In their last, desperate chance to make any kind of mark with party members before the Iowa caucuses, the four top GOP candidates not named Donald Trump met for a fourth Republican primary debate Wednesday defined largely by dueling insults that were often strikingly personal.
Trump is of course far and away the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, and has refused to participate in these primaries. But hope — and bitter emnity — springs eternal among the people likely to lose to him in just a few short weeks. Which may explain why only one of them, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was willing to criticize the former president in specific terms.
Sponsored by NewsNation network at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the event was moderated by ex-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation and Eliana Johnson of the Washington Free Beacon.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and billionaire businessman Vivek Ramaswamy stepped up their ongoing feud, with Ramaswamy calling her a “fascist” and at one point held up a sign during the debate that read Nikki = Corrupt, as he hammered the theme that she and the other candidates are bought and paid for by corporate donors.
Haley held back personal comments, a departure from the last debate when she said “you’re just scum” to Ramaswamy when he called her hypocritical for slamming the TikTok social media platform while her daughter uses the app.
At one point, Ramaswamy said “I question her authenticity,” then ratcheted up the gender war between the two, stemming from her accusation against him of being misogynistic.
“She said I have a woman problem. Nikki, I don’t have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem and I think that’s what people need to know. Nikki is corrupt,” Ramaswamy said, repeating his criticism of her profiting from working for defense contractor Boeing Corporation and big-money donations to her campaign.
When Haley was offered the chance to respond, she smiled and said it’s “not worth my time” to respond to Ramswamy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined his fellow Harvard alumnus Ramaswamy in bashing Haley’s courage and leadership, saying “she caves anytime the left comes after her and any time the media comes after her.”
Haley shrugged off the barbs and appreciated the two men giving her more air time.
“I love all the attention, fellas. Thank you for that,” Haley said with a smile, before she seriously addressed the leadership question
“I have been a conservative fighter all my life. I was a tea party candidate when I ran for governor of South Carolina,” Haley said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the toughest on former Pres. Donald Trump for not participating in debates and swamped with legal troubles. Christie said a second Trump presidency would be dangerous for America, since Trump will use presidential power to settle scores with his political enemies.
“This is an angry, bitter man,” Christie said, adding that the other candidates have been too soft on Trump, while “pretending he is a victim empowers him.”
While Ramaswamy and DeSantis took turns trashing Haley, Christie came to his fellow former governor’s defense when Ramaswamy dismissed her experience at the U.N.
“This is a smart, accomplished woman, and you should stop insulting her,” Christie said
Ramaswamy did not head the advice, and said the party and country need more foreign policy “wisdom” than what he sees in Haley and Christie, and added that their unwavering support of Ukraine could end up getting American soldiers killed.
Old school Republicans like Haley and Christie “want to send your sons and daughters to die in Ukraine,” Ramaswamy said, then challenged them to name the provinces in Ukraine where they would send American soldiers.
Christie shot back at Ramaswamy’s dismissal of his experience, noting that he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey during the 911 attacks, while Ramaswamy “was learning about the provinces in Ukraine, sitting with his smart-ass mouth at Harvard.” He added that Ramaswamy an “obnoxious blowhard.”
Ramaswamy doubled down, saying Christie and Haley will repeat foreign war policies from the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration, replacing Iraq and Afghanistan with Ukraine.
“You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, and it’s still a fascist neocon,” Ramaswamy said, pointing at Haley. “This is a woman who will send your kids to die so she can buy a bigger house.”
DeSantis stayed out of most of the personal attacks, other than accusing Haley of “caving” to corporate donors. But he did hammer one of his staples, that the United States needs “a wall” on its southern border, along with a serious military presence, “to stop cartels from smuggling fentanyl across the border.”