The perils of momentum.
Within minutes of the opening question in the fourth Republican primary debate, Nikki Haley — the former ambassador to the United Nations who has been rising in the polls, though she is still far behind former President Donald J. Trump — found herself on the receiving end of well-practiced attacks from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Vivek Ramaswamy.
For the first 15 minutes, Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy took turns heaping criticism on Ms. Haley, at times cutting each other off before Ms. Haley had time to respond.
When she did, she savored the moment.
“I love all the attention, fellas — thank you for that,” Ms. Haley, the only woman in the race, quipped.
The attacks began as Mr. DeSantis, midway through a defense of his floundering poll numbers, pivoted to claiming that Ms. Haley did not support his law that banned transition care for transgender minors. (Ms. Haley has said she opposes such care but deflected on Wednesday, instead saying she did not think a different law Mr. DeSantis signed went far enough.)
Mr. Ramaswamy, avoiding answering a question about whether he was a “unifier,” instead took aim at Ms. Haley’s personal financial endeavors, claiming she had been “bankrupt” after she left the Trump administration and had quickly looked for ways to make money.
“We weren’t bankrupt when I left the U.N. — we’re people of service,” Ms. Haley replied. “My husband is in the military, and I served our country as U.N. ambassador.”
Her retort did little to halt the continued assault from Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy, who continued a joint argument that Ms. Haley would be beholden to her wealthy donors.
Again, Ms. Haley shot back.
“In terms of these donors that are supporting me, they’re just jealous,” Ms. Haley said of her two rivals. “They wish they were supporting them.”