Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley faced repeated attacks during the first half of the fourth US Republican presidential debate on Wednesday. While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sought to blunt her momentum by saying that she caved anytime she was questioned by the media and the Left, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy attacked her as “corrupt” and “fascist”.
“She caves anytime the Left comes after her, anytime the media comes after her,” DeSantis said of Haley during the first answer of the evening, as he sought to explain why voters should back him despite Trump’s dominant position.
Just four candidates reached the debate, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
Former President Donald Trump, who has maintained a commanding lead in opinion polls ahead of Iowa’s January 15 contest, decided to skip the debate and attend a fundraiser in his home state of Florida.
Ramaswamy, who has aligned himself closely with Trump, teamed up with DeSantis to go after Haley, attacking her as “corrupt” and “fascist” for making money on speeches and serving on the board of Boeing.
“I love all the attention, fellas,” she said, before defending her work with Boeing and suggesting her rivals were jealous she had the backing of major donors.
Trump’s absence deprived his rivals of an opportunity to confront him face to face and again sent the message that he deems his challengers unworthy of his attention.
DeSantis boasted about legislation he had passed in Florida banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender young people and accused Haley of opposing the law, an assertion Haley denied.
“He continues to lie about my record,” Haley said.
All eyes were on DeSantis and Haley on stage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as the narrowing Republican field ran short on time to derail Trump’s march to the 2024 nomination.
Vivek Ramaswamy faces flak after calling Nikki Haley ‘fascist’
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy drew when he accused former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley of being a “fascist” for her views on social media.
“We’re marching toward fascism under Biden,” Mr Ramaswamy said. “The only person more fascist than the Biden regime now is Nikki Haley.”
Ramaswamy’s insult was in regards to comments Haley made in November to voters during a telephone town hall that she wanted to make sure “every person on social media is verified.”
She later walked back the proposal, telling CNBC that “life would be more civil” without anonymous accounts, but the verification rules should only apply to people from nations with hostile relationships with the US.
“I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech,” she said. “What I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech.”
Christie compares Trump to Voldemort
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came out citicised former President Donald Trump and even compared him to a fictional villain.
In Christie’s first response of the debate — which took 17 minutes to get to because of a prolonged spar between Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy — Christie called out his fellow candidates for not discussing Trump.
“The fifth guy, who doesn’t have the guts to show up and stand here, he’s the one who is way ahead in the polls. And yet I’ve got these three guys who are all seeming to compete with Voldemort, he who shall not be named,” Christie said, referring to the candidates on stage.
Christie dubs Ramaswamy ‘most obnoxious blowhard in America’
Christie labelled Ramaswamy as the “most obnoxious blowhard in America” as he angrily slammed his Republican rival during the party’s latest debate.
The former New Jersey governor lost his cool and attacked Ramaswamy over his stance on ending Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, claiming he wanted to appease Vladimir Putin and trusted Moscow over China.
“That’s not my deal, that’s not my deal,” Ramaswamy said in response to the allegation.
Trump’s fitness for office
At the start of the second hour of the debate, the moderators addressed the frontrunner who, again, was 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.”
Concerns over age and the extent to which voters should try to judge politicians’ mental cognition – and whether it should disqualify someone from public office – are boiling up as the 2024 election season gets underway.
Ron DeSantis said he believes someone younger than Donald Trump should be in the White House in 2024.
Answering a question from NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas about ads his campaign has been running that show Trump acting confused, DeSantis said, “I think we need to have somebody younger” and 80 years old is too old to be president.
Rules for debate
Candidates had 90 seconds to answer questions and 60 seconds to give a rebuttal at the moderators’ discretion.
There was a timing light so candidates knew when their time was up. The moderators asked the audience to keep applause to a minimum for the two-hour debate.
(With inputs from agencies)