Fourth Republican primary debate: Haley tells rivals 'you're just jealous' as she rises in polls

Nikki Haley during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate
Nikki Haley during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate - JIM WATSON
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Nikki Haley said her rivals were jealous of Democrat donations to her campaign as polls show she had risen to become Donald Trump’s closest rival.

The former South Carolina governor was accused of being “corrupt” and in thrall to Wall Street’s liberal elite donors, by Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Wednesday night.

“They’re just jealous,” Ms Haley replied. “They wish that they were supporting them.”

New polling shows that while she continues to trail Mr Trump, the former UN ambassador has risen into second place with 14 per cent support. The former president dominates with 59 per cent while Mr DeSantis is close behind also on 14 per cent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The 51-year-old has pulled even with Mr DeSantis in polls of Iowa and is in second-place in New Hampshire and her native South Carolina, two other key early voting states.

The recent momentum made her the top target of her three on-stage rivals.

Mr Ramaswamy called Ms Haley 'corrupt'
Mr Ramaswamy called Ms Haley 'corrupt' - Reuters

Mr DeSantis, the Florida governor, questioned Ms Haley’s conservative credentials as he highlighted the funding she has received from a Democratic megadonor and attacked her position on transgender issues.

The pair were battling to emerge as the most viable alternative to the absent Mr Trump, who remains the overwhelming frontrunner in the race, which kicks off in Iowa on January 15.

Mr DeSantis angrily defended his sliding polling figures and staffing turmoil, saying: “I’m sick of hearing about these polls.”

“We have a great idea in America that the voters actually make these decisions, not pundits or pollsters,” the 45-year-old said.

The fourth and final Republican debate before voting begins was notably aggressive from the outset.

Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, 61, launched into a tirade against Mr Ramaswamy, whom he branded “the most obnoxious blowhard in America”.

Mr Ramaswamy, in turn, made a jibe about Mr Christie’s weight as he told him to “walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out of this race”.

The back and forth came as the candidates split on US support for Ukraine, with Ms Haley and Mr Christie making a forceful case for continuing to fund Kyiv’s forces.

“You’ve gotta punch ‘em hard,” she said of Russia, and other US adversaries.

“You’ve got to see all these issues are related,” she said, arguing supporting Ukraine against Moscow’s invasion was in the US national interest.

Mr Ramaswamy, like Mr Trump, has expressed scepticism over large-scale spending and claimed Ms Haley was unable to locate parts of Ukraine on a map.

He also attacked Ms Haley over the financial backing she has received from billionaire Democrat donor Reid Hoffman, and her links to the multinational Boeing.

“It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt,” he said, at one point holding up a handmade sign that read “Nikki = Corrupt”.

Ms Haley brushed off the attacks, smiling and declaring: “I love all the attention, fellas. Thank you for that.”

Ms Haley has pulled even with Mr DeSantis in polls of Iowa
Ms Haley has pulled even with Mr DeSantis in polls of Iowa - Getty Images

The candidates were grilled on their views of the 77-year-old former president, but all, apart from Mr Christie, were reluctant to attack him directly.

Mr DeSantis refused to say whether Mr Trump, facing 91 criminal counts, was fit to serve again, but sharpened his rhetoric as he argued it was time for a new generation of leaders.

“Father Time is undefeated, the idea that we’re going to put someone up there that’s almost 80 and there’s going to be no effects from that – we all know that that’s not true,” Mr DeSantis said.

Mr Christie said he was the only candidate prepared to confront Mr Trump, whom he predicted would be convicted before election day in 2024.

Mr Ramaswamy, meanwhile, mounted a defence of Mr Trump and advanced a number of baseless conspiracy theories, including the suggestion that the Jan 6, 2021, Capitol riot was an “inside job”.

There were areas of agreement, however, with all the candidates taking a hardline on immigration.

Mr DeSantis said there were lessons to be learned from across the Atlantic. “Europe is committing suicide with mass migration,” he said.

The debate aired on the fledgling NewsNation network and featured a whittled down field, after the Republican National Committee raised the polling and donor threshold to appear on stage.

But it was Mr Trump, the indisputable frontrunner with a more than 40-point lead in polls, who claimed victory as his allies declared the debate a “waste of time, money and energy”.

04:39 AM GMT

That's all for today

Thank you for following our live coverage of the fourth Republican primary debate.

04:19 AM GMT

Ramaswamy tears into Haley backstage

Vivek Ramaswamy has torn into Nikki Haley backstage as he gaggled with reporters in the spin room here at the University of Alabama.

The wealthy entrepreneur defended himself against his rivals’ claims he has a woman problem, and claimed the media has been treating Ms Haley with “kid gloves”.

He said: “I think the mainstream media has treated Nikki Haley with kid gloves for exactly the reason that she plays that card, just like Kamala Harris does.

“But I don’t think that we should have anybody who’s immune from scrutiny and debate.

“If you want to sit across the table from Xi Jinping, we’re not playing with kid gloves. I’m certainly not.”

04:14 AM GMT

Analysis: Why Donald Trump is tonight's real winner

It was the final showdown before the Republican presidential primary begins in Iowa in a few weeks’ time.

Sparks flew from the opening question, with the top two candidates on stage, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, frequently trading blows.

In short, of those on stage, Ms Haley confirmed she is the one to beat, Vivek Ramaswamy hurt his bid with incessant interruptions, and Ron DeSantis failed to steal the show.

But it was Donald Trump who came out top by skipping the whole thing, and opting to host a fundraiser instead.

Read the full analysis here to find out why.

04:04 AM GMT

DeSantis won the debate, says major donor

Major Ron DeSantis donor Dan Eberhart has said the Florida governor won the fourth debate.

“DeSantis came out on top,” he said.

“Republicans have now got to get in behind the only guy who can win and deliver for the country.”.

He added that “Haley will make a great Secretary of State in the DeSantis administration”.

04:00 AM GMT

Christie doubles down on criticism of rivals

Chris Christie has doubled down on his criticism of his Republican rivals, arguing that they are too timid to take on Donald Trump.

The former New Jersey governor said after Wednesday’s debate that the other three candidates on stage in Tuscaloosa were “pretending we’re the only four candidates in the race.”

Mr Christie added that if his rivals are afraid to stand up to Mr Trump, they are not fit to challenge other world leaders.

03:53 AM GMT

Dispatch: Back stage after the debate

Back stage at the spin room, the candidates and their surrogates are busy touting their lines of the night to the waiting reporters.

Doug Jones, a former Democrat senator acting as a surrogate for Joe Biden, has been comparing Republicans to a Monty Python skit.

Ken Cuccinelli, a key figure for the DeSantis-supporting super pac Never Back Down, tells me that the Florida governor dealt with Nikki Haley effectively by critiquing her stance on America’s culture wars.

He dismisses the recent turmoil at Never Back Down, which has seen some of its top figures abruptly depart.

Vivek Ramaswamy has got into a heated debate with a Rabbi who accosted him over his stance on Israel.

03:45 AM GMT

Ramaswamy dominates speaking time at debate

Vivek Ramaswamy spent the longest amount of time speaking at the fourth debate.

CNN’s speaking time tracker put him at 22 minutes and 36 seconds, with Ron DeSantis narrowly behind on 21 minutes and eight seconds.

In third was Nikki Haley on 17 minutes and 28 seconds, while Chris Christie spoke for the least amount of time at 16 minutes and 52 seconds.

03:36 AM GMT

Declare your winner of the Republican debate

Use our interactive form to have your say on the winner of tonight’s fourth Republican debate.

03:34 AM GMT

Democrat slams 'absurd' debate

Doug Jones, Alabama’s former Democrat senator, has criticised the debate held in the state’s capital, Tuscaloosa.

“This isn’t a debate,” he said. “None of what’s happened so far qualifies as debate.

“It’s been an unproductive mix of bullying, arguing and absurd one liners. Real dialogue, real policy is a distant dream.”

03:25 AM GMT

Have your say: Who won the debate?

03:24 AM GMT

Debates a 'waste of time and money', says Trump campaign

Donald Trump’s campaign super PAC has called the Republican primary debates a “waste of time, money and energy”.

“The battle for second place has become the biggest waste of time, money and energy that politics has ever seen,” said Karoline Leavitt, spokesperson for Make America Great Again Inc, after the fourth debate.

“These candidates are putting up a fake fight to satisfy their egos and please their billionaire puppet masters.

“It’s beyond time for Republicans to do what’s best for the country – unify around president Trump so we can maximise our use of time, money and energy against Joe Biden and the Democrats.”

Mr Trump, the clear frontrunner in the polls, has skipped every debate.

03:19 AM GMT

Ramaswamy has a 'woman problem', says Christie

Chris Christie has continued his verbal attacks on Vivek Ramaswamy after the debate.

He told CNN that Mr Ramaswamy has a “woman problem” and insults their “basic intelligence”.

“I had enough of listening to his garbage,” he added.

“As I said, his smartass Harvard mouth.”

03:15 AM GMT

Debate ends

The debate has now come to a conclusion. We’ll be bringing you all the reaction as it comes in.

03:13 AM GMT

No candidate names Trump as their inspiration

None of the four Republicans challenging Trump for the nomination named him as inspiration for their possible future administrations.

Christie said he would draw inspiration from Ronald Reagan, saying he has been working on a book about a president he called a “slave to the truth.”

Haley named both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln while DeSantis praised Calvin Coolidge, saying that “silent Cal knew the proper role of the federal government”.

Ramaswamy, the stage’s youngest candidate, said he would take inspiration from Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

03:11 AM GMT

'Climate change hoax' shackling US, says Ramaswamy

The United States is being “shackled” by a the “hoax” of climate change, Vivek Ramaswamy said in his closing remarks at the debate.

“This climate change agenda that is shackling this country like a set of handcuffs,” he said.

“The climate change agenda is a hoax, because it has nothing to do with the climate. That’s what we have to see.”

03:05 AM GMT

DeSantis warns of 'jeopardy' of declining America

Ron DeSantis has warned Republicans of leaving a poorer United States to their children than they themselves inherited.

“We are in jeopardy of being the first generation of Americans to leave to our kids and grandkids in America less prosperous and less free than the one we inherited,” he said in his closing remarks.

”I refuse to sit out sit idly by and let that happen. But we gotta have people that are going to be willing to fight the people that are doing this to us.

“You can’t be these establishment Republicans that just cave at the first sign of opposition.”

03:03 AM GMT

Media stream goes down

There’s more grumbling from the reporters in the media room here at the Frank Moody Music Hall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as the NewsNation television feed goes down.

It has twice been cut off during the candidates’ closing statements. Cable news reporters are filling the silence with their own live hits.

03:02 AM GMT

We can't replace Democrat chaos with Trump chaos, says Haley

Nikki Haley has called on the Republican party to not replace “Democrat chaos” with “Republican chaos” by selecting Donald Trump as the presidential nominee.

“We have to stop the chaos but you can’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos,” she said in her closing remarks. “And that’s what Donald Trump gives us.

“My approach is different. No drama. No vendettas. No whining.”

03:00 AM GMT

Candidates and moderators let conspiracy theories slide

As the candidates quibbled about who would speak the truth to voters, everyone – moderators and candidates alike – let a rant of baseless conspiracy theories from Vivek Ramaswamy pass by unchecked.

In a run-on sentence, Mr Ramaswamy rattled off a series of false and dubious claims, including that the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol was an “inside job” and that the 2020 election was stolen by “big tech”.

He also reiterated his belief in the “great replacement theory,” calling it “a basic statement of the Democratic party’s platform.”

The theory is that there is a plot to diminish the influence of white people in America.

02:58 AM GMT

Ron DeSantis leans into culture wars

Ron DeSantis is leaning into America’s culture wars, red meat for this conservative audience.

He draws loud cheers over when he rebuts Chris Christie’s defence of legislation he signed as governor of New Jersey to protect guidance trans students in the state’s schools.

“The minute you start to take those rights away from parents, you know, that’s a slippery slope,” Mr Christie said. “What rights are going to be taken away next?”

Parents, Mr DeSantis hits back, “do not have the right to abuse” their kids.

02:57 AM GMT

Trump will be convicted before election day, predicts Christie

Chris Christie has predicted Donald Trump will be convicted of felonies before the 2024 election.

”I want you all to kind of picture in your minds election day, you’ll all be heading to the polls to vote,” he said in his closing remarks.

“And that’s something that Donald Trump will not be able to do because he will be convicted of felonies before then and his right to vote will be taken away.”

The crowd in Tuscaloosa booed Mr Christie for his remarks.

“Look, here’s the bottom line, you can boo about it all you like and continue to deny reality,” he said. “But if we deny reality as a party, we’re gonna have four more years of Joe Biden.”

02:45 AM GMT

Christie: China must have 'hell to pay' if they attack Taiwan

The US must deter an invasion of Taiwan by ensuring China knows it would have “hell to pay” if it invaded, Chris Christie has said.

“When it comes to China and Taiwan, the one way that we keep China from going into Taiwan is one make sure that we win in Ukraine that we protect our friends, but also let China know that there’ll be hell to pay if they go into Taiwan,” he said.

“They need to know that there’s going to be a force that’s going to go against them and they need to know it’s not just going to be the United States.

“That is why we need to build our partnerships with India, with South Korea, with Japan, with the Philippines, with Australia. We need to start pulling that alliance together.”

02:36 AM GMT

Watching TikTok makes you more anti-Semitic, says Haley

Nikki Haley has said TikTok should be banned because using the app makes people more anti-Semitic.

“The third thing is we really do need to ban Tiktok once and for all,” she said when asked what the US can do to combat a wave of anti-Semitism on university campuses.

“And let me tell you why. For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok everyday they become 17 per cent more anti-Semitic, more pro-Hamas based on doing that.

“We now know that 50 per cent of adults 18 to 25 think that Hamas was warranted for what they did with Israel. That’s a problem.”

02:31 AM GMT

In pictures: Tonight's debate

Ron DeSantis speaks beside Nikki Haley
Ron DeSantis speaks beside Nikki Haley - Jim Watson
Vivek Ramaswamy gesticulates as he speaks
Vivek Ramaswamy gesticulates as he speaks - Justin Sullivan

02:18 AM GMT

Tonight is a test for NewsNation

Tonight’s debate is not just a test for the candidates on stage, but for NewsNation too.

The upstart cable network was founded in 2021 and is still working to gain a strong foothold in the American media landscape.

A few hiccups backstage have left reporters in the media filing room grumbling.

The power outlets at our work stations have stopped working a few times, and the Wi-Fi has been occasionally patchy. Worst of all, the coffee supply has run out.

02:14 AM GMT

Analysis: Moderators struggling to contain shouting match

The moderators are having a difficult time in this debate. It’s frequently descended into a shouting match.

The longest and loudest squabble came just now as Chris Christie challenged Ron DeSantis to openly attack Donald Trump.

“No one can hear you!” shouts Megyn Kelly.

The pugnacious former television news star is struggling to contend with these terse shouting matches.

Vivek Ramaswamy chimes in next, saying all the others have been “licking [Trump’s] boots” for years.

02:13 AM GMT

What the candidates think of Trump

Ron DeSantis has been generally reluctant to make personal attacks against Donald Trump, wary of angering his large and influential base, but has sharpened his rhetoric on the former president.

Tonight at the fourth debate, Mr DeSantis said: “We should not nominate someone who is 80 years old.”

Nikki Haley has flip-flopped on her support for Mr Trump over the years but said at the third debate that she doesn’t think “he’s the right president now”.

Vivek Ramaswamy is Mr Trump’s strongest defender in the race and has pledged to pardon the former president of all the charges he faces. Tonight, he has accused his rivals of “criticising him when it’s convenient”.

Chris Christie, by contrast, has positioned himself as the most vociferously anti-Trump candidate despite previously being a close adviser to the former president. He has previously called him a “coward”, “Putin’s puppet”, and a “lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog”.

Read the full article here.

02:09 AM GMT

Crowd boos as Christie condemns Trump

The moderators are asking the candidates about the elephant in the room tonight: Donald Trump. Chris Christie is the only one to take the bait.

“Failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him... empowers him,” said the former New Jersey governor, chiding his rivals on stage for their silence.

“His conduct is unacceptable, he’s unfit, and be careful of what you’re going to get,” he adds.

Mr Christie highlights Mr Trump’s transformation, noting how he has gone from telling his supporters “I am your voice”, to “I am your retribution”.

The audience here in Tuscaloosa is unimpressed, booing loudly at the end of Mr Christie’s remarks.

Their reaction underscores the dilemma for the other candidates, who are attempting to differentiate themselves from Mr Trump but are weary of alienating his base.

02:03 AM GMT

Europe 'committing suicide' with mass migration, says DeSantis

Europe is “committing suicide” through mass migration, Ron DeSantis has said.

“You have more anti-Semitism in Germany than at any time since Adolf Hitler,” he said.

“Why? Because they imported mass numbers of people who reject their culture.

“Europe is committing suicide with mass migration, and it’s illegal and legal.”

He added: “We cannot let the United States be like Europe.”

01:59 AM GMT

The reasons why Trump is the clear Republican frontrunner

Donald Trump has a clear lead over his rival candidates in swing states.

The former president also leads on the economy in swing states.

And his considerable poll lead remains seemingly unassailable.

01:53 AM GMT

Watch: Christie calls Ramaswamy America's 'most obnoxious blowhard'

01:45 AM GMT

Trump was weak on China, says Haley

The candidates are now being asked about how they would handle America’s fentanyl epidemic and their stance on China, a key supplier of fentanyl-related substances.

Nikki Haley ramps up her criticism of Donald Trump as she takes a tough line on Beijing.

“This is where Trump went wrong,” she says.

“Trump was good on trade. But that’s all he was with China.”

So far, Ms Haley and Chris Christie are the only candidates to take the fight to Mr Trump, the indisputable frontrunner in the race.

Nikki Haley speaks at the Republican debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Nikki Haley speaks at the Republican debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Brian Snyder

01:39 AM GMT

Christie springs to Haley's defence

Chris Christie continues his defence of Nikki Haley. “We disagree about some issues,” he says, but Ms Haley “is a smart, accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her” he says as he chides Vivek Ramaswamy.

Mr Ramaswamy is undeterred. “Do everybody a favour, just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out of this race,” he tells Mr Christie.

It appears to be a jibe about Mr Christie’s weight, and the audience doesn’t appreciate it. There are boos from the crowd as Mr Ramaswamy says it.

Ms Haley thanks Mr Christie for leaping to her defence, although no doubt her team would have preferred it if the former New Jersey governor hadn’t qualified for tonight’s debate, since they are competing for the same slice of votes.

Chris Christie speaks during the fourth debate
Chris Christie speaks during the fourth debate - Gerald Herbert

01:37 AM GMT

Christie goes after Ramaswamy

Chris Christie is aggressively going after Vivek Ramaswamy.

The former New Jersey governor looked visibly angry as he responded to the 38-year-old entrepreneur, who has just called into question Nikki Haley’s understanding of foreign policy.

As Mr Christie tries to reply, he faces incessant interruptions from Mr Ramaswamy, leading him to angrily label him “the most obnoxious blowhard in America”. “So shut up,” he adds.

01:31 AM GMT

DeSantis donor: Ron needs to take fight to Trump

A top DeSantis donor, Dan Eberhart, has just texted me his thoughts on what the Florida governor needs to do tonight.

“Gov DeSantis needs to show he’s presidential timber,” he says. “The number one enemy for Ron DeSantis is Donald Trump not Nikki Haley. He needs to take the fight to Trump.”

Mr DeSantis is under pressure from donors to prove his mettle tonight.

But his responses so far are focused on Ms Haley, not Mr Trump. Let’s see if that changes as the night goes on.

01:29 AM GMT

Christie: I'd send US troops to Israel

Chris Christie has said he would send American troops to Israel to secure the release of the eight American hostages who remain in Hamas captivity.

“I would absolutely,” he said.

“If they [Israel] had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely, you’re damn right I’d send the American army in there to get our people and get them home now.”

01:23 AM GMT

Nikki Haley is prepared for a fight

Nikki Haley knows she’s the biggest target tonight, and has come prepared for a fight.

She is fiercely defending her support from Democratic donors amid attacks from Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy.

“They’re just jealous,” she crows.

At another point, she jokes: “I love all the attention fellas, thank you for that.”

01:21 AM GMT

Analysis: DeSantis less robotic than previous debates

There is no warm up or preamble with this debate. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have nosedived into the event, both aggressively taking shots at each other.

The responses and counter responses are coming thick and fast. It’s more proof they both know what’s at stake.

Mr DeSantis is more agile, and less robotic than we’ve ever seen him.

Perhaps his debate with California governor Gavin Newsom has given him a taste for a more combative approach.

01:14 AM GMT

Ramaswamy calls Haley 'corrupt'

Vivek Ramaswamy has called Republican rival Nikki Haley “corrupt” as sparks flew in the party’s fourth televised primary debate.

“Nikki, you were bankrupt when you left the UN,” he said. “After you left the UN you became a military contractor.

“You actually started joining service on the board of Boeing whose back you scratched for a very long time and then gave foreign multinational speeches like Hillary Clinton is, and now you’re a multimillionaire, that math does not add up.

“It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.”

Ms Haley hit back by saying Mr Ramaswamy and the other candidates are just “jealous” of how many donors she is getting.

Vivek Ramaswamy is seen on stage during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate
Vivek Ramaswamy is seen on stage during the fourth Republican presidential primary debate - Jim Watson

01:09 AM GMT

Haley defends conservative credentials

As expected, Nikki Haley is immediately having to defend accepting cash from corporate, and liberal-leaning political actors.

“I was a Tea Party candidate when I became governor,” she said, defending her conservative credentials.

01:07 AM GMT

I'm sick of hearing about my bad polls, says DeSantis

We’re underway with a tough first question for Ron DeSantis. Has the Florida governor’s campaign crashed and burned?

That’s essentially what moderator Megyn Kelly wants to know, pointing out Nikki Haley has caught up to him on polls.

“I’m sick of hearing about those polls,” Mr DeSantis retorts. He looks genuinely quite angry and defensive.

And he doesn’t waste any time bashing Ms Haley. “She caves anytime” anyone comes after her, he says.

01:05 AM GMT

Trump's presence will still be felt

Donald Trump may not be in Alabama tonight, but he will still be a major presence on stage. Moderator Elizabeth Vargas has said the debate panel will be aiming to make the former president a key feature.

“He’s the person they all have to beat,” she told Politico. She suggested the candidates will have to explain why they are better placed than Mr Trump.

“Because otherwise, up there just criticising Joe Biden, you’re basically all surrogates for Donald Trump,” she said.

01:03 AM GMT

Candidates take to the stage

Tonight’s four candidates have now taken to the stage, with the debate set to begin.

01:01 AM GMT

In pictures: Tonight's venue

A police honour guard ahead of the start of the debate
A police honour guard ahead of the start of the debate - Justin Sullivan
Protests signs outside the venue
Protests signs outside the venue - Alyssa Pointer

12:58 AM GMT

Candidates enter the venue

All four of the candidates have just entered the arena.

Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, and Chris Christie are dressed almost identically in navy suits and red ties. Nikki Haley might be aiming for some subtle messaging with a cream dress, which could be a nod to the suffragists.

All four candidates are scribbling furiously in the final minutes before the debate begins. The audience has been occasionally breaking into applause as the candidates look up.

“Don’t leave your seats,” one of the moderators warns the audience, minutes before we go live. “This is not a good time for a bathroom break!”

12:54 AM GMT

Moderators enter hall

The moderators have just entered the debate hall and introduced themselves to the audience.

The Megyn Kelly Show host Megyn Kelly, news anchor Elizabeth Vargas, and Washington Free Beacon editor in chief Eliana Johnson are moderating tonight.

Debate moderators Eliana Johnson, Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Vargas take to the stage
Debate moderators Eliana Johnson, Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Vargas take to the stage - Justin Sullivan

12:53 AM GMT

Analysis: Combative debate expected

Will tonight’s be the most substantive debate yet? The smaller stage lends itself to more tussles between the candidates.

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis’ teams have both made clear they want to prove themselves to be the most viable Trump alternative to the party base.

Vivek Ramaswamy is unlikely to make that too easy for either of them. Will we see more arrows from the political newcomer?

His aggressive interjections have provided some of the most newsworthy moments of the last three debates – including his heated back and forth with Ms Haley in the last debate in Miami. Her retort – “you’re just scum” was the line of the night.

12:48 AM GMT

Analysis: The topics that will come up tonight

Given the location for tonight’s debate, we can hazard a guess at a few of the topics that will likely feature here at the Frank Moody Music Hall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Abortion, healthcare, the Republican impeachment probe into the Bidens, spending on Ukraine and Israel are all contenders for tonight’s debate bingo card.

Abortion in particular is a tricky issue to navigate for Republican candidates, with the party’s conservative base out of step with the wider voting public on the issue.

Nowhere is that more true than right here in the heart of the Bible Belt. Nikki Haley, who has tread a delicate balance on the issue, might have a trickier time laying out the nuances of her position before this particular debate audience.

12:43 AM GMT

The latest polls

Donald Trump remains the leading Republican in the polls, with an average support of 59.6 per cent according to ABC News’ polling tracker FiveThirtyEight.

Second is Ron DeSantis on 12.7 per cent, with Nikki Haley shortly behind on 10.6 per cent as she closes the gap on the Florida governor.

Vivek Ramaswamy is in fourth on 4.9 per cent and Chris Christie is the least popular of tonight’s debaters on 2.7 per cent.

12:38 AM GMT

Biden allies attending debate

Some of Joe Biden’s cheerleaders are at the Republican debate tonight.

They include Doug Jones, Alabama’s former Democrat senator, a rare beast in this deep red state. Mr Jones popped into the media spin room ahead of the debate to stump for the president.

His successor in the US senate, Tommy Tuberville, has just ended his one-man, 10-month blockade of hundreds of military nominations in protest over the Pentagon’s abortion policy for service members.

Mr Biden, and his proxy Mr Jones, intend to hold up Mr Tuberville’s blockade as an example in their warnings against an “extremist” Republican agenda in 2024.

12:31 AM GMT

The qualifications for tonight's debate

The qualifications to take part in the televised Republican debates have been steadily tightened as time has gone on.

To qualify for tonight, candidates had to have received six per cent support in at least two national polls, or six per cent in one national poll and six per cent in a state poll in any of the key states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada.

They also need to have at least 80,000 individual donors and 200 donors from each of 20 or more states and territories, the Republican National Committee said.

Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas governor, is still in the running but will not take part tonight because he does not meet these qualifications.

12:25 AM GMT

Analysis: Why tonight is Nikki Haley's to lose

Tonight is Nikki Haley’s to lose. The former South Carolina governor is in the ascendant, with the 51-year-old polling second in some key early states.

Her rising profile has even drawn attention from Democratic donors. That might be a strong way for Ms Haley to underscore her broad appeal in a general election, but it’s politically toxic with the conservative base.

She’s likely to face attacks after it emerged this week that Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn and a Democratic megadonor, has put $250,000 (£214,259) behind her.

Ms Haley, in turn, might question why her low-polling rivals Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy are still in the race.

Read the full article here.

12:21 AM GMT

Where is Donald Trump?

Donald Trump is not taking part in tonight’s debate and will instead be hosting a campaign fundraiser in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

On the night of the first debate, the former president released a pre-recorded interview with conservative commentator and former Fox anchor Tucker Carlson.

For the second debate, he delivered a speech in front of union workers in Detroit and during the third in Miami, Florida, he hosted a rally for his own supporters across town.

12:13 AM GMT

Analysis: Moderator Megyn Kelly will grill candidates

Expect a fiery debate with moderator Megyn Kelly.

The former Fox News star made headlines across the planet after a terse exchange with Donald Trump during a Republican primary debate in 2015.

Her pointed questioning of Mr Trump’s comments about women prompted him to later claim Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”, triggering widespread condemnation.

Mr Trump and Kelly have since patched things up and she has publicly entreated the former president to attend the debate, promising their matchup would be ratings gold

Mr Trump hasn’t taken the bait, but expect the pugnacious Kelly to live up to her reputation of asking difficult questions.

12:08 AM GMT

How tonight's debate will work

Tonight’s debate will last two hours and be broken up into four segments.

The candidates will be asked questions on the war in Gaza, Ukraine and domestic political issues.

They will each have a 90-second opening statement, 60 seconds to answer questions and follow-ups and 60 seconds at the end for a closing statement.

The debate is being shown live on NewsNation, The Megyn Kelly Show on SiriusXM and the Washington Free Beacon.

It will also be livestreamed on Rumble, a video-sharing platform popular with some conservatives.

The Megyn Kelly Show host Megyn Kelly, news anchor Elizabeth Vargas, and Washington Free Beacon editor in chief Eliana Johnson are moderating the event.

12:03 AM GMT

The candidates taking part tonight

Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, was only narrowly behind Donald Trump in the polls at the start of this year.

But his faltering campaign to be the Republican nominee has seen the momentum shift towards Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who has closed the distance between her and Mr DeSantis considerably in the last two months.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the outspoken 38-year-old tech entrepreneur, is on the Right of the Republican party and has called for cuts to taxes and the size of the federal government.

Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, was once a supporter of Mr Trump but has since become his most vocal critic among the Republican candidates. He only narrowly met the qualifications to take part in the debate.

Tim Scott, Doug Bergum and Mike Pence – who all appeared in earlier debates – have now dropped out of the running, leaving a much slimmer field tonight. Asa Hutchinson is still in the running but has not qualified for tonight’s debate.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has boycotted all of the televised debates so far. He is by far and away the frontrunner in the race for the nomination, having more support in the polls than all other candidates combined.

12:00 AM GMT

When does the debate start?

Good evening and welcome to The Telegraph’s live coverage of tonight’s fourth Republican primary debate.

We will be bringing you all the latest from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where four candidates are taking to the stage at the University of Alabama at 8pm ET (1am GMT).

Donald Trump is not taking part in the contest, meaning Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie will be the only candidates debating.

Rozina Sabur, our Deputy US Editor, is at the debate and will be bringing you all the latest.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.