Key Takeaways From the Fourth GOP Presidential Debate

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Four candidates took the stage Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the fourth Republican presidential debate of the 2024 campaign: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in the GOP race, skipped the event for a fundraiser in Florida.

Podcaster and former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, NewsNation anchorwoman Elizabeth Vargas, and Washington Free Beacon Editor-in-Chief Eliana Johnson moderated the debate, which NewsNation hosted at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The debate ran from 8 to10 p.m. Eastern.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former Vice President Mike Pence all dropped out of the race after appearing in earlier debates. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson remains in the race, though he has failed to qualify for any debate since the first.

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10:33 p.m.: ‘Conspiracy Theorist’

Ramaswamy depicted himself as a great truth-teller, willing to deliver truths that appear to be “conspiracy theories” to some other people.

“I think the real enemy is not Donald Trump. It’s not even Joe Biden. It’s the deep state that, at least, Donald Trump attempted to take on,” he said.

Ramaswamy said he was the only person on the stage who could say that the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, “now does look like it was an inside job; that the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11; that the great replacement theory is not some grand, right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform; that the 2020 election was indeed stolen by Big Tech; [and] that the 2016 election—the one that Trump won for sure—was also one that was stolen from him by the national security establishment that actually put up the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false.”

10:18 p.m.: ‘I Stood Up for Little Girls, You Didn’t’

As moderator, Kelly homed in on Christie as she turned the discussion toward transgender surgeries and other procedures for children. 

“How is it,” Kelly asked the former New Jersey governor, “that you think a parent should be able to OK these surgeries, never mind the sterilization of a child, and aren’t you way too out of step on this issue to be the Republican nominee?”

Christie responded by insisting that elected officials “should empower parents to be teaching the values that they believe in in their homes,” rather than using the government to stop the transitioning of minors. 

DeSantis took the opportunity to take a shot at Haley for her past remarks on keeping the law out of the matter, saying to strong applause: “As a parent, you do not have the right to abuse your kids. This is mutilating these minors. These are irreversible procedures. And this is something that other countries in Europe, like Sweden … they saw it did incalculable damage. They shut it down.”

Haley defended her record on the subject as governor of South Carolina, saying that “we had maybe a handful of kids that were dealing with an issue.”

“I said, we don’t need to bring the government into this, but boys go into boys’ bathrooms, girls go into girls’ bathrooms, and if anyone else has an issue, they use a private bathroom,” Haley said. “Now, 10 years later, we see this issue has exploded.” 

Haley then accused DeSantis of hypocritically downplaying the need for bills banning boys from girls’ bathrooms, to which DeSantis responded: “I signed a bathroom bill in Florida; so, that’s obviously not true.” 

“I signed it, you didn’t,” he told Haley. “You killed it, I signed it. I stood up for little girls, you didn’t do it.”

10:08 p.m.: ‘If They Are Harvesting, We’re Harvesting’

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton was allowed to ask a question at the debate. 

“What should states do now to increase election integrity?” asked Fitton, head of the government watchdog. 

DeSantis talked about his record of election reform in Florida, but said Republicans can’t unilaterally disarm on the issue. 

“Do what we did in Florida. Twenty years ago, Florida elections were a joke,” DeSantis responded. “Everyone laughed at it. I came in. I removed a couple of [election] supervisors from South Florida.”

DeSantis stressed that Florida banned ballot harvesting, which is the practice of allowing political operatives to collect and distribute large numbers of absentee ballots from election offices. 

He also said that Florida banned private dollars from funding election administration, commonly referred to as “Zuckerbucks,” a reference to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s spending more than $400 million on election offices, mostly in Democratic areas of battleground states. 

“We require universal voter ID, no Zuckerbucks, no mass mail balloting, and no ballot harvesting,” the Florida governor said. “We even have an agency that prosecutes people for violating election laws. The result of that is in both 2020 and 2022, we counted millions and millions of votes on election night, and produced the results. It was transparent and everybody was happy. That is not happening throughout this country.”

DeSantis added, however, that if he is the Republican presidential nominee, he will play by the rules of individual states. 

“Let me tell you this, as the nominee, I think it’s important. Not every state is where it needs to be,” he said. 

“There is ballot harvesting in places like Nevada. I’m not going to fight with one hand tied behind my back,” DeSantis continued. “I’m going to have organizations in all the swing states. If they are harvesting, we’re harvesting. If they are going to have Zuckerbucks, we are going to have Zuckerbucks.”

“We are going to exploit whatever the rules are,” he said. “I favor changing the rules to be like Florida and some of the other states that have done a good job. But until then, we have to do that.”

9:57 p.m.: DeSantis, Haley Trade Barbs Over Who’s Soft on China

A question about illegal immigration and the proliferation of fentanyl in the United States sparked a debate between DeSantis and Haley on who would be tougher on China.

“Look at where fentanyl came from. Let’s go to the heart of the matter,” Haley said. “It came from China. That’s why we need to end all normal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl.”

Haley said that Trump was good on trade with China, but that’s all he was good at regarding the Chinese regime, because fentanyl continued to come through the border. She said Trump gave China technology that bolstered its military.

DeSantis responded by saying that Haley courted Chinese businesses and influence when she was governor of South Carolina.

“She wrote a love letter to the Chinese ambassador, saying how great a friend China is,” he said, later adding: “There’s also a video of her, as governor, standing in front of a Chinese flag with a Chinese business saying that she now works for them, talking about this Chinese company.”

DeSantis then said that Haley’s “Wall Street donors” make money in China and won’t let her be tough on Beijing.

“He’s just mad because those Wall Street donors used to support him and now they support me,” Haley retorted.

She then said that DeSantis held an event with a Chinese company in his state, which he denied was the case. The Florida governor responded by saying that he banned China from buying land in Florida and shuttered Confucius Institutes, Chinese-backed cultural centers on college campuses.

“Even the liberal media groups” said Haley’s charges about his bringing Chinese companies to Florida were false, DeSantis said.

9:50 p.m.: Securing America’s Southern Border 

DeSantis had said during a previous debate that he would support shooting aliens entering the country illegally and with dangerous drugs.  

“The drug cartels are invading our country, and they are killing our citizens by the tens of thousands every year,” the Florida governor said Wednesday in defense of those comments.  

“The commander in chief not only has a right, you have a responsibility, to fight back against these people,” DeSantis said of the Mexican cartels.  

He added that he supports designating the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations and supports building a border wall and “will get it done.”  

“I am not going to sit there and allow mothers to lose more kids because of fentanyl overdose,” DeSantis said. “I am not going to sit there and let sex trafficking go unabated or human trafficking go unabated. There’s going to be a new sheriff in town, and these drug cartels better buckle up,” he said as the crowd cheered.  

Haley said the 7 million or 8 million illegal aliens who have entered America under the Biden administration “absolutely have to go back,” adding, “We have to stop the incentive of what’s bringing them over here in the first place.”  

For illegal aliens who have been in America longer than a few years, Haley said, “We’ve got to start seeing, who is it? How long have they been here? Have they been vetted? Have they paid taxes? Have they been working?”  

Haley said she would support sending “special operations” over to “take out the cartels” and reimplementing the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy. But when it comes to fentanyl, the former U.N. ambassador said America must hold China accountable for providing the cartels with the materials needed to make fentanyl.  

America needs to “end all normal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl,” she said.

9:33 p.m.: Would You Send Troops to Israel?

Eight Americans remain hostage in Israel two months after Hamas took them captive on Oct 7.  

“How far would you go as president to secure the release of those eight American hostages, and would it include sending American forces into combat,” one of the moderators asked DeSantis.  

“We have to look out for our people,” DeSantis said, adding that as president, “you have to do whatever you can” to get the hostages home.  

The Florida governor criticized President Joe Biden, claiming the president says he supports Israel, but has done “nothing but try to kneecap them every step of the way.” The Biden administration must also pressure Iran and “turn the screws on them,” he said. “Don’t let him have any oil revenue.” 

Christie, dissatisfied with DeSantis’ answer, said if he were president and facing a situation like the current one in Israel, he would “absolutely” send troops if military advisers “had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely.”

“You’re damn right I’ll send the American Army in there to get our people home and get them home now, and I’ll answer that question directly,” the former New Jersey governor said.

Ramaswamy got involved in the Israel discussion when moderators questioned him on why he had criticized Haley for calling Hamas’ attack on Israel an attack on America.  

The entrepreneur condemned the attack on Israel, but added that “to say that that was an attack on America fails a basic test,” he said, before taking a shot at Haley.  

“I mean, Nikki, if you can’t tell the difference between where Israel is and the U.S. is on a map, I can have my 3-year-old son show you the difference.”  

Ramaswamy added Haley’s language “is irresponsible, because it has major consequences, because that doesn’t leave room for what actually is an attack on America.”  

9:23 p.m.: ‘Shut Up’: Christie-Ramaswamy Shoutfest

The two candidates at the back of the pack–Ramaswamy and Christie–engaged in a heated and seemingly personal exchange. 

Haley talked about the need for a strong America regarding the Russia-Ukraine war when Ramaswamy said that Haley had “no idea” of the names of the Ukrainian provinces she would allow the U.S. military to fight for. 

Ramaswamy said he was the first to propose a “reasonable” peace deal for Ukraine and Russia.  

Christie jumped in to say the deal would give Russia all they land it has stolen.

“This is the fourth debate that you would be voted … as the most obnoxious blowhard in America, so shut up,” Christie said. 

Ramaswamy shot back: “Your version of foreign policy experience was closing down a bridge from New Jersey to New York. Walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this race!”

At that point, the top-polling candidates on the stage–DeSantis and Haley–were remaining quiet. 

Ramaswamy said his opponents were following the lead of politicians who said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 

“You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney. It is still a neocon,” he said. 

Christie shot back that he has experience in prosecuting terrorists as a former U.S. attorney.  

“I was the U.S. attorney in New Jersey when the terrorist attacks were launched against the United States in 2001,” the former New Jersey governor said. 
“I brought the first two cases in this country against terrorists who tried to attack us again. And I know the threat of terrorism and bullying in this country and around the world,” Christie said. “At that time, he [Ramaswamy] was learning about the provinces in Ukraine, sitting with his smartass mouth at Harvard. The fact of the matter is, back then, he was a Democrat.”

9:14 p.m.: DeSantis, Haley Spar Over Trans Procedures for Kids

Haley used a leftist slur Wednesday evening to describe a bill that bans classroom discussions of gender and sexuality for children.

DeSantis slammed Haley’s remarks to “CBS Mornings” back in June.

“It wasn’t about the parents’ rights in education bill, it was about prohibiting sex-change operations on minors,” DeSantis said. “They do puberty blockers, they do irreversible—talk to [detransitioner] Chloe Cole, she went through this.”

“That is what Nikki Haley opposed,” the Florida governor added. “She said the law shouldn’t get involved in that, and I just ask you: if you’re somebody who’s going to be president of the United States, and you can’t stand up against child abuse, how are you going to be able to stand up for anything?”

Haley disputed DeSantis’ characterization, bringing up Florida’s HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Bill, which has drawn heavy fire from LGBTQ advocates, liberal media and Democrats.

“I never said that,” she responded. “I said that if you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, you should have to be 18 to have anything done to change your gender.”

“You said the law should stay out of it,” DeSantis responded.

During the June interview, Haley criticized pro-transgender policies that allow “biological boys” in girls’ locker rooms. Yet the interviewer asked her, “What care should be on the table when a 12-year-old child in this country assigned female at birth says, actually, ‘I feel more comfortable living as a boy’?” He asked if the law should allow that.

“Well, I think the law should stay out of it,” Haley said. “This is a job for the parents to handle.”

She went on to criticize the idea that kids should undergo permanent changes before they turn 18. She also emphasized that schools should not “go in and force things” on the issue.

Haley has previously criticized the idea that children should be allowed to undergo experimental transgender medical interventions before they turn 18.

“I actually said his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill didn’t go far enough,” she said.The Florida legislation does not mention the word “gay.” The law mentions the word “parent” 32 times and the word “parental” seven times. The law focuses on parental notification and parental awareness of what their kids are being taught or exposed to in school.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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