Four Republican debate takeaways: DeSantis and Haley fight as Trump skates

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In a one-on-one debate Wednesday five days before the Iowa caucuses, two Republicans seeking to dethrone Donald Trump as the 2024 primary frontrunner spat barbs and said little about the former president.

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As they race for second place in Iowa and nationally, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spent Wednesday evening trying to get past each other as the main Trump alternative.

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Chris Christie stepped out of the race hours before the CNN debate in Iowa, admitting he had little chance of winning. The debate excluded longshot candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

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 Trump has canceled all GOP debates to starve his opponents and create an atmosphere of inevitability, leaving DeSantis and Haley on the stage as alternatives.

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Donald Trump leads both candidates in Iowa, but Haley is stronger in New Hampshire. Iowa debate highlights: four major takeaways.

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DeSantis and Haley spent most of their time criticizing one other and letting Trump skate just days before Republican voters begin choosing a nominee.

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 During the first hour-plus of the debate, Trump hosted a solo town hall on Fox News, although he received additional criticism later.

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DeSantis and Haley clearly memorized the opposition research file on each other, including the details, and they deliberately provoked each other. 

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Trump's decision to boycott the debates was validated politically because he faced less substantive criticism that may damage his primary advantage.

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