The fourth Republican debate featured a much-diminished field, but the night fell into a familiar pattern: rivals firing attacks at an ascendant candidate, a longshot candidate grasping at insults, and a palpable absence of the actual frontrunner, Donald Trump.
Polling shows the former president remains far ahead of any of the candidates onstage despite skipping each debate. His political action committee did not mince words and called the event a “race for second place”.
The debate took on new urgency as the candidates – former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, Florida Gov Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – only have mere weeks to cobble together support before the first contest in Iowa.
Each candidate used their precious time on the debate stage differently.
Mr Christie pressed his colleagues to denounce Mr Trump, Ms Haley flaunted her foreign policy credentials, Mr DeSantis emphasised his culture war success in Florida and Mr Ramaswamy embraced conspiracy. At several points, personal insults flew between the candidates.
Here are the most important takeaways from Wednesday’s debate.
Everyone takes on Nikki Haley
As in each previous debate, the candidates all had a primary target. Tonight’s was Nikki Haley.
The former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador has seen a surge in momentum, though she still places third in most polls and trails far behind Mr Trump.
But her recent success earned more than a few pointed attacks.