Even without former President Donald Trump being on the debate stage Wednesday night, the frontrunner was still very present in the minds of his Republican rivals.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been the most vocal critic of the former president, slammed his fellow candidates for not calling Mr. Trump out by name, saying he is not Voldemort or “he-who-shall-not-be-named,” referring to the antagonist in the Harry Potter series.
“He is unfit. This is a guy who just said this past week that he wants to use the Department of Justice to go after his enemies when he gets in there,” Mr. Christie said at the debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, hosted by NewsNation. “And the fact of the matter is, he is unfit to be president, and there is no bigger issue in this race … than Donald Trump.”
Mr. Christie attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wouldn’t outright say if he thought Mr. Trump was unfit for another term as president.
Mr. DeSantis did criticize Mr. Trump for not using his executive powers to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray during his term as president. He also said the former president didn’t deport as many illegal immigrants as he said he was going to.
“Some of these policies he ran on in ’16, I was cheering him on then, but he didn’t deliver it,” he said.
He also made a comment about the age of Mr. Trump, 77.
“I don’t think he’s as bad as Biden was at all,” he said. “But I do think that over a four-year period, it is not a job for somebody that’s pushing 80. We need somebody that’s younger, we need somebody that’s going to be able to go in there and clean house on Day One, and do it for two terms.”
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has been a consistent cheerleader for the former president. He criticized his fellow candidates on stage for “licking Donald Trump’s boots for years for money and endorsements.”
He also said he doesn’t think that Mr. Trump is “the real enemy.”
“It’s not even Joe Biden,” he said. “It is the deep state that at least Donald Trump attempted to take on.”
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley hit Mr. Trump on the way he handled relations with China.
“This is where Trump went wrong,” she said about his relationship with China. “Trump was good on trade. But that’s all he was with China because here he allowed fentanyl to continue to come over. He would give them technology that would build up their military and hurt us.”
“He allowed the Chinese infiltration for them to buy up farmland to put money in our universities and to continue to do things that were harmful for America,” she continued. “We now have a spy base in Cuba and police stations. And Trump didn’t do anything about it.”
She also criticized him for how much he added to the country’s debt.
“As much as everybody wants to talk about how Donald Trump had a good economy — $9 trillion in debt he did just in four years and we’re all paying the price of that including those mortgage prices,” she said.
Mr. Trump has qualified for all four GOP debates but has not attended any. On Tuesday, he attended a town hall in Iowa hosted by Fox News host Sean Hannity.