Republican presidential candidates debated each other Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — but once again, front-runner and former President Donald Trump was not among them.
Just four candidates made the cut for the fourth debate of the 2024 GOP presidential primary: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
The two-hour debate, which started at 8 p.m. ET, aired on NewsNation and was moderated by SiriusXM host Megyn Kelly, NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas and Washington Free Beacon editor Eliana Johnson.
Scroll down to follow updates from the debate.
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That's A Wrap On Debates For 2023
Nikki Haley Markets Herself As The ‘No Drama’ Candidate In Closer
“Our country is in chaos. We have to stop the chaos,” she said. “But you can’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos. And that’s what Donald Trump gives us.”
“No drama, no vendettas, no whining,” she continued.
Ron DeSantis Closes With His Florida Successes
“We gotta have people that are going to be willing to fight the people that are doing this to us,” he said, pointing to what he called a decline in American property and freedom. “We also need to win again as a party, yes win the election, but also win on these big issues. Nobody has defeated these people more than I have done in the state of Florida.”
“I will fight the good fight,” he continued.
Vivek Ramaswamy Closes By Calling Climate Change A Hoax
“The climate change agenda is a hoax,” he said, pointing to some dubious claims, including that pro-climate policies are killing more people than climate disasters.
“We should not be bending the knee to this new religion,” he continued. “We are flogging ourselves and losing our modern way of life battling this new god of climate, and that will end on my watch.”
Ramaswamy made similar comments in the first GOP debate in August.
Chris Christie Tells Audience To Stop Denying Reality About Donald Trump
In response to boos from the audience, Christie kept going:
“You can go about it all you like and continue to deny reality,” he told the audience. “But if we deny reality as a party, we're gonna have four more years of Joe Biden.”
“If you're too timid to take on Trump, believe me: Others will see that timidity," he added.
Haley: ‘We Need To Ban TikTok Once And For All’
“We really do need to ban TikTok once and for all,” Haley said. “And let me tell you why: for every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok every day, they become 17 percent more antisemitic.”
Haley appeared to be referring to a survey from a group called Kaggle, which appeared to conflate anti-Israel views to anti-semitism in its supposed data.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. has seen rises in both antisemitic and Islomophobic hate crimes.
Vivek Ramaswamy Ramps Up Attacks Against Nikki Haley: ‘I Don’t Have A Woman Problem’
“I don’t have a woman problem. I have a corruption problem. Nikki is corrupt,” the businessman said, repeatedly saying he rejects identity politics.
Earlier in the debate, Ramaswamy attacked Haley for talking about sending troops to Ukraine when she would not name three of the country’s provinces, as he demanded from her.
“You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it’s still a fascist neocon,” he said.
When asked if she would like to respond, Haley said: “No, it’s not worth my time to respond to him.”
Megyn Kelly Asks Extreme Anti-Trans Question
“The surgeries done on minors involve cutting off body parts at a time when these kids cannot even legally smoke a cigarette,” Kelly said in a question to Christie. “Kids who go from puberty blockers to cross sex hormones are at a much greater likelihood of winding up sterile. How is it that you think a parent should be able to okay these surgeries, nevermind the sterilization of a child?”
The question leans on Republican dogwhistles and ignores the advice of the nation’s medical bodies.
DeSantis Blames Antisemitism In Germany On… Immigrants?
The governor then went on to say that Germany, whose white supremacist government was responsible for the Holocaust, is seeing a resurgence in antisemitism because of immigrants who “aren’t part of their culture.”
Chris Christie Says Donald Trump’s Dictator Comments 'Predictable’
“I think it's completely predictable,” Christie said of Trump. “He’s made it very clear, there’s no mystery to what he wants to do. He started his campaign by saying, ‘I am your retribution.’ Eight years ago, he said, ‘I am your voice.’ This is an angry, bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him.”
Trump previously said “I am your retribution” in reference to enacting revenge against his perceived enemies if he gets another term in the White House.
“If you ever got another Donald Trump term, he's letting you know: I am your retribution,” Christie said, but added that Trump "will only be his own retribution. He doesn't care for the American people. It's Donald Trump first.”
Chris Christie Calls Out Ron DeSantis For Dodging Question On Donald Trump’s Age
“Why doesn’t he just answer the question? The question is very direct,” Christie said after DeSantis spoke about his own laurels. “He’s afraid to answer.”
“No, I’m not,” DeSantis fired back.
“Either you’re afraid or you’re not listening,” Christie said. “You’re fit Ron, you’re a new generation, you’re 44 years old."
"Is he fit or isn’t he? This is the problem with my three colleagues, they’re afraid to offend," Christie continued. “If you’re afraid to offend Donald Trump, then what are you going to do when you sit across from President Xi, you sit across from the Ayatollah, you sit across from President Putin?”
Nikki Haley Keeps Touting Her Experience At The UN
“I dealt with Iran every day… and they only respond to strength,” Haley said. “You’ve gotta punch them, you’ve gotta punch them hard and let them know that. That’s what you do, and that’s when they’ll back off."
Ramaswamy quickly went on the attack, saying her time as ambassador was a “cup of coffee stint at the UN.”
Chris Christie Calls Vivek Ramaswamy ‘Most Obnoxious Blowhard In America’
“This is the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America,” Christie said of Ramaswamy.
Christie also went after Ramaswamy for his attacks on Haley.
“We're now 25 minutes into this debate, and he has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence – not her positions – her basic intelligence,” he said.
“Look, if you want to disagree on issues, that's fine,” Christie continued. “And Nikki and I disagree on some issues, but I'll tell you this: I've known her for 12 years, which is longer than [Ramaswamy has] even started to vote in the Republican primary.”
Chris Christie Didn’t Get To Say A Word Until 17 Minutes Into The Debate
When Christie was finally given the chance to speak, he warned viewers about Trump's dominance in the race.
Christie said there is no bigger issue in this election than Trump, pointing out that the other three candidates on the stage refused to say anything about him during their opening statements.
"I'm in this race because the truth needs to be spoken,” Christie said. “The fact of the matter is he's unfit to be president."
Chris Christie Would ‘Absolutely’ Send U.S. Troops To Get American Hostages
The Florida governor instead touted his military experience and shifted focus to Iran.
“Ron gets asked a question, and he avoids answering it,” Christie said immediately after DeSantis spoke. When asked the same question, Christie said he would “absolutely” send U.S. troops to bring back American hostages.
Hamas initially held what was believed to be about 250 captives, until a temporary truce allowed for the militant group and Israeli forces to exchange some hostages. It’s now believed that there are about 130 hostages remaining. Eight Americans are still unaccounted for following the Oct. 7 attack.
Chris Christie Compares Trump To Voldemort
“We’ve had these three acting as if the race is between the four of us,” Christie said of his opponents on the debate stage.
“The fifth guy doesn’t have the guts to show up and stand here,” Christie said of Trump. “And yet, I’ve got these three guys who want to seemingly compete with Voldemort – he-who-should-not-be-named. They don’t want to talk about it.”
Vivek Ramaswamy Uses Question About Unity To Attack Nikki Haley
He quickly called DeSantis a good person, but fired off a bombastic attack against Haley once again, calling her “corrupt” for her roles on company boards after leaving government and attacking rich donors who have given to her campaign.
“That math does not add up,” Ramaswamy says of Haley’s net worth after her tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.”
On the issue of billionaire donors, Haley said she will take “support from anyone,” saying her competitors were “are just jealous."
Nikki Haley Defends Taking Corporate Money
“He continues to lie about my record,” Haley said after DeSantis accused her of not fighting hard enough against the left. She went on to say that she believed the Florida governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill did not go far enough.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn and a Democratic megadonor, gave $250,000 to a super PAC supporting Haley.
The candidate said that she has “been a conservative fighter all my life,” but that if corporate entities want to “suddenly support us, we’ll take it.”
Ron DeSantis Responds To Low Poll Numbers In Opening Statement
“Nikki Haley is beating you in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and is closing in on you in Iowa,” moderator Kelly said. “Not to mention Trump, who is dominating you in the early states and beating you in Florida by 30 points.”
DeSantis said it’s not the polls that decide the nomination.
“The voters actually make these decisions, not pundits or pollsters,” he said. “I’m sick of hearing about these polls.”
DeSantis then attacked Haley, saying “she caves any time the media comes after her.”
These Are The Rules For Tonight’s Debate
There’s a timing light so candidates know when their time is up. The moderators asked the audience to keep applause to a minimum for the two-hour debate.
The Candidates Take The Stage
Chris Christie Addresses Donald Trump’s Dictatorship Comments: 'Trump Can’t Help Himself'
“I think [Trump] intends on being a dictator for all the days of his presidency,” Christie told NBC News ahead of the debate.
During the town hall, Trump repeatedly dodged Hannity’s questions about whether he would abuse his power in office, adding that he would only act like a “dictator” on “day one” of his administration.
“He’s right, and he’s telling the truth,” Christie said. "Trump can’t help himself. Every once in a while, he makes a big mistake: He tells the truth. Doesn’t happen all the time.”
What Is NewsNation, Anyway?
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity and allows us to have more people fully sample the network and see who we are and what we’re doing,” Cherie Grzech, NewsNation’s senior vice president of news and politics, told The Associated Press earlier today.
The Nexstar Media Group-owned network started out as a three-hour nightly newscast on the cable channel WGN America in 2020 before being spun off into its own 24-hour news shop the following year. It was billed as an unbiased, centrist alternative to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, but critics say it leans far more conservative than that. Even at tonight’s debate, two of the three moderators are conservative media figures not associated with NewsNation.
Megyn Kelly Is Back, 8 Years After Making Debate Headlines
“He’s still ticked off about that debate question,” Kelly said in a Newsmax interview in September, referring to the time in 2015 she asked Trump on the debate stage if his temperament was suited for the presidency given his tendency to call women he dislikes “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Trump was outraged at the time and refused to participate in an upcoming debate that Kelly, a Fox News anchor at the time, was moderating.
In an interview with Real Clear Politics last week, Kelly posed whether there was even a point to the debate without clear frontrunner Trump participating. “Does it matter at all?” she pondered.
She also slammed moderators at recent GOP debates for not throwing in new questions on the fly in response to big moments, like Haley calling Ramaswamy “scum” for his comments on her daughter’s TikTok use.
“These moderators are too tied to their written questions. They’re not nimble. They are afraid to deviate from what their producers put in front of them. That isn’t good television!” she said.
Kelly currently hosts a talk show and podcast on SiriusXM. After leaving Fox News for NBC News in 2017, the network canceled her show the following year when she defended white people wearing blackface on Halloween.