Candidates Brawl Over Trump, China in Testy GOP Debate

Haley came under fire, while Christie went after candidates over the response to questions about Trump in the fourth Republican debate.
Candidates Brawl Over Trump, China in Testy GOP Debate
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy prepare to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Jackson Richman
Samantha Flom
Joseph Lord
12/6/2023
Updated:
12/6/2023
0:00

Wednesday night features another GOP presidential primary debate—with just under six weeks until the Iowa Caucuses.

The debate, which will be at the University of Alabama, will feature Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Like previous debates, GOP frontrunner former President Donald Trump will not attend. Instead, he will host a fundraiser in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

The debate will air from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time on NewsNation, a fledging network started in 2021 that will be hosting its first presidential debate. It will also be available online on Rumble, which has broadcasted all the primary debates so far.

The moderators include anchor Elizabeth Vargas, Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson and SiriusXM radio host Megyn Kelly. The first two are conservative, while Ms. Vargas has come under fire for left-wing bias.

Closing Statements, Debate Concludes

In closing remarks, Mr. Christie said President Trump as the nominee would mean four more years of President Biden.

“I will earn your trust,” he said. “I want to earn your vote.”

Mr. Ramaswamy reiterated his stance that climate change is “a hoax.”

Ms. Haley lamented the “chaos” at home and abroad and that, in a shot at President Trump, you can’t “defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

“No drama. No vendettas. No whining,” she said.

Mr. DeSantis talked about taking on opponents and being a leader.

“I will fight the good fight,” he said.

Candidates Name Which President They’re Inspired By

Ms. Johnson asked the candidates which former president they are inspired by.

Mr. Christie said he would be like Ronald Reagan, a book whom he wrote about coming out in early 2024, as president.

Mr. Reagan “was a slave to the truth,” Mr. Christie said. “Ronald Reagan stood up for the truth, whether popular or unpopular at the moment.”

Ms. Haley said she is inspired by George Washington to maintain the experiment of U.S. government and Abraham Lincoln given his ability to lead during the most divisive time in U.S. history.

“You look at Abraham Lincoln, and you look at the challenges and you look at the division that happened in our country and the ability to lead in spite of the loud noises and say, ‘What will bring out the best in people to get us to go forward’ is always something that’s important. I think we need that now more than ever.”

Mr. DeSantis said his inspiration is Calvin Coolidge given his understanding of the Constitution.

“People don’t talk about him much, but he’s one of the few presidents that got almost everything right,” Mr. DeSantis said. “He understood the proper role of federal government under the constitution. We need to restore the U.S. Constitution as the centerpiece of our national life and that requires a president who understands the original understanding of the Constitution, who has a good sense of the Bill of Rights, and knows how we’ve gone off track with this massive fourth branch of government.”

Mr. Ramaswamy said he would be like Thomas Jefferson who was in his 30s, as Mr. Ramaswamy is currently, when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Candidates Blast Government-Vaccine Maker Relationship

Mr. Ramaswamy and Mr. DeSantis blasted the nexus between Washington and pharmacy makers that produced COVID-19 vaccines.

Mr. Ramaswamy said that while he appreciates capitalism, the cronyism between Big Pharma and the U.S. government needs to end.

Mr. DeSantis lamented the COVID vaccines for infants six months and under. He reiterated his pledge for there to be “a reckoning” over the U.S. government response to the pandemic and to “clean house” at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

‘We Have a Sick-Care System in this Country’: Ramaswamy on Healthcare

Mr. Ramaswamy addressed healthcare in the U.S.

“We don’t have a health care system in this country,” he said. “We have a sick care system.”

“We’ll pay for anything like feeding tubes, doctors to be pill pushers—but for the procedures that can actually make these patients better, we have a broken healthcare system that doesn’t pay for it,” Mr. Ramaswamy said.

The solution, he said, was to lift some of the restrictions on health insurance to allow for a “competitive marketplace.”

“We need to start having diverse insurance options in a competitive marketplace that cover actual health, preventive medicine, diet, exercise, lifestyle, and otherwise. That’s how we deliver that. End the antitrust exemptions for health insurance companies. That’s where the competitive marketplace begins.”

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Ramaswamy: Arm the Taiwanese, Cut Economic Dependence on China

Mr. Ramaswamy followed up Mr. DeSantis’s comments by saying that he would support a “broader deterrence strategy” that includes arming the Taiwanese.

He stressed that the U.S. needs to be specific about its strategy toward China but has been “scared” to take any of the necessary steps due to its economic dependence on its adversary.

“If that were a Russian spy balloon, we’d have shot it down in an instant,” he said, referencing the Chinese spy balloon that the military shot down earlier this year, but only after it had made its way across the continental U.S.

He added that the same would be the case if the Chinese spy base in Cuba were Russian.

“It comes back down to that economic dependence. We cannot depend on them for our pharmaceuticals, our semiconductors. … Our own military, the F-35 jets that we make in this country, depend on China, and it’s going to take an outsider to fix that broken establishment.”

DeSantis: Deterring China’s Ambitions No. 1 National Security Task

Mr. DeSantis exuded confidence that, as president, he would be able to prevent China from invading Taiwan. And should that plan fail, he said he would follow “longstanding American policy” to defend an ally.

And defending Taiwan, he added, is important to thwarting China’s ability to “export authoritarianism” throughout the world.

“Deterring China’s ambitions is the number one national security task that I will do as president, and we will succeed.”

Haley Wants to Change Definition of Antisemitism

Ms. Haley said it was “disgusting” that the presidents of Harvard, MIT and University of Pennsylvania were waffling during a House committee hearing when asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews is harassment or bullying.

This comes as there has been a spike in antisemitism in the United States, especially on college and university campuses, amid the latest conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.

Ms. Haley said that in office she would institute a definition of antisemitism that includes anti-Zionism, which is the belief the Jewish state has no right to exist. Were colleges and universities to refuse to combat antisemitism, a Haley administration, she said, would have their tax status taken away.

The entire United States government adopted in December 2019 the International Holocaust Remembrance working definition of antisemitism. The Obama State Department adopted it in 2016.

She also called for the end of foreign money, especially that which is Chinese, in universities.

She also said that TikTok should be banned as it is a spreader of antisemitic content.

Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley prepares to take the debate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Dec. 6, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

DeSantis Addresses Election Integrity

Mr. DeSantis gave several proposals for how to revive Americans’ trust in their electoral process at a time when many worry that the system has been rigged in favor of actors supported by the establishment.

“Americans are concerned about the legitimacy of elections,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said. “What should states do now to increase election integrity and voter confidence for the 2004 election?”

Mr. DeSantis responded, “You should do for elections what we did in Florida. Twenty years ago, elections in Florida were a joke.”

“I came in and I removed a couple supervisors from South Florida,” he said. “We require voter ID, universal. No Zuckerbucks. No mass mail balloting and no ballot harvesting. We even have an agency to prosecute people for violating election laws.

“The result of that? In both 2020 and 2022, we counted millions of millions of votes on election night, produced the results, transparent and everybody was happy. That is not happening throughout the country at this time.”

Ramaswamy Booed Over Haley ‘Corruption’ Jab

Mr. Ramaswamy took aim at Ms. Haley once again for what he described as her “corruption problem.”

“After the third debate, when I criticized Ronna McDaniel after five failed years of leadership of this party and criticized Nikki for her corrupt foreign dealings as a military contractor, she said that I have a woman problem,” he said. “Nikki, I don’t have a woman problem—you have a corruption problem.”

The audience did not react well to that barb, loudly booing the entrepreneur.

Ms. Haley, given the opportunity to respond, took a  pass, saying, “It’s not worth my time to respond.”

Candidates Debate Trans Issue

Mr. Christie said that whether children should get gender-changing surgery should be left to their parents.

Mr. DeSantis said the government should get involved to stop what he said is the “mutilation” of children.

Mr. Ramaswamy, who called transgenderism a “mental health disorder,” said that the federal government should ban “genital mutilation or chemical castration” of those underage.

Ms. Haley said that, while it was not much of an issue when she was governor of South Carolina, the issue of genders going into opposite genders has “exploded” and that people should go into the bathrooms in accordance with their gender at birth. She reiterated her stance that biological men should not play in biological women’s sports.

Ramaswamy Says Deep State is ‘Real Enemy’

Mr. Ramaswamy called the Jan. 6 Capitol breach “an inside job.”

During an exchange about President Donald Trump’s fitness to serve a second term, Mr. Ramaswamy said, “I’ll tell you my issue with all three of my other colleagues on this debate stage: they have been licking Donald Trump’s boots for years for money and endorsements.”

“I think the real enemy is not Donald Trump. It’s not even Joe Biden,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “It is the deep state that at least Donald Trump attempted to take on. And if you want somebody who’s going to speak truth to power, then vote for somebody who’s gonna speak the truth to you.

“Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6 now does look like it was an inside job? That the government lied about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11 for twenty years? 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? That the 2016 election—the one that Trump won, for sure—was also one that was stolen from him by the national security establishment? Russian collusion ultimately was false.”

Christie: Candidates ‘Afraid’ of Offending Trump

Mr. Christie blasted Mr. DeSantis for sidestepping the question of whether President Trump is fit to be in the White House.

“He’s afraid to answer,” he said, adding that he is “afraid” of offending the former president.

Mr. Christie and Mr. DeSantis talked over one another with the former repeatedly saying “Ron.”

DeSantis: Trump Didn’t ‘Drain the Swamp’

While skirting providing a direct answer to the question of whether President Trump is mentally fit for office, Mr. DeSantis instead criticized the former president for failing to “drain the swamp.”

“He didn’t even fire Dr. Fauci,” he noted. “He didn’t fire Christopher Wray. He didn’t clean up the swamp. He said he was going to drain it. He did not drain it.”

The governor also charged that President Trump did not keep his promises when it came to immigration.

“He said he was going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it—we don’t have the wall. He did say in 2016 he’d have the largest deportation program in history. He deported less than Barack Obama did when Barack Obama was president. So, some of the some of these policies he ran on in ’16, I was cheering him on then. But he didn’t deliver it.”

Christie Booed for Trump Remarks

Mr. Christie was booed after making remarks that were deeply critical of President Donald Trump.

Mr. Christie has organized his presidential bid around opposition to the former president, far and away the frontrunner for the 2024 nomination.

Mr. Christie was asked about a remark President Trump made yesterday. Asked whether he would be a dictator, President Trump quipped in response, “Only on day one,” saying he would close the border and start drilling.

Mr. Christie argued that this throwaway remark should raise alarm bells.

“This is an angry bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anybody who has disagreed with him,” Mr. Christie said. “Anyone who’s tried to hold him to account for his own conduct. And every one of these policies that he’s talking about, are about pursuing a plan of retribution.”

He added, “Let me make it clear: his conduct is unacceptable. He’s unfit and be careful what you’re gonna get if you ever got another Donald Trump term.”

This remark was met with a mix of boos and cheers from the crowd.

DeSantis: Europe ‘Committing Suicide With the Mass Migration’

In response to Ms. Haley calling for screening those coming to the U.S. from Iran, China and other dangerous and authoritarian countries, Mr. DeSantis acknowledged that terrorism should be a factor when it comes to immigration policy – but should not be the only one.
He cited that the rise in antisemitism in Europe has led to more danger due to refugees coming from countries that foment hatred toward Jews.
“Europe is committing suicide with the mass migration,” he said.

DeSantis, Haley Blame Both Parties for Inflation

Mr. DeSantis, like Ms. Haley, blamed both Democrats and Republicans for reckless spending and therefore inflation, which has been a major issue under President Biden.

“It’s driven your prices higher and it’s driven your interest rates to the point where you can’t afford,” said Mr. DeSantis, who pledged to reduce interest rates, inflation, and spending.

He also called for American energy independence to drive down gas prices and have the universities be behind student loans instead of the government forgiving them.

Ramaswamy: ‘Stand With a Spine’ on China

Mr. Ramaswamy called for holding China accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic and the fentanyl crisis, saying that the U.S. should “stand with a spine” to counter the Chinese Communist Party.

“I think it is going to take a U.S. president that’s going to have a very different conversation with Xi Jinping than what Joe Biden just had in California,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist leader.

The exchange began with Ms. Haley discussing President Donald Trump’s track record on China, and taking a strong tone on how her administration would handle the top U.S. adversary.

She criticized President Trump, who she said had failed to do enough to counter China, insinuating that she would take a stronger approach to dealing with the communist behemoth.

Mr. DeSantis shot back, saying, “This is rich because when she was governor of South Carolina, she was the number one ranked governor of bringing the CCP into her state.”

He cited a 2014 letter by Ms. Haley to the Chinese ambassador in which she wrote, “We consider your country a friend and are grateful for your contributions on the economic front.

“There is still much to be done, and I look forward to working with you going forward,” she added later.

“She’s been very weak on China,” Mr. DeSantis said. “Now here’s the problem. The rhetoric is different but the one on her donors, these Wall Street liberal donors, they make money in China. They are not going to let her be tough on China and she will cave to the donors. She will not stand up for you.”

Ms. Haley rebutted that Mr. DeSantis was “mad because those Wall Street donors used to support him and now they support me.”

Ms. Haley said that Mr. DeSantis did a rally for a Chinese company, a claim that Mr. DeSantis refuted, saying that “liberal media groups” had fact checked that claim and found it untrue.

“They said it was totally false that they could not find one instance of me recruiting a Chinese business coming forward because we never recruited any Chinese businesses,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Haley Knocks Trump on China

While touching on her preferred approach to the border crisis, Ms. Haley took a swipe at the GOP frontrunner over his policies on China.

While she acknowledged that President Trump was “good on trade” with China, she said he had failed to hold the communist nation accountable in other areas.

“He allowed fentanyl to continue to come over,” she charged. “He continued to allow them to take—he would give them technology that would build up their military and hurt us. He allowed the Chinese infiltration, for them to buy up farmland, to put money in our universities, and to continue to do things that were harmful for America. We now have a spy basically Cuba and police stations. And Trump didn’t do anything about it.”

Mr. DeSantis, however, interjected to attack the former South Carolina governor on her own record with China.

“This is rich because when she was governor of South Carolina, she was the number one ranked governor of bringing the CCP into her state.”

DeSantis: I’ll Get Mexico to Pay for the Wall

Mr. DeSantis said he would fulfil President Trump’s promise to build a wall at the southern border and force Mexico to pay for it.
He said he would get Mexico to cover the cost by enacting fees on remittances from foreign workers, tax it, and build the wall.

Christie vs. Ramaswamy Showdown

Mr. Ramaswamy and Mr. Christie came to verbal blows over the businessman’s characterization of Ms. Haley.

“Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom,” Mr. Ramaswamy told Ms. Haley, contending that she couldn’t “identify the provinces on a map [of Ukraine] that she wanted to send  our troops to fight for.”

Mr. Christie shot back, telling Mr. Ramaswamy that he is the “most obnoxious blowhard in America” and to “shut up.”

“We’re now 25 minutes into this debate,” Mr. Christie said. “And he has assaulted Nikki Haley’s basic intelligence, not her positions, her basic intelligence.”

Mr. Ramaswamy brought up “Bridgegate,” where the Christie administration closed a bridge in what was apparently political retribution. Numerous investigations, including a Democrat one, cleared Mr. Christie of wrongdoing.

“This is a smart, accomplished woman, and you should stop insulting her,” said Mr. Christie to Mr. Ramaswamy, referring to Ms. Haley.

Haley Clarifies Position on Iran

When asked about her former comments about wanting to “punch” Iran once “and punch them hard,” Ms. Haley denied that she supports bombing the country. She did, however, stress that they would only respond to strength, and that the best way to show that strength would be to attack them in other ways.
“You’ve got to punch them. You’ve got to punch them hard and let them know that that’s the only way they’re going to respond. So the way you do that is you go after their infrastructure in Syria and Iraq where they’re hitting our soldiers. That’s what you do, and then that’s when they'll back off.”

DeSantis Slams Biden on Israel

The Florida governor—who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as a member of Congress—blasted the president for having “kneecap” Israel amid its conflict with Hamas.
“Biden is doing nothing to bring Iran to account,” he said.Mr. DeSantis went as far as to say that Biden “has empowered Iran just like he’s empowered other adversaries.”

Haley Comes Under Early Attack

When confronted over his attacks on his fellow competitors in previous debates, Mr. Ramaswamy defended his comments as those of someone who is “going to be a fighter when it counts.”

He then homed in on Ms. Haley, hammering her for serving on the board of Boeing after leaving her role as ambassador to the UN.

Ms. Haley, he claimed, was “bankrupt” when she left the U.N., but after her work with Boeing and many speaking opportunities, her financial situation turned around. “Now you’re a multimillionaire. That math does not add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.”

Ms. Haley denied having been bankrupt and noted that she had a relationship with the aeronautics company when she was governor of the Palmetto State, and that she stepped off its board after 10 months when they sought government COVID relief.

Ms. Haley also came under attack from both Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy for comments she made earlier calling on social media companies to require identity verification before allowing users access to social media platforms.

Ms. Haley argued that such measures would undermine bots representing Russia, China, and Hamas, but critics warned that it would mean the end of privacy on social media.

“We have anonymous speech,” Mr. DeSantis said, noting that The Federalist Papers themselves were written with no name attached.

Ms. Haley “thinks that government should identify [every individual on social media]. That is not freedom, that is fascism, and she should come nowhere near the levers of power, much less the White House.”

‘We’ll Take It,’ Haley Says of Corporate Donors

Ms. Kelly opened her question to Ms. Haley with a hard-hitting question about her dramatic increase in personal net worth after leaving the office of United Nations ambassador in 2018.

“Ambassador Haley, you left government service in 2018 with just $100,000 in the bank,” Ms. Kelly said. “Five years later, you’re reportedly worth 8 million thanks to lucrative corporate speeches and board memberships like you had with Boeing.

Ms. Kelly added, “Weeks ago you met with Wall Street heavyweights including leaders from JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and BlackRock. Several other billionaire investors are reportedly ready to endorse you or recently have … Aren’t you too tight with the banks and the billionaires win over the GOP working class base, which mostly wants to break the system, not elect someone beholden to it?”

“Look, we will take support from anybody we can take support from, but I have been a conservative fighter all my life,” Ms. Haley said, touting her record as a Tea Party candidate when she was elected governor of South Carolina, her opposition to corporate bailouts, and successfully passing tort reform.

Haley said her opponents are “jealous” that she isn’t getting big bucks.

In Opening Question, DeSantis Asked About Electability

Ms, Kelly started the debate off by noting that President Trump is dominating in the polls. The first question went to Mr. DeSantis, whom Ms. Kelly asked whether it is his time to drop out as it may not be his time for now.
He wasted no time going after Ms. Haley, accusing her of caving on the issue of child mutilation. Ms. Haley responded that she does not support gender-changing surgeries for those under the age of 18.

5 Things to Watch

Expect a debate with differing views on foreign policy ranging from the Israel-Hamas war to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The participants on stage will likely go after Ms. Haley, who has gained momentum in recent months coming off the previous three debates.

Additionally, Mr. DeSantis will look to boost his stalling campaign, which has lost ground to Ms. Haley in numerous polls including in New Hampshire and South Carolina. This is despite him receiving major endorsements from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Bob Vander Plaats, who has the Midas touch of Iowa politics, whose endorsees have gone on to win the Iowa Caucus despite not ending up with the GOP nod.

Moreover, the candidates will need to make the case why they should not only face President Joe Biden but be the GOP alternative to President Trump.

Finally, the debate, like the third one, will run smoothly with the moderators in control and those behind the lecterns not interrupting one another.

Will the Debate Move the Needle?

Whether another Trump-less debate will make a difference is to be determined. However, experts told The Epoch Times to not hold your breath.

Northeastern University emeritus journalism professor Alan Schroeder said that the debate “could move the needle, but probably not enough to make a huge difference in terms of the nominee.”

“I doubt the debate in Tuscaloosa changes much of the direction of Haley or DeSantis for Iowa in terms of public opinion or support,” said David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.

Nathan Worcester contributed to this report.
Jackson Richman is a Washington correspondent for The Epoch Times. In addition to Washington politics, he covers the intersection of politics and sports/sports and culture. He previously was a writer at Mediaite and Washington correspondent at Jewish News Syndicate. His writing has also appeared in The Washington Examiner. He is an alum of George Washington University.
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