Republicans Face Off In Fourth GOP Presidential Debate: Updates

Four GOP candidates took the stage Wednesday, but former president Donald Trump again declined to participate.
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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

This concludes our live coverage of the final GOP debate of the year. For more news and analysis, head to HuffPost.com.

More On Chris Christie's Voldemort Dig

HuffPost's Shruti Rajkumar has more details on Christie comparing Trump to "he who must not be named":

Vivek Ramaswamy's Latest Conspiracy Theory

HuffPost's Igor Bobic reports on the latest false claim floated by Ramaswamy during the debate: that the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an "inside job":

Nikki Haley Markets Herself As The ‘No Drama’ Candidate In Closer

Haley closes the debate by marketing herself as the rational candidate who will focus less on petty grievances and more on passing the Republican agenda.

“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.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ron DeSantis Closes With His Florida Successes

DeSantis uses his closing remarks to tout his success as the governor of Florida, saying his experience there will help him lead the country.

“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.
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Vivek Ramaswamy Closes By Calling Climate Change A Hoax

Ramaswamy uses his closing statement to decry the “climate change agenda,” one of his signature stances.

“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 his closing statement, Christie made clear Trump will be “convicted of felonies” before he is ever president again.

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.

Ron DeSantis Punts On Question About State’s Uninsured

DeSantis was asked about Florida’s massive levels of uninsured residents and his plans to replace Obamacare with something “better.”

He failed to answer how, exactly, he planned to do so, instead saying the state hadn’t worked to expand access to healthcare, and would focus on how expensive it had become.

“I think we have millions of Americans who do not have access to affordable healthcare,” the governor said. “Florida did not expand Obamacare, I think the states that did that are struggling financially. We are going to go after the cost. You’re paying too much for everything.”

More here:

Haley: ‘We Need To Ban TikTok Once And For All’

In response to a question about pro-Palestine protests across college campuses, Haley blamed the social media app TikTok for a rise in antisemitism in the U.S.

“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.
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Vivek Ramaswamy Ramps Up Attacks Against Nikki Haley: ‘I Don’t Have A Woman Problem’

Ramaswamy again went after Haley, saying he questions her authenticity when asked about his opinion on her decision to convert to Christianity and to not use the full Indian name she was given at birth.

“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.”
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Megyn Kelly Asks Extreme Anti-Trans Question

Kelly, who promised to address Republican efforts to limit the rights of transgender Americans, asked a stunning question about the rights of young trans kids.

“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?

Countering Haley’s answer rejecting a Trump-style Muslim ban, DeSantis said that he believes the U.S. should not accept immigrants from cultures who are “hostile,” citing Gaza as an example.

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’

Christie said Trump’s recent comments saying he’d act like a dictator on his first day back in office are “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.”
Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Chris Christie Calls Out Ron DeSantis For Dodging Question On Donald Trump’s Age

In a fiery moment, Christie attacked DeSantis for dodging a question about Trump's fitness to run for president at age 77.

“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?”

We’ve Entered The Donald Trump Section Of The Debate

As the start of the second hour of the debate, the moderators addressed the frontrunner who, again, is not on the stage. Kelly started by asking Haley about Trump’s recent pledge to re-up his controversial ban on immigration from Muslim-majority nations.

Haley said she’s open to bans on countries that have “terrorist activity” or “want to hurt Americans,” but is not in support of a “straight-up Muslim ban.”

Read more here:
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Nikki Haley Keeps Touting Her Experience At The UN

After a question about her position on Iran, Haley again argued her experiences at the UN informed her stance that the country needs a “strong America, not a weak America.”

“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’

Christie didn’t mince words while going after Ramaswamy.

“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.”
JIM WATSON via Getty Images

Chris Christie Didn’t Get To Say A Word Until 17 Minutes Into The Debate

The first 17 minutes of the debate were spent on DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy’s opening remarks, with DeSantis and Ramaswamy frequently attacking Haley.

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

DeSantis avoided the question of whether he would send U.S. troops to retrieve American hostages being held by Hamas, after the Palestinian militant group took hundreds of people captive during its Oct. 7 assault on Israel.

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

In his opening statement, Christie compared Trump to the main villain in the "Harry Potter" book series, and called on his fellow Republican nominees to focus on defeating Trump instead of attacking each other.

“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.”
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Vivek Ramaswamy Uses Question About Unity To Attack Nikki Haley

Kelly asked Ramaswamy about his presence on the debate stage, mentioning his seesawing between calling his competitors “good people” and lobbing attacks against Haley and DeSantis.

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

Before Haley could answer Kelly’s question about taking major corporate donations, the former governor defended herself against DeSantis’ early attack on her.

“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

DeSantis dismissed poll numbers that show he is falling behind other Republican candidates and Trump.

“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.”
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

These Are The Rules For Tonight’s Debate

Candidates will have 90 seconds to answer questions and 60 seconds to give a rebuttal at the moderators’ discretion.

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.
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The Candidates Take The Stage

All four candidates are on stage and ready to start the debate.
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Chris Christie Addresses Donald Trump’s Dictatorship Comments: 'Trump Can’t Help Himself'

Just hours before the debate, Christie responded to the “dictatorship” comments Trump made during a town hall last night with Sean Hannity.

“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.”
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What Is NewsNation, Anyway?

Tonight’s debate is being hosted by a newcomer to the cable news game: NewsNation.

“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.

Moderators Plan To Press Candidates On The Frontrunner: Still Donald Trump

The Republicans on stage have so far largely refused to attack or even address Trump’s huge polling numbers, but one moderator on Wednesday hopes to change that. NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas told Politico she plans to press the candidates on the former president, “because otherwise, up there just criticizing Joe Biden, you’re basically all surrogates."

“I think in one of the first debates they took an hour for anybody to even say his name, which is ridiculous,” Vargas told the website. “He’s the person they all have to beat. You’re not running against Joe Biden right now, candidates, you’re running against Donald Trump.”

She said there are a lot of Trump stances that are “ripe for dissection and discussion and debate."
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Megyn Kelly Is Back, 8 Years After Making Debate Headlines

Kelly, once a prominent political news anchor, will be one of tonight’s debate moderators. It marks her first stint as a moderator since infamously feuding with Trump during the 2016 election cycle.

“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.

Donald Trump Declined To Say, Twice, That He Wouldn’t Abuse Power In Office

While he won't be at the debate, Trump spoke with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night and addressed moderate Republicans who have warned his second term would see the country “sleepwalking into a dictatorship.”

The former president repeatedly declined to say he wouldn’t abuse his power or retaliate against political enemies, saying he only planned to act like a “dictator” on “day one” of a new administration.

“He says: ‘You’re not going to be a dictator are you?’” Trump replied to a question from Hannity. “I said no, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that I’m not a dictator.”

Read more here.

Just 4 Candidates Made The Cut This Round

HuffPost's S.V. Date has all the details on who made the cut for the December debate — and what may happen next with the debate schedule:

Tonight: Four Republicans Debate

The fourth Republican debate of the 2024 election cycle will get underway in just a couple hours. Check back here for updates in the lead-up to and during the debate.

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