discussion about whether to ban TikTok, Ramaswamy noted that Haley’s daughter had used the app, prompting Haley to warn him angrily not to mention her daughter again.

“You’re just scum,” she muttered.

Haley, who also served as South Carolina governor, and DeSantis, who has been in a distant second place behind Trump for most of the campaign, had their own clash over which governor had been too welcoming to Chinese investment.

Recent polls have shown the two jockeying for second place in early voting states.

As Wednesday’s debate proceeded, the candidates largely focused on Democratic President Joe Biden, particularly during a lengthy segment on foreign policy and the Israel-Hamas conflict.