- Date: 6th December 2023
- Location: University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Host: NewsNation
- Moderators: Megyn Kelly, Elizabeth Vargas and Eliana Johnson
- Chris Christie- Former Governor of New Jersey
- Ron DeSantis- Governor of Florida
- Nikki Haley- Former US Ambassador to the United Nations
- Vivek Ramaswamy- Businessman
Question: Are voters telling you- not no, but not now?
DeSantis: I’m sick of hearing about these polls, because it’s voters who decide, not pollsters. I remember the polls in November 2022 when it said that there was going to be a Red Wave. It was wrong but not in Florida, where we won. I won the biggest Republican win in Florida history. I’m sick of the GOP who aren’t willing to fight against the left. I’ve beaten these people, other candidates haven’t. We beat Dr. Fauci and George Soros. Attacks Haley on her views on trans teens.
Question: You left the government with just $100K, but now you have $8m five years later. Are you too tight with the bankers and the billionaires?
Haley: Says DeSantis didn’t go far enough and is lying about her record. I’ll take support from everyone and I’m a Tea Party reformer. We passed lots of conservative bills. We beat Obama. I don’t ask them what their policies are, they ask what my policies are. We don’t always agree. The most conservative grassroots group in the country endorsed me.
DeSantis attacks Haley once again on her comments on trans children. Says they have it on video.
Question: Can you see that people think you’re not a unifier and question your authenticity?
Ramaswamy: He goes back to Haley. He says she’s a military contractor, scratched the back of Boeing and she’s a multimillionaire. Attacks Republicans and says Haley is corrupt. She’s received endorsements from liberals. It’s going to take leaders from outside. Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Haley responds by saying that the family wasn’t bankrupt, but was compared to Ramaswamy. I worked with Boeing but left when I disagreed. The others are jealous. DeSantis jumps in and says Haley will cave. Ramaswamy also attacks Haley. Says Haley is more fascist than Biden. Haley defends her comments on internet anonymity.
Question: You endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020 but have now turned on him. He’s more popular than you. What do we do?
Christie: Attacks the others for squabbling amongst themselves. Trump is still ahead but won’t come on the stage. He’s a bully who has insulted everyone who dares disagree with him and supports dictators. We’ve gone seventeen minutes without mentioning him. He’s unfit to run and be president. There’s no bigger issue than this.
Question: How far would you go to release the American hostages in Israel/Palestine? Would you send troops?
DeSantis: Biden is trying to stop Israel from doing what needs to be done. Hamas wants a second Holocaust and to kill every Jew. We should work together. I served in Iraq and am the only military veteran running. Iranians are attacking them. Iran is the underlying problem- we have to turn the screws on them. We stand with Israel and they’re our best ally in the Middle East.
Christie attacks DeSantis for not answering the questions or being specific. He would send American troops.
Question: Why wouldn’t it be a good thing to finish Hamas?
Ramaswamy: ‘Finish Hamas’ is too vague. It wasn’t an attack on America. It’s irresponsible because it doesn’t leave room for what is actually an attack on America. It’s a standard GOP response. Israel doesn’t want the fleeting support of the West, but to do its own thing. It’s more pro-Israel. Lines of accountability should be clear. My sole moral duty is to my family. My sole moral duty as president is to the American people.
DeSantis points out that Americans were killed in the attack and that we’re in this together.
Question: Were you saying that it’s time to bomb Iran?
Haley: No. Iran only responds to strength, not when you give them money or weaken sanctions. 140 strikes on American troops in Syria and Iraq. We have to punch them and punch them hard. Go after their infrastructure. Russia was losing the war in Ukraine and then the attention went to Israel. There’s a reason why Taiwan wants to help Ukraine.
Ramaswamy attacks Haley for not knowing the Eastern Ukrainian provinces- she apparently recited them. Christie attacks Ramswamy and his deal. Calls him the most obnoxious blowhard in America. Defends Haley as a person. He and Ramaswamy exchange blows. Ramaswamy attacks foreign policy. Christie attacks Ramaswamy for his lack of experience and cites his own.
Question: Why do you think shooting illegal immigrants coming over the border with suspected fentanyl backpacks would be legal?
DeSantis: The elites don’t care. The President has both the right and responsibility to protect the people. They’re foreign terrorists. You have to make a judgment on intelligence and positive identification. We need to build a wall. Fees on remittances for foreign workers to fund it.
Question: Would you deport all illegals or just those who aren’t working and paying taxes?
Haley: Those who came under Biden needs to be deported. Look at the thousands of Venezuelans who have been allowed to come. Look at each individual. My parents came in legally. We need to send special ops over to end cartels. Remain in Mexico. Fentanyl came from China- we need to stop trade until they stop. Attacks Trump’s policy on China as being far too weak.
DeSantis attacks Haley’s China policy, especially as Governor of South Carolina. Haley responds by attacking him in kind.
Question: Are your policies offering false hope?
Ramaswamy: We must sort out the demand problem. There’s a crisis of mental health and lack of purpose in this country. A US President needs to be tough on China because fentanyl comes from here. China must play by the same set of rules. They unleashed hell by releasing COVID.
Question: Should the federal government do something to make homes more affordable or is this the free market at work?
Haley: It’s been so hard for young people like my daughter- the average homeowner age is now 49. It’s the fault of the Fed. Rates and insurances are too high and regulations are too strict. Grow our economy, look at the supply chain and stop the borrowing etc. Our kids aren’t going to forgive us. Attacks Trump for the debt.
Question: Inflation tops the worries/issues for Americans. Do Republicans share the blame and what would you do?
DeSantis: It was the fault of both parties in Washington D.C. We’ve taken the American Dream for people. We’ll be bringing down spending and borrowing and rates. Let’s bring domestic energy and open it up. Student loans are another issue. They should be backed by the university so that they have an incentive. Let’s give it to vocational training.
Question: You’ve praised Bitcoin. Won’t it help fraudsters and terrorists and criminals?
Ramaswamy: Whatever they have as the current framework isn’t working. We’ll shut down unnecessary bureaucracy, departments and regulations. People have been sold myths. Put the Fed in its place.
DeSantis says they want to get rid of cash and crypto.
Question: Do you support Trump’s plan for ideological screening?
Haley: We shouldn’t have a Muslim ban, but one from countries that are a threat, like Yemen, Lebanon and Iran. It’s not about religion, but about countries that are a threat. The biggest threat is China. We must focus on AI and cyber and space.
DeSantis points out antisemitism in Germany because of mass migration from countries that hate Jews. Attacks Haley and ‘The Squad.’ Ramswamy adds that there are illegals that are already here.
Question: What do you make of Trump’s immigration plan?
Christie: Calls Trump an angry, bitter man, who wants retribution on anyone who disagrees with him or is trying to hold him to account. I don’t think Trump was kidding when he said that he was a dictator. His numbers are high because his conduct is seen as acceptable. He will only be his own retribution. Trump only cares about himself.
Question: Are you saying Trump is not mentally sound enough to be president?
DeSantis: He’s nearly eighty. I think we need someone younger- it’s not for someone that old. Trump failed all of his promises and didn’t fire Fauci. I’ve promised and I’ve delivered 100%. I’ll do this as President. We’re going to bring a reckoning.
Christie accuses DeSantis of not answering the question. The question would be stricken in a report room. Is Trump fit or isn’t he? Says DeSantis is afraid to answer. DeSantis is fit to run. His colleagues are afraid to offend Donald Trump. We must be willing to offend with the truth. DeSantis responds by saying Trump isn’t as bad as Biden, but it’s not a job for someone pushing eighty. Ramaswamy says they’ve been licking Trump’s boots for support and endorsements and jobs. The real enemy is the Deep State. The government lied about the Great Replacement Theory and the 2020 election was stolen and Saudi’s involvement in 9/11.
Question: You don’t support a ban on gender surgery for underage kids, saying it’s a parental issue. Why is it ok for a parent to agree?
Christie: Republicans believe in less government. I trust parents. We should empower parents and not have the government telling them what their views should be. Why should my children’s health be narrated by a useless Congress and President? It’s a slippery slope. I’ll stand up for parents.
Question: When you were governor, you signed a bill saying that schools shouldn’t have to tell parents about a kid’s gender identity and they must accept what the kid says.
Christie: He says it’s a lie. I stood up for parents every time. Parents are going to make decisions we disagree with, but taking rights away
DeSanris says parents don’t have the right to abuse kids. This gets massive applause and cheers. Attacks Haley on the issue. Ramaswamy calls transgenderism a mental health disorder. We should have a minimum age. Haley says that DeSantis is lying because he’s losing. Ten years after she killed a bill on the bathroom issue, she says there are more kids wrestling with the issue. DeSantis says that he signed a bill.
Question: Are you questioning Nikki Haley’s faith and why do you refer to her by her full given first name Nimarata?
Question: I’ll say her nickname if she pronounces my name correctly. There’s a problem with identity politics-it’s worse when Republicans do it. Haley talks about being a woman and doing it in heels. I don’t have a woman problem- you have a corruption problem. Holds up a sign saying ‘NIKKI=CORRUPT.’ It’s a form of intellectual fraud. He calls her a puppet.
There’s a large amount of booing for this, as well as a few cheers. Haley refuses to respond, to cheers.
Question: Americans think more highly of the post office than the FBI and the DoJ. What would you do to increase the faith?
Christie: I’m the only person on this stage who has worked in the DoJ, having been appointed the day before 9/11. I’m proud of the seven years I spent in the DoJ. We did what we could in providing justice. Pick an attorney-general and attorneys who will do what is right, regardless of other factors. The most recent ones haven’t met that standard. A President shouldn’t put his thumb on the scales.
Question: Many Republicans are concerned about the legitimacy of elections. There’s no ID in many states and Pennsylvania must count undated mail-in ballots. What would you do?
DeSantis: Twenty years ago, elections in Florida were a joke. No mass mail or ballot harvesting. We counted millions on election night in a quick and transparent process. We’ll do what they do in order to exploit the rules, just like they do. The collusion investigation was disgusting. We’ll clear out the IRS.
Question: Ivy League presidents were asked whether calling for violence against Jews and genocide would violate college conduct. They all said it depends. How would you balance free speech and protecting students?
Haley: They would have been up in arms if it had been the KKK. We must get foreign money out of universities, and not give federal funding if we don’t. We must include anti-Zionism as part of anti-Semitism. We must ban TikTok as it encourages them to support Hamas and anti-Semitism. 50% of young adults think Hamas was justified. We’ll take your tax exempt status away.
Question: Israel reportedly had Hamas’ attack plan but reportedly dismissed it. Which threat is the one that worries you the most?
Haley: I worry about what’s going to happen between now and election day with Biden. It feels like the day before 9/11 and we all remember what the day after felt like. We must get foreign infiltration out the country. We must secure America. We must protect America.
Question: If China invades Taiwan, would you send troops?
DeSantis: We’ll prevent it from happening. We will follow our plan. Taiwan is important because if China is able to get them, they’ll export authoritarianism. Those who support Haley on Wall Street. grovel to China. We must deter China’s ambitions.
Question: You said we should arm normal Taiwanese. Is this a serious policy?
Ramaswamy: It’s part of a broader strategy. We must befriend India and protect its seas. The Second Amendment is a critical way of defending us from foreign autocrats. We’re scared of China because we depend on them for our modern way of life. They’re not applying the same constraints. It comes back down to economic dependence. Our own military depends on China.
Haley responds by talking about winning in Ukraine and let China know there’ll be hell to pay if they go into Ukraine. We must work with Pacific nations like Japan and Australia. Would we be ready if the rug was pulled out from under us? Masks and tests were made in China. We must no rely on China for anything related to national security.
Christie says we don’t have constitutional authority over Taiwan. If China went after Taiwan, I would defend them militarily. Disagrees with Haley that Trump was good on trade. He says those tariffs contributed to inflation. Trump didn’t change one policy on China.
Question: There has been no movement on Obamacare. Florida has a record number of uninsured. Why should we trust you?
DeSantis: People don’t have access to care and good doctors. We declined to expand Obamacare. We’re paying too much for everything. We need price transparency and honesty from big government.
Ramaswamy commends his wife as a surgeon working with cancer patients. They’ll pay for feeding tubes and pill pushers, but nothing that helps people. Doctors don’t get paid for those treatments. We need diverse insurance options. End anti-trust exemptions for healthcare companies.
Question: The vaccine race protects companies from liability over injuries and illnesses from the jab, in Operation Warpspeed. Should Trump be proud of it?
Ramaswamy: This goes back to Reagan- he admires him, but we can’t sue vaccine manufacturers. It’s crony capitalism. Free speech is most important in those alleged times of crisis. We shouldn’t have mandated these vaccines. We need to end the lobbying. There should be a lobbying ban of term. We need basic decency.
DeSantis says that it was wrong to force people to be jabbed. We protected Floridians from having this done. What about jabbing six month olds? It’s about Big Pharma making money. No one has been made accountable.
Question: Which former President would you draw inspiration from and why?
Christie: Reagan. I’ve been writing a book about Reagan called What Would Reagan Do? He was a slave to the truth.
Haley: Washington. He had a lot of responsibilities but he did so much. Look at the hardships Lincoln underwent. What will bring out the best in people?
DeSantis: Coolidge. He’s one of the few presidents who got almost everything right. He understood the role of the president under the Constitution. We can learn an awful lot from Coolidge.
Ramaswamy: Jefferson. He invented the swivel chair and wrote the Declaration of Independence aged 33. Freedom of speech is essential and he knew that.
Christie: Imagine election day. You can boo about it and denying reality, but we’ll have four more years of Biden if we have Trump as nominee. Others will see that timidity if we don’t stand up to him. They’ll take advantage. Every person is responsible for their own conduct, even a President.
Ramaswamy: We need to discuss the climate change agenda and how it’s a hoax. Eminent domain is being used to force the climate agenda on Iowa farmers through a carbon caption pipeline. That’ll end on my watch.
Haley: Our country is in chaos. We see it on our southern border, we see it on the city streets and college campus, we see it in foreign wars. We can’t defeat Democratic chaos with Republican chaos. I envision an America where we’re protected from illegal immigration and China.
DeSantis: We’re in jeopardy of leaving our country a worse place for our kids and grandkids. We must fight those who have done this. We need to win again as a party. No one has defeated them like we have. Leadership is not about doing what is easy. I will fight the good fight.
You know when you’re in class and there’s a bunch of kids squabbling all the time? Well, this is what the debate felt like. There was no real substance to it – it was all attacking, attacking, attacking. The real fight of the night seemed to be against Haley, who rightly or wrongly bore the brunt of the attacks. Ramaswamy in particular had it out for her.
Christie defended Haley and seemed like he was trying to be the adult in the room. He was almost the teacher’s pet in trying to get everyone to listen and answer the questions. He was also unafraid of going after Trump.
Haley spent more time defending herself than her policies. She seemed to get the most applause from the audience, but a lot of holes were poked in her record.
DeSantis was the likeliest to tout his own record as Florida Governor. He spent a lot of time attacking Haley’s record, but wasn’t as vicious about it.
Ramaswamy was definitely the most unique candidate in terms of both style and rhetoric. He was leaning towards perhaps the less establishment members of the party who lean towards Trump.
Each had some victories. Christie was least likely to line up the low blows. Haley wasn’t afraid to respond to attacks. DeSantis has a glowing conservative record to use. Ramaswamy spoke well about healthcare. That being said, it was still a pretty disastrous event. I’m sure American watchers have made their own conclusions and it’s not for me, a Brit, to have much of a say.
A poll of Iowa voters said Haley won, but Trump was clearly the winner overall. Despite not having attended the debate and his legal woes, he’s still polling extremely well among voters. Considering now the debates are going, it’s probably quite smart of him to keep away. Despite his absence, he still dominated the room- and the field.
(Side note: I love the name Tuscaloosa. It sounds very American).