The third GOP presidential debate in Miami on Wednesday focused more on policy than the previous debates, and candidates had more airtime to explain their views.
Still, there were some heated moments that stood out in the two-hour program.
Haley called Ramaswamy ‘scum’ after mentioning her daughter
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley hit back at tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy after he mentioned her daughter on the debate stage.
“Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Haley said. “You’re just scum.”
The contentious exchange came after moderators pressed Ramaswamy on how he could call for a ban on TikTok — the China-owned popular social media app that has drawn scrutiny from government officials — while he still uses the app himself.
Ramaswamy responded by zeroing in on Haley and the fact that her daughter uses the app.
“In the last debate, she made fun of me for actually joining TikTok, while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might want to take care of your family first,” Ramaswamy said directly to Haley.
The exchange prompted boos from the audience at the debate.
At the end of the debate, the two candidates did not shake hands with each other, as virtually all other candidates did. Haley’s daughter, who was apparently in the audience during the debate, joined Haley on stage, as did other families.
Ramaswamy called GOP ‘party of losers’ and attacked media
Ramaswamy called the GOP a party of losers, attacked Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel and went after the media in his first remarks on the stage.
“We’ve become a party of losers, at the end of the day. It is a cancer to the Republican establishment. I speak the truth. I mean, since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022. No red wave; that never came. We got trounced last night in 2023,” he said. “And I think that we have to have accountability in our party.”
He continued his pointed attack at McDaniel, saying, “For that matter, Ronna, if you wanna come on stage tonight, you wanna look the GOP voters in the eye and tell ’em you resign, I will turn over my — yield my time to you.”
Ramaswamy then pivoted to the “corrupt media,” specifically taking aim at the moderators — namely Kristen Welker.
“Think about who’s moderating this debate: This should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk. We’d have 10 times the viewership, asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bringing more people into our party,” he said.
“We’ve got Kristen Welker here — do you think the Democrats would actually hire Greg Gutfeld to host a Democratic debate? They wouldn’t do it,” Ramaswamy added, directing his focus on moderator Welker, saying, “This is actually about you in the media and the corrupt media establishment.”
He said he would use his time to “ask you: The Trump Russia collusion hoax that you pushed on this network for years, was that real? Or was that Hillary Clinton made-up disinformation? Answer the question, go.”
Haley, DeSantis tangled over China, environment
Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tangled over China and the environment, with Haley attacking DeSantis as “a liberal when it comes to the environment.”
Haley said she would reimpose sanctions on Venezuelan oil and accused DeSantis of banning fracking. She mentioned the Sierra Club’s praise of DeSantis for conserving the Everglades, though the group has otherwise been critical of DeSantis, giving him a D- rating on environmental issues. DeSantis defended his efforts on the Everglades.
The candidates differed on China policies, too.
DeSantis took aim at Haley’s relationship with China during her tenure as governor of South Carolina and accused her of writing “the Chinese ambassador a love letter.”
“She welcomed them into South Carolina, gave [China] land near a military base, wrote the Chinese ambassador a love letter saying what a great friend they were,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, I banned China from buying land in this state. And we kicked out, on our universities — and we kicked the Confucius Institutes out of our universities. We’ve recognized the threat, and we’ve acted swiftly and decisively.”
Haley similarly targeted DeSantis’s record on China, pointing to the presence of manufacturers of Chinese military planes in Florida.
“Ron, you are the chair of your economic development agency that as of last week said Florida is the ideal place for Chinese businesses,” Haley said. “Not only that, you have a company that is a manufacturer of Chinese military planes. You have it,” she continued, claiming the company was expanding two training sites at two airports in Florida.
DeSantis responded by saying that he abolished the agency.
“And of course, we banned China from buying land,” he said. “Not exactly a great recruiting pitch if you’re banning them from purchasing land at all.”
Candidates sounded off on abortion
Abortion came up toward the end of the debate — a tough issue for Republican candidates, since many Americans loudly sent a message at the ballot box to GOP candidates in Tuesday’s elections in support of abortion access.
Haley refused to commit to anything specific, repeating her position that she doesn’t think any bill would get through Congress.
“I would support anything that would pass. But you have to be honest with the American people,” Haley said. “I would sign anything that would get 60 Senate votes. Don’t make the American people think you’re going to push something on them when you don’t even have the votes in the Senate.”
“This is a personal issue for every woman and every man,” Haley said, while calling for civility in the debate.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) pressed Haley to commit to backing a 15-week ban, but she pointed out that when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced such a bill last year, Scott was not a co-sponsor.
Ramaswamy had a different approach on the matter and said that “sexual responsibility for men” is what is missing from the abortion debate.
“We talked about access to contraception, adoption,” he said. “And also, here’s the missing ingredient in this movement: sexual responsibility for men.
“We live in an era of reliable genetic paternity tests that are 100 percent reliable, so we can say men deserve more responsibility, so we can tell women, we’re all in this together. It’s not men’s rights versus women’s rights. It’s about human rights,” Ramaswamy continued.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the issue of abortion should be left to the states, avoiding debates over whether Congress should consider a 15-week abortion ban at a federal level.
“Look, the founders were really smart. And this is an issue that should be decided in each state, and I trust the people of this country, state by state, to make the call for themselves,” Christie said.
Candidates clashed over Ukraine
Candidates clashed over the battle in Ukraine, with Haley and Christie largely calling for the U.S. to protect its allies, and Ramaswamy and DeSantis criticizing continued funding and support for the war.
Haley said the U.S. must protect its allies, build relationships abroad and defeat the “unholy alliance” among Russia, Iran and China.
“There is a reason the Taiwanese want us to support the Ukrainians,” she said. “We have to see the combination of the three.”
Christie compared the war in Ukraine to World War II, saying, “The last time we turned our back on a shooting war in Europe, it bought us just a couple of years,” adding, “This is not a choice. This is the price we pay for being the leaders of the free world.”
Ramaswamy, on the other hand, railed against Ukraine, calling it corrupt, saying, “To frame this as some kind of battle of good versus evil: Don’t buy it,” adding, “Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy.”
DeSantis scoffed at President Biden’s request for billions of additional dollars to Ukraine, saying: “We need to bring this war to an end.”
Scott found a middle path, saying, “Every day, we get closer to the degradation of the Russian military, and that’s good news,” and adding, “but the American people are frustrated that they do not have a president who reminds us and tells us where is the accountability [on weapons]. We need those answers for us to continue to see support for Ukraine.”