Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis
The two candidates other than Trump with double-digit vote intention AFP

Four 2024 Republican candidates are set to face off on Wednesday night in a new debate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take the stage with the goal of rising above the rest as former President Donald Trump's top contender.

Trump will skip the debate once again, choosing to host a private fundraiser instead. However, he will likely be one of the main discussion topics as his vast lead over the other candidates doesn't seem to have dwindled all year. According to FiveThirtyEight's latest polling average, his voting intention stands at almost 60 percent, while the runner-up, Ron DeSantis, has plunged in polls to 13 percent compared to more than 30 at the beginning of the year.

The focus will be on whether Nikki Haley can continue increasing her numbers, currently at 10.5 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, and overtake DeSantis as the runner-up. They are expected to take aim at each other as they seek to be the clear alternative to Trump with the Iowa caucuses almost six weeks away.

Without a new debate scheduled and plenty of air time, especially considering that Senator Tim Scott dropped out after the last debate, the event in Alabama can be a breaking point for all aspirants. Latinos will be looking on, not only because of their interest in national topics concerning the entire U.S. population, but also because of more specific, hot-button issues directly impacting members of this demographic.

Candidates have already spoken about some of them in past edition, which can provide hints about future statements. Potential military presence in the southern border to tackle issues such as fentanyl trafficking and the relations with Venezuela were among the salient topics. This is what they have said about it in the last debate, which took place in Miami in early November.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump
Former US president Donald Trump will be a presence even if he isn't present at the debate AFP

About Fentanyl and Sending Military Presence to The Southern Border

Christie said that the quickest way to prevent fentanyl from crossing would be to beef up security at ports of entry. Additionally, he said on day one, he would sign an executive order sending the National Guard to partner with border patrol at ports of entry and open entrances. Christie said customs and border patrol agents are overwhelmed with more than 200,000 encounters at the southern borders a month.

As for DeSantis, he said: "We're declaring it a national emergency on day one. I'm sending U.S. military to the border. I'm going to stop the invasion cold," DeSantis said. "I am going to deport people who came illegally, and I'm even going to build a border wall, and I'm going to have Mexico pay for it."

About this latter statement, he said Mexico would pay for it by imposing fees on remittances workers send back. Additionally, he said he would designate cartels as foreign terrorist organizations or create a similar category and he would authorize the use of deadly force, as well as introduce maritime operations to intercept precursor chemicals going into Mexico to produce the drug.

Haley said what she would do is "go to the source" and stop all normal trade relations with China, considering reports showing that precursors used to produce the drug have come from the country. She said she would then send in special operations into Mexico to take out the cartels, put 25,000 more border patrol and ICE agents on the ground, defund sanctuary cities, go back to the remain in Mexico policy, and instead of catch and release, they will catch and deport people at the border.

Ramaswamy said he would build a good relationship with the next soon-to-be president of Mexico in 2024 (the country will hold presidential elections in June 2024) and use the U.S. military to seal the southern border, but he would also address the northern border. He said enough fentanyl was seized at the southern border to kill 3 million people.

Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott were on stage for the Republican presidential debate in Florida AFP / Mandel NGAN

About relations with Venezuela

Only DeSantis and Haley were asked whether they thought Venezuela's political situation is a threat to the U.S.

DeSantis said the U.S. should never depend on Venezuela for oil, scrap the Green New Deal and lower gas and energy prices. He said he wants the U.S. to be more energy independent and that Biden's Green New Deal supports Venezuela.

"So I would turn the screws on the Venezuelan regime. I think it's a corrupt dictatorial regime, and we should never be hat in hand begging for oil from them," DeSantis said. Additionally, he said he would reimpose sanctions against Venezuela, which Biden pulled back on in exchange for electoral guarantees.

Haley had a similar approach as DeSantis, saying the U.S. needs to do everything it can to sanction Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro. Additionally, she said the U.S. should not be getting dirty oil from them. She also said she believes that Biden giving 500,000 Venezuelans temporary priority status will incentivize more Venezuelans to come to the U.S.

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