Clash of The Republicans: A Recap of The Fourth GOP Debate 

By Jason Collins

What started as eight hopeful politicians with presidential aspirations have dwindled to just four candidates in what may be the final GOP debate for the year kicked off, and boy, did it deliver! Wednesday night, we watched as Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Ron DeSantis battled it out on stage in Alabama. This was their last chance to try and get as many voters on their side before the Iowa caucus in January 2024, a mere five weeks away. 

For the four Republicans, this was a moment for one of them to prove themselves a worthy alternative to Donald Trump because, let’s face it, he’s already won the Republican race. They’re all fighting for second place, and nobody wants that title holder more than Nikki Haley. But she’ll have to fight Floridan governor Ron DeSantis for it, and unlike the previous debates, he came ready with his punching gloves. So, who won? Let’s dive right into it.     

Desantis and Ramaswamy Vs. Haley

Nikki Haley has been doing well in the Republican polls and narrowing the gap between herself and DeSantis. She wants that second-place alternate position, a possible VP offer, and she’s going to fight for it. Last night’s performance was a testament to that, although it was clear from the start that Haley’s tactic for the evening would be playing defensive to attacks from DeSantis and newcomer Ramaswamy. In an unusual move, DeSantis and Ramaswamy teamed up with their attacks on Haley and did not hold back. 

Within the first few moments of the debate, the offensive began with DeSantis accusing Haley of not supporting the ban on medical procedures that included gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

I passed a bill in Florida to stop the mutilation of minors. It’s child abuse, and it’s wrong. She opposes the truth.

Confidently, he had added, “We have it on video.” Which Haley denied on stage, “I never said that. I said that if you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, you have to be 18 for anything done to change your gender.” DeSantis was strong and accurate, an impressive display of the Floridian’s defense of his second-place spot and a contrast to previous performances at the debates, which were forgettable. DeSantis has improved with each debate and this was his strongest effort of the primary. 

After her tangle with DeSantis, a mere 30 seconds into the debate, Ramaswamy took his aim and called out Haley for her time serving on Boeing. He told her, “Nikki, you were bankrupt when you left the U.N. After you left the U.N., you became a military contractor.” Haley served on the board with Boeing, a fact Vivek kept bringing up linking Haley to corruption and the military war complex. He added,

(Boeing)whose back you scratched for a very long time and then get foreign multinational speeches like Hillary Clinton is, and now you’re a multimillionaire. That math doesn’t add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.

If his words weren’t enough, Ramaswamy whipped out a handwritten sign that read “Nikki = Corrupt.” 

In the final attack, DeSantis and Ramaswamy went after Haley for taking money from Democratic contributor Reid Hoffman and Wall Street donors. Haley has defended this in the past, saying that donors do not dictate her policies, but DeSantis, who was on the charge last night, challenged it, saying, “Nikki will cave to those big donors when it counts.”    

Haley tried to downplay her association with billion donors and corporations by saying to DeSantis and Ramaswamy: “They’re just jealous. They wish they were supporting them.” That may be true, but the fact remains, that the majority of the Republican base detests Haley’s positions on economic and military policy. 

Haley’s Unlikely Hero 

In a surprising move, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came to Haley’s defense after Ramaswamy accused Haley of not knowing the names of the three provinces along the Ukraine-Russia border. This happened to be Ramaswamy’s strongest moment of the debate. Ramaswamy, who has been critical of the U.S. sending so much aid to Ukraine, pointed out that politicians like Haley and Christie spend so much time talking about wars, bombs, and democracy in a country 8000 miles away but have little understanding of these places. Ramaswamy called out Haley for wanting to send American troops to fight in Ukraine when “she has no idea what the hell the names of those regions are, yet she wants to send our sons and girls, as well as our military equipment, to fight in those provinces.” 

Christie, who made it clear at the previous debates that he dislikes Ramaswamy, jumped to Haley’s defense. With his finger pointing directly at Ramaswamy, Christie opened fire. “This is the fourth debate in which you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. So shut up!” To which Ramaswamy responded with his signature grin. 

Christie continued, “He has insulted Nikki Haley’s basic intelligence. This is a smart, accomplished woman. You should stop insulting her.” Whoever said chivalry was dead! Whether Christie was defending Haley because he was offended or because his backers also supported Haley’s military expansionism is left up to the viewer. Either way, Haley looked diminished. A presidential hopeful shouldn’t need a New Jersey blowhard to defend her. 

Christie Goes After Trump…Again 

Christie, who had been uncharacteristically quiet at the previous debate, seems to have gotten his groove back and was the first to bring up former President Trump. He said,

I look at my watch now. We’re 17 minutes into the debate, and except for your little speech in the beginning, we’ve had these three acting as if this race is between the four of us. The fifth guy, who doesn’t even have the guts to show up and stand here, he’s the one, as you just put it, is way ahead in the polls.    

His comments were met with silence, which shows that even the other Republicans don’t want to go after Trump. Christie called them out, “I’ve got these three guys who are all seeming to compete with Voldemort — ‘He who should not be named,” Referring to the popular villain from the Harry Potter series. 

Christie’s attack on Trump comes as no surprise, considering he’s built his entire campaign off of trying to destroy Trump. 

DeSantis dodges questions 

DeSantis was evasive and dodged several moderator questions. In this debate, however, Christie wasn’t letting it go. Christie directly asked DeSantis if he thought that Trump was unfit to be president, to which DeSantis answered with some nonsensical speech about Father Time being undefeated. Christie shot back, “The question was very direct. Is he fit, or isn’t he? The rest of the speech is interesting but completely nonresponsive.” Christie told DeSantis that if he were in court, his answer would be stricken for being irrelevant.  

Christie shut down the Floridian by claiming, “He’s afraid to answer,” and before you ask, no, we still don’t know what DeSantis’s answer was. DeSantis will criticize Trump, but only to a point. He is careful never to burn the bridge between Trump’s loyal voter bloc and himself. 

Things get ugly between Ramaswamy and Christie

We wouldn’t be doing a good debate recap if we didn’t mention the mud-slinging between these two. They have a visceral hatred for each other. 

Christie called out Ramaswamy for insulting Haley, saying, “I think Vivek does have a woman problem. I do think he insults women’s basic intelligence. He’s done it over and over and over again. And I guess tonight, I just had enough. I had enough of listening to his garbage, and as I said, his smart-ass Harvard math because that’s what it is when he’s dictating to me.” Christie said he was done putting up with him. 

Ramaswamy had to fire back, taking a dig at the New Jersey governor’s rather round stomach,

Do everybody a favor, just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this race.

Winners and Losers, We Tally The Score 

So, who were the winners and losers of last night’s boxing match? While it’s clear that the real winner here is Trump, who didn’t have to spend his evening listening to a bunch of adults fighting on stage, should second place go to Haley? Despite wearing a target on her back, Haley performed well and didn’t resort to name-calling or body-shaming. Was this enough to beat DeSantis? According to a poll taken by Interactive Polls, 28.7% of voters thought that DeSantis performed the best, with Haley in second place. If Haley wants to beat the Floridan, she’s got some work ahead of her. 

With this likely being the last time the four of them will be on a debate stage together this was the final impression of who they are in the Republican party going forward. With all the 2023 debates complete, what have the four accomplished? Taking a look back at the previous debates, it’s clear that Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and past UN ambassador, is one candidate that DeSantis needs to watch out for. From her very first debate this year Haley has spoken confidently and positioned herself as pro-life but also pro-choice, a smart move to attract more liberal voters. Haley arguably won the first three debates, but did it grow her voter base? The majority of Republican primary voters detest her NeoCon positions. She will claim Christie’s 4% when the New Jersey governor drops out, but it’s hard to see many Ramaswamy or DeSantis voters gravitating toward her.  

Newcomer to politics, Ramaswamy surprised many this year with his performance at the debates. From the first debate, it was clear to the other candidates that Ramaswamy was a threat and while he was the punching bag at all four of the debates, he fought back and fought back well. Ramaswamy made his thoughts on foreign aid clear and found himself battling it out with all the candidates. He has solidified a position for himself in the Republican Party. Whether that is as a future politician or pundit remains to be seen. 

DeSantis had an uneven, rocky performance this year and at one point it looked like he was going to lose his second-place lead to Haley. He managed to stop the bleeding and has improved as the primary has gone on. Even so, the most that DeSantis managed to accomplish in 2023 is hanging onto his lead over Haley while being unable to make up any ground on Trump. DeSantis has everything riding on Iowa next month. Without a first or second-place showing, it’s hard to see how he stays in the race. 

What has Christie accomplished? Christie went into the debates with one goal, to bash Trump and he managed to do just that. Corporate backers who wanted someone to attack the former president got something for their money. Now Christie can go back to Sunday morning talk shows and lament over how the Republican base no longer listens to politicians like himself or Liz Cheney.