The smallest group yet of Republican candidates faced off Wednesday in the fourth 2023 GOP presidential debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with the night’s first salvos aimed at former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, while former President Donald Trump, who has a wide lead in the polls, held a closed campaign fundraiser in Florida.
From the beginning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy had harsh words for Haley, whose poll numbers have been improving after strong results in previous debates. She was also endorsed a few days ago by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, and a super PAC supporting her has received large donations from tech and Wall Street financiers. The fourth candidate on stage, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, did not get a chance to speak for the first 15 or 16 minutes of the debate during the series of attacks on Haley.
But that soon changed, and Christie used his time to defend Haley against Ramaswamy, whom he considered “the most obnoxious blowhard in America,” and to criticize his Republican opponents for not speaking out against Trump.
Still, the first three debates haven’t done much to change the dynamics of the race among Republican primary voters. The last, from early November, showed Trump winning 61% of likely GOP primary voters nationwide, more than all other candidates combined. DeSantis got 18%, Haley 9%, Ramaswamy 5%, Sen. Tim Scott 4% and Christie 2%.
Here are the highlights from the fourth Republican presidential debate.
DeSantis and Ramaswamy team up to attack Haley: “I love all the attention, guys”
DeSantis and Ramaswamy were quick to attack Haley, who is rising in the polls as the race for second place heats up.
“She caves every time the left comes after her, every time the media comes after her,” DeSantis said.
Ramaswamy later joined in and questioned Haley’s wealth since she left government service.
“Nikki, you were bankrupt when you left the UN. After you left the UN, you became a military contractor,” he said, referring to Haley’s stint on Boeing’s board, “whose back you scratched for a long time and then recovered.” . speeches from foreign multinationals like Hillary Clinton, and now you’re a billionaire. That math doesn’t add up. It adds to the fact that you are corrupt.”
Ramaswamy also criticized wealthy donors to Haley’s campaign, saying they are funding “left-wing causes.”
“In terms of these donors who support me, they’re just jealous,” Haley responded. “They wish they were supporting them.”
DeSantis said, “Nikki will defer to those big donors when necessary.”
The pair also went after Haley for proposing that all social media users should be verified by their names online.
“I love all the attention, guys,” Haley said. “Thanks for that.”
Christie criticizes Ramaswamy in defense of Haley: ‘The most obnoxious braggart in America’
Christie offered a spirited defense of Haley against Ramaswamy’s insults to her intelligence.
After Ramaswamy claimed Haley couldn’t name three provinces in eastern Ukraine to which she would send U.S. troops, Christie accused the businessman of routinely backtracking on comments he makes on the campaign trail when political opponents confront him about his positions. .
“This is the fourth debate where you would have been voted America’s most obnoxious braggart in the first 20 minutes, so shut up,” Christie told Ramaswamy.
The former New Jersey governor accused Ramaswamy of insulting Haley’s intelligence, rather than her political positions, claiming, for example, that she cannot identify regions in Ukraine or find Israel on a map.
“If you want to disagree on some issues, that’s fine, and Nikki and I disagree on some issues,” Christie said. “I’ve known him for 12 years, which is longer than he even started voting in the Republican primaries, and while we disagree on some issues and we disagree on who should be president of the United States, in what we disagree “This is an intelligent, accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her.”
Christie went on to criticize Ramaswamy’s lack of experience, stating that while serving as a top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Ramaswamy was “learning about the provinces of Ukraine by sitting with his know-it-all mouth at Harvard.”
“All he knows how to do is insult good people who have committed their lives to public service and say nothing that will move the ball forward in the court for America,” Christie said.
Christie confronts DeSantis about Trump: ‘Is he fit to be president or not?’
Christie, Trump’s strongest critic in the race, confronted DeSantis after he avoided directly answering whether the former president is mentally fit to be in the White House again.
“The idea that we’re going to put someone in there who’s almost 80 years old and there’ll be no effects from that, we all know that’s not true,” DeSantis told the moderators.
“The question was very direct,” Christie said emphatically. “Is he fit to be president or not?”
Christie and DeSantis talked to each other, as Christie repeated, “Ron, is he in shape?”
“Look, Father Time is undefeated,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know what he would score on a test, but I know this: We have the opportunity to nominate someone and elect someone for two terms… We shouldn’t nominate someone who is almost 80 years old.”
When DeSantis was asked to clarify whether Trump is fit, Christie mocked him: “He’s afraid to respond.”
“No I’m not!” DeSantis replied.
“Either you’re afraid to respond or you’re not listening,” Christie said. “This is the problem with my three colleagues. They are afraid of offending. If you are afraid of offending Donald Trump, what are you going to do when you are sitting in front of President Xi, in front of the Ayatollah, are you sitting in front of Putin? You have than being willing to offend with the truth.”
Earlier in the debate, Christie called Trump’s behavior unacceptable, saying he is “an angry, bitter man who now wants to be president again because he wants to exact retaliation on anyone who disagreed with him, anyone who treated to force him to fulfill his mandate”. account for his own conduct.” He added that “each of these policies he talks about is intended to follow a plan of retaliation.”
“Not speaking out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that he’s somehow a victim, gives him power,” Christie said. “You want to know why those poll numbers are where they are? Because people like these three guys on stage make it seem like their behavior is acceptable.”
Divisions emerge among Republican candidates over parental rights
A question about parental rights and gender-affirming care for young people showed a split between Christie and DeSantis on an issue that has gained traction among Republican voters.
Christie said he favors limited government involvement and believes parents should have the power to make decisions about their children.
“I trust the parents,” he said.
The former governor of New Jersey, who opposes state restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, said parents should make the decisions for their children. He noted that he and his wife care more about their four children than about a government official in a dysfunctional Congress.
“Look at these jokers in Congress: it takes them three weeks to elect a president and, until two days ago, they couldn’t promote someone in the military in the United States Senate who got his new rank. And we’re going to put the health of my children and my decisions in their hands for them to make those decisions? For Joe Biden to make those decisions? Christie said.
He warned parents that if they cede those rights over gender-affirming care to states, it would be just the beginning.
“If you start giving up a little bit of this authority, you’re not going to like the authority that’s going to be taken away from you next,” Christie said.
But DeSantis defended the restrictions on gender-affirming treatment for minors that he signed into law as Florida governor, warning that the surgical procedures are “mutilating minors.”
“We cannot allow this to happen in this country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ramaswamy suggested that the federal government should take action on the issue of gender affirmation surgery.
— Melissa Quinn