Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

4 Republican primary candidates take the stage in Tuscaloosa

Elijah McWhorter

To read about key takeaways from the debate, click here 

Then there were four. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sparred at the fourth Republican primary debate at Moody Music Building on Wednesday night. 

The debate, broadcast by NewsNation, ran from 7-9 p.m.   

UA President Stuart Bell spoke before the event started, emphasizing the University’s impartiality.  

“As a public institution, The University of Alabama cannot and does not endorse any candidate or position,” Bell said. “But as a national leader in higher education, we promote and endorse free speech, informed thought, and debate about the issues that matter.” 

The debate moderators — Megyn Kelly of SiriusXM, Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation, and Eliana Johnson of The Washington Free Beacon began their questions with a hard truth. Former President Donald Trump, although he skipped the debate in favor of a Florida fundraiser, has a sizable lead over the rest of the candidates according to available polling data. 

Trump’s name resurfaced throughout the night. Ramaswamy accused the others of “licking Donald Trump’s boots for years,” and DeSantis attacked the former president on his age, declaring, “Father Time is undefeated.” 

As in the past, Christie did not hold back from critiquing the former president.  

“There’s no mystery to what he wants to do. … This is an angry, bitter man,” Christie said at one point, receiving boos from the audience. 

Multiple times, the candidates seized on Haley’s record, accusing her of being out of touch or beholden to special interests. Kelly asked a question about the former governor’s net worth, questioning whether she was “too tight with the banks and billionaires” to connect with middle-class voters as a result.

Haley responded that she never takes policy suggestions from her donors, but Ramaswamy jumped on the topic to take shots at her record, referring to Haley backer and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink as “the king of the woke industrial complex.”   

At another point, Ramaswamy held up his notepad, where he’d written “NIKKI = CORRUPT” in big letters. 

Speaking to media after the debate, Christie called Ramaswamy’s critiques of Haley “disgusting.” 

“I think he does have a woman problem,” Christie said. “I absolutely do.”  

Another key issue dividing the candidates was foreign policy. Ramaswamy attacked the others for what he described as a “pointless war in Ukraine.” 

“One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for,” Ramaswamy said.

When asked about whether he would deploy U.S. troops to assist the ongoing Israeli military offensive in Gaza, DeSantis stated that he supports Israel and suggested preventing Iran from obtaining oil revenue. 

“If you harm an American service member, you’re going to have hell to pay when I’m president,” he added. 

Christie then jumped into the conversation, accusing DeSantis of refusing to answer questions and stating that as commander in chief, he would send in U.S. soldiers to rescue Americans being held in Gaza. 

On domestic policy, the candidates discussed their respective positions on care for transgender minors in the U.S. 

Christie described his position — which would allow for children to seek gender-affirming medical care with parent permission — as one of limited government. 

“The minute you start to take those rights away from parents, you don’t know that slippery slope, what rights are going to be taken away next and what’s going to be imposed on you,” Christie said. 

The other candidates took more extreme positions, with DeSantis and Haley both arguing for limits on trans health care for minors and Ramaswamy describing “transgenderism” as a “mental health disorder.” 

It took 45 minutes for Alabama to be mentioned during the debate. Vargas mentioned the impact of fentanyl on the state. Overwhelmingly, the candidates took the opportunity to speak about border security. 

Although Ramaswamy stood by his previous idea of intervening militarily in Mexico, he also described the issue in terms of an ongoing mental health crisis that needs to be addressed. 

“There’s a reason why after the opioid crisis you see fentanyl,” Ramaswamy said. 

The candidates also took on inflation and monetary policy, and DeSantis discussed his approach to digital currency, saying central-bank digital currency will be “dead on arrival” if he’s president. 

After the candidates shook hands and left the stage in Moody Music Hall, the small crowd of UA students in attendance reflected on the experience of getting to attend the debate.  

“I wanted to see how everything worked behind the scenes, and I also wanted to get a feel of politics and how it all works,” Holden Stubblefield, a senior majoring in political science, said. “And then I oddly ended up loving the news side of it and the producing side of it, and I wasn’t expecting that.” 

In less than six weeks, these candidates’ campaigns will face their first real test of the 2024 presidential campaign at the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15.  

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