2024 candidates Haley and Trump never debated each other. Do voters care?

Anna Wilder | (TNS) The State (Columbia, S.C.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Donald Trump and Nikki Haley have thrown insults at each other over the last few weeks as the South Carolina Republican primary inches closer.

“Birdbrain,” “incompetent,” “unhinged,” and many more terms were used. Yet, they never got on stage together to debate policy, or strengths and weaknesses as candidates. Do South Carolina voters care?

Those who attended the Haley town hall this week said there should have been a debate. But those at the Trump town hall in Greenville on Tuesday were indifferent.

Leah Veldhoven attended the Fox News town hall Sunday in downtown Columbia where Nikki Haley answered questions, Veldhoven wished she had gotten a chance to see the two debate because it would have pulled Haley into the light more than she has been, she said.

“Even though she’s all over the news quite a bit, I still feel like there’s lots of people that don’t know what she’s all about, and what she truly wants to do for the country,” Veldhoven said.

Amery Davis, who also attended the Haley town hall, said Trump needed to debate Haley, and he needed to do it “now.”

“He could say what he wants to say, he’s not able, he can’t keep up with her. He couldn’t keep up with her when she was an ambassador. She would always try and clean up his mess.”

In late January at a rally in South Carolina, Haley referenced Trump saying he would score higher than her on a mental competency test. “Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But what I said was ‘OK, if that’s the case, then get on a debate stage and let’s go. Bring it Donald, show me what you got,” she told the crowd.

Jackson Gosnell, a University of South Carolina student studying broadcast journalism, said he thought a debate allows voters a “better opportunity of who to choose.”

“A lot of people could argue that it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. But maybe it would. I mean, we haven’t seen it yet. We see a town hall with each of them, but not going head-to-head, and I think that’d be pretty important.”

In 2020, the incumbent Trump stated he would not debate any primary challenger. His competitors debated each other without him.

In 2016, 12 debates and nine forums were held for candidates of the Republican party. At a March 3 debate, Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio went in on each other, but mostly on Trump. From his stance on immigration to Trump university, the debate became heated at times when candidates went after Trump on what they felt were changing opinions.

The first GOP debate of 2016 on Aug. 6, 2015. CNN reported that while the nine other contenders made “noticeable blunders,” Trump stole the show. Trump was called out for his language towards women, his flipping stance on abortion and even immigration policies. But he continued to answer with ease, CNN stated. When asked specifically about his flip on his abortion stance, he said “I’ve evolved.”

Gosnell said more people may be more likely to watch debates compared to town halls, and that a debate could reach a wider audience.

“There’s the argument that he’s so ahead, why would he even debate? But I do think a debate might be important. Maybe there is some missed opportunity with both of them not on a debate stage together.”

Noah Lindler, a second year University of South Carolina student and VP of College Republicans, also attended the Sunday Haley town hall, and said the College Republicans campus group discussed whether Trump should have joined a debate with Haley.

Lindler said he understood why Trump didn’t debate Haley.

“There was really no need just based on polling numbers and where he stands, however, from a kind of a moral point of view he should have in order to allow voters to have the chance to hear what he says and how he’s able to argue his positions compared to other other candidates,” he said.

Cammie Teems, from Manning, attended the Trump town hall, and said she felt it was helpful for voters, but she did like how debates offered different aspects than a town hall would.

“I think the things that I do like about debate is how the people respond and interact in person.”

Yvonne Julian, county chair for the Greenville Republican party, said personally no, but she did wish it had happened for people who are undecided.

“Some of the answers to questions she’s given, you know, for me would not have had any benefit for him to debate her because my mind was already made up,” Julian said.

During his town hall, Trump mentioned debating other Republican candidates. Host Laura Ingraham asked if he would wish to challenge Joe Biden in a debate. Trump said he would “right now,” because there was an obligation in that case. He said he would do as “many debates as necessary,” against Biden. However, he felt differently on debating Republicans.

“When it came to the Republicans and I was up by 40, 50, 60 points, like being up with her [Haley]. I think a poll just came out I’m at 91 and shes at 7 … you want to be smart, you don’t have to waste your time,” Trump said.

James Edward, a lift operator from Virginia, who drove down for the Trump event, said he did wished he saw Trump debate Haley.

“I feel like if you’re gonna compete against somebody then you should debate,” Edwards said. “There should be a swapping of the minds, so to speak.”

Lelis Welch, from Oklahoma, but was visiting Greenville on vacation and attended the event, said she didn’t necessarily care for Haley to debate Trump. At one point, she wasn’t anti-Nikki, but now she is, she added.

“I’ve heard her say so many negative things. One thing she said ‘he wants me to drop out, I do not do what Donald Trump says, I didn’t even do that when I worked for him,’ I thought ‘what?’ You worked for the President and you didn’t follow his instructions? So no, no. I don’t even like to hear her speak to tell you the truth.”

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