empty podium for debate

Republican Candidates Debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

December 06, 2023

Former Governor Chris Christie (NJ);
Governor Ron DeSantis (FL);
Former Governor Nikki Haley (SC); and
Vivek Ramaswamy

Eliana Johnson (Washington Free Beacon);
Megyn Kelly (SiriusXM); and
Elizabeth Vargas (News Nation)

KELLY: Welcome to the fourth and final Republican Presidential Primary Debate of the Year live from the University of Alabama. I'm Megyn Kelly, host of the Megyn Kelly Show podcast on SiriusXM.

JOHNSON: I'm Eliana Johnson with the Washington Free Beacon.

VARGAS: And I'm Elizabeth Vargas with News Nation and we are live on News Nation and the CW. It is make or break time for the candidates on this stage right now with the primary starting just weeks away and we have a lot to cover over the next two hours. So let's begin with tonight's rules, candidates will have 90 seconds to answer questions, 60 seconds to give a rebuttal at the moderator's discretion. You will all see the timing lights that will indicate when time is up and it's time to stop talking.

JOHNSON: And the time we have is critical over the next two hours, so we ask the audience to please keep your applause to a minimum.

KELLY: All right, with that, let's get started. On stage tonight, four candidates all vying to become their party's nominee and given the state of affairs in our political system right now, one of you might very well do it. Even many Democrats now admit that President Biden is a weak candidate. Just as many Republicans acknowledge that former president Donald Trump's multiple legal troubles could imperil his quest for a second term, all of which means one of you could wind up the leader of the free world. Having said that, Mr. Trump is nearly 50 points ahead of all of you in the national polls, 29 points ahead in Iowa where the GOP caucuses are less than six weeks away. And so as Republicans get ready to vote on whether any of you might be preferable to Mr. Trump, we begin with the question of electability.

Governor DeSantis, your campaign and its super PAC, have spent the most money, had the most high net worth donors and had a wave of momentum coming into this race after your big reelection win in Florida. You were seen by many as the candidate most likely to consolidate the non-Trump field, but here we are a month out from the first real votes and you haven't managed to do it. In fact, Nikki Haley is beating you in New Hampshire and South Carolina now and closing in on you in Iowa. Not to mention Trump who is not only dominating in the early states but is beating you in Florida by over 30 points. Is it fair to say as Senator Tim Scott did when he dropped out that voters are telling you not no, but not now.

DESANTIS: So we have a great idea in America that the voters actually make these decisions, not pundits or pollsters. I'm sick of hearing about these polls because I remember those polls in November of 2022, they said there was going to be a big red wave, it was going to be monumental and that crashed and burned. The one place it didn't crash and burn was in the state of Florida. They weren't predicting that I would win the way I did and I won the greatest Republican victory in the history of the state of Florida. I'm looking forward to Iowa and New Hampshire, the voters are going to be able to speak and we're going to earn this nomination. And here's what we need, I am sick of Republicans who are not willing to stand up and fight back against what the left is doing to this country. You've got to be willing to stand strong and you've got to be willing to beat these people.

I'm the only one running for president that has beaten these people on issue after issue. We beat the teacher's unions when we did school choice, we beat Fauci on COVID. We beat George Soros when we removed two of his radical district attorneys. We beat the Democrats on election integrity. I have delivered results, that's what we need for this country. And you have other candidates up here like Nikki Haley, she caves anytime the left comes after her, anytime the media comes after her. I did a bill in Florida to stop the gender mutilation of minors, it's child abuse and it's wrong. She opposes that bill. She thinks it's fine and the law shouldn't get involved with it. If you're not willing to stand up for the kids, if you're not willing to stand up and say that it is wrong to mutilate these kids, then you're not going to fight for the people back home. I will fight for you and I will win for you.

KELLY: Ambassador Haley, you left government service in 2018 with just $100,000 in the bank. Five years later you're reportedly worth eight million thanks to lucrative corporate speeches and board memberships like you had with Boeing. 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 all of which comes with expectations. Aren't you too tight with the banks and the billionaires to win over the GOP's working class base, which mostly wants to break the system, not elect someone beholden to it?

HALEY: Well, thank you, it's great to be here. First I'll tell you just to respond to Ron, he continues to lie about my record. I actually said his don't say gay bill didn't go far enough because it only talked about gender until the third grade and I said it shouldn't be done at all that, that's for parents to talk about, it shouldn't be talked about with schools. In reference to donors coming on board. Look, we will take support from anybody we can take support from, but I have been a conservative fighter all my life. I was a Tea Party candidate when I became governor. We opposed every single corporate bailout we possibly could. We passed tort reform, we passed one of the toughest illegal immigration laws in the country. We passed pro-life bills. We moved in unemployment from 11% to 3%. We took on the unions and we took on Obama when it came to the unions, the Syrian refugees and everything in between.

And so I've had a fight and so as much as Ron says that, that's not true, but when it comes to these corporate people that want to suddenly support us, we'll take it. But I don't ask them what their policies are, they ask me what my policies are and I tell them what it is. Sometimes they agree with me, sometimes they don't. Some don't like how tough I am on China, some don't like the fact that I've signed pro-life bills, some don't like the fact that I may oppose corporate bailouts. That doesn't matter. That's who I am and that's why the most conservative grassroots group in the country, Americans for Prosperity endorsed me last week.

DESANTIS: Well, [inaudible].

KELLY: Go ahead.

DESANTIS: Because she didn't respond to the criticism. It wasn't about the parents' rights and education bill. It was about prohibiting sex change operations on minors. They do puberty blockers, these are irreversible. Talk to Chloe Cole, she went through this. Now she's an adult. She's warning against it. She may never be able to have kids again. That is what Nikki Haley opposed. She said the law shouldn't get involved in that. And I just ask you, if you're somebody that's going to be the President of the United States and you can't stand up against child abuse, how are you going to be able to stand up for anything?

HALEY: I never said.

DESANTIS: That is the truth.

HALEY: I never said that.

DESANTIS: We have it on video.

HALEY: I said that if you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, you should have to be 18 to have anything done to change your gender.

DESANTIS: You said thee law should stay out of it.

KELLY: We're going to get to this in more detail later. Let's finish with electability, but trust me, we're coming back to this issue. Mr. Ramaswamy, for months you campaigned as a unifier. Then you stood up at the first debate and attacked all of your competitors as bought and paid for. The second debate, you changed your tune saying these are good people on this stage, admitting you can come across as a bit of a know-it-all and rejecting the practice of personal insults. By debate number three you called Nikki Haley, corrupt accused Ron DeSantis of wearing high heels and told Ambassador Haley, she should keep a closer eye on her daughter. Can you see how this has led some to conclude you are not in fact a unifier and to question your authenticity?

RAMASWAMY: Megyn, I think there's a time and place for everything. We need somebody in the White House who absolutely is going to be a fighter when it counts. And I did say that there were some good people on that stage in that third debate. Doug Bergham was on that stage at that time, and I'll say that jokingly, Ron DeSantis is a good person too. I want to go back though to Nikki Haley's comment from earlier that she is somehow not responding to the will of these donors. Nikki, you were bankrupt when you left the UN. After you left the UN, you became a military contractor, you actually started joining service on the board of Boeing whose back you scratched for a very long time and then gave foreign multinational speeches like Hillary Clinton is and now you're a multimillionaire. That math does not add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt.

And when I said they were bought and paid for, I meant the Republican establishment, not the Democratic establishment. Now you have Reid Hoffman, the person who's effectively George Soros junior, funding lawsuits across this country against Donald Trump to keep him off the ballot, funding left-wing causes. We discovered this week that he is one of Nikki Haley's largest supporters. Larry Fink, the king of the woke industrial complex, the ESG movement, the CEO of BlackRock, the most powerful company in the world now supporting Nikki Haley. And to say that doesn't affect her is false because it's after that meeting later that day that she says that every American needs to be doxxed by having their ID, their government issued ID tied to what they say on the internet. So I think that this is far more corrupt than I even imagined when I entered politics, but I will say this, it is going to take a leader from the outside with fresh legs from the next generation to unite this country. Not the broken politicians who are puppets of the puppet masters, but the actual people in this country.

Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I think it's going to take somebody whose best days in life are still ahead to see a country whose best days are ahead of itself and I think I can reach that next generation better than anybody else in this race.

KELLY: Thank you. Response?

HALEY: Megyn, first of all, we weren't bankrupt when I left the UN. We're people of service, my husband is in the military and I served our country as UN ambassador and governor. It may be bankrupt to him, but it certainly wasn't bankrupt to us. Secondly, I did serve on the board of Boeing. I did a lot of work with Boeing when I was governor, they were a great partner to me. I served for 10 months and then when they decided after COVID that they wanted to go for a corporate bailout, I've never supported corporate bailout, so I respectfully stepped back and got off the board. I love Boeing. They build good commercial airplanes. They build airplanes for our Air force. I'm proud of them. They employ a lot of people in South Carolina, but that's why I left the Boeing board. There's nothing to what he's saying. And in terms of these donors that are supporting me, they're just jealous. They wish that they were supporting them, but I'm not going to sit there and-

DESANTIS: Oh, give me a break.

KELLY: Hold on, let me get the governor in and then I'll go… Go, Governor deSantis. Are you jealous?

DESANTIS: So Vivek, he wrote a book talking about ESG and these woke corporations in BlackRock. The idea that I want to do that in Florida, they were managing part of our pension and then when they did the ESG, I took $2 billion away from BlackRock. We took action. This ESG, they call it environment social governance, and again, Nikki is meeting with all these people, they want to use economic power to impose a left-wing agenda on this country. They want basically to change society without having to go through the constitutional process. We've knee capped it in the state of Florida. The next President of the United States needs to be able to go to that office on day one and end ESG. And the fact of the matter is we know from her history, Nikki will cave to those big donors when it counts and that is not accepted.

HALEY: [inaudible].

KELLY: Quick, quick, quick.

RAMASWAMY: I did write that book Ron and the irony is Nikki Haley was heaping praise on me when I wrote that book, but now I worry… I was warning about the woke industrial complex in this country as a warning, apparently she read it as a how-to manual, just like she reads George Orwell's books-

KELLY: Okay, all right. Standby.

RAMASWAMY: … as well. And so I think that that's actually far more dangerous than… This is really important for people to understand, we're marching towards fascism under Biden. Jack Smith has subpoenaed every last retweet that someone has issued from Donald Trump in the year 2020. The only person more fascist than the Biden regime now is Nikki Haley, who thinks the government should identify every one of those individuals with an ID that is not freedom, that is fascism and she should come nowhere near the levers of power, let alone the White House.

KELLY: I've got to get to Governor Christie, I haven't forgotten about you.

HALEY: No, but can I just say-

KELLY: Can you speak to-

CHRISTIE: I really appreciate that.

KELLY: How are you doing, sir?

CHRISTIE: Good. Good to see you.

KELLY: Can you please speak to the requirement that you said that every anonymous internet user needs to out themselves, they're both hitting you on it.

HALEY: I would be happy to and I love all the attention fellas, thank you for that. I'll say this, what I said was that social media companies need to show us their algorithms. I also said there are millions of bots on social media right now. They're foreign, they're Chinese, they're Iranian, I will always fight for freedom of speech for Americans. We do not need freedom of speech for Russians and Iranians and Hamas. We need-

RAMASWAMY: That's not what you said.

HALEY: … social media companies to go and-

RAMASWAMY: That's a lie.

HALEY: … fight back on all of these bots that are happening, that's what I said. As a mom, do I think that social media would be more civil if we went and had people's names next to that? Yes, I do think that because I think we've got too much cyber bullying, I think we've got child pornography and all of those things, but having said that, I never said government should go and require anyone's name.

RAMASWAMY: That's false.

DESANTIS: She said, I want your name.

RAMASWAMY: She absolutely said it.

DESANTIS: As President of the United States, her first day in office, she said, one of the first things I'm going to do-

HALEY: I said we were going to get the millions of bots-

DESANTIS: … all social medias, I want your name. That's what she said.

RAMASWAMY: She want government ID to dox every American.

DESANTIS: [inaudible]. That's what she said, you can roll the tapes. She said, I want your name. And that was going to be one of the first things she did in office, and then she got real serious blow back and understandably so because it'd be a massive expansion of government. We have anonymous speech, the Federalist papers were written with anonymous writers, Jay Madison and Hamilton, they went under publius. It's something that's important, and especially given how conservatives have been attacked and they've lost jobs and they've been canceled, you know the regime would use that to weaponize that against our own people. It was a bad idea, and she should own that truth.

HALEY: [inaudible].

KELLY: Let me give you 15 seconds and then there is the former governor of New Jersey who deserves some time.

HALEY: This cracks me up because Ron so hypocritical because he actually went and tried to push a law that would stop anonymous people from talking to the press and went so far to say bloggers should have to register with the state if they're going to write about elected officials. It was in the check your newspaper, it was absolutely there.

DESANTIS: Some legislator.

RAMASWAMY: She reveals her ammunition [inaudible] on your constitutional rights.

KELLY: You can come up to it later.

RAMASWAMY: This is more dangerous than the Democrats.

HALEY: You're lying.

KELLY: This section's over. Okay, governor Christie.


KELLY: Just that piece.

CHRISTIE: I'm usually not somebody who gets missed, but okay, let's go.

KELLY: What's happening? Okay, I got you. Listen, you endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. You gave him an A for his first term, since then, however you've turned on him, calling him a liar, a loser, a con man, and someone who cannot win. You've even said that you got into this race just to stop President Trump, his approval rating with Republicans is currently at 81%, yours is at 25. Your best state is New Hampshire, and even there, two thirds of GOP voters say they would be angry and disappointed if you won. Respectfully, Governor, you have not stopped Mr. Trump and voters may wonder how you could possibly become the nominee of a party that does not appear to like you very much.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, well look Megyn, it's often very difficult to be the only person on the stage who's telling the truth and the only person who is taking on what needs to be taken on. I look at my watch now, we're 17 minutes into this debate and except for your little speech in the beginning we've had these three acting as if the race is between the four of us. The fifth guy who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he's the one who, as you just put it, is way ahead in the polls. And yet I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with Voldemort, he who shall not be named. They don't want to talk about it. The fact is that when you go and you say the truth about somebody who is a dictator, a bully who has taken shots at everybody, whether they've given him great service or not, over time, who dares to disagree with him, then I understand why these three are timid to say anything about it.

Maybe it's 'cause they have future aspirations, maybe those future aspirations are now, or maybe they're four years from now. But the fact of the matter is the truth needs to be told. And for us to go 17 minutes without discussing the guy who has all those gaudy numbers you talked about is ridiculous. I'm in this race because the truth needs to be spoken, he is unfit. This is a guy who just said this past week that he wants to use the Department of Justice to go after his enemies when he gets in there. And the fact of the matter is he's unfit to be president and there is no bigger issue in this race, Megyn than Donald Trump. And those numbers prove it.

VARGAS: Governor Christie, we will be addressing that issue of Donald Trump in just a moment. But I'd like to first get to some questions on Israel. Governor DeSantis, tonight as we speak, the war is back on in Gaza, Israeli tanks are on the move and have surrounded the home of the leader of Hamas. Eight Americans have been held hostage in the tunnels beneath Gaza for 60 days now, American troops and warships in the Middle East are under attack. How far would you go as president to secure the release of those eight American hostages and would it include sending American forces into combat?

DESANTIS: We have to look out for our people when there are hostages, commander in chief, you have to do whatever you can to get them done. But the overall issue with this is this administration is trying to hobble Israel from being able to defend itself. They have a right to eliminate Hamas and win a total and complete victory so that they never have to deal with this again. Hamas wants nothing less than a second Holocaust, they would wipe off every single Jew off the map. They would destroy the state of Israel if we could. Joe Biden will say they support Israel and then they do nothing but try to kneecap them every step of the way. You should not try to direct their war effort, we should work together with them so that they can bring Hamas to heal.

Look, I served in Iraq back in the day. I'm the only one running for president that served in the military, I understand that part of the world. It's not the best part of the world. We do have troops there that Biden is leaving basically as sitting ducks and you have the Iranians that are attacking these troops and he's responding with basically pinpricks. If you harm an American service member, you're going to have hell to pay when I'm president, we are not going to let our troops be sitting ducks. We also need to look at what's the underlying problem here, Iran. Biden is doing nothing to bring Iran to account, you got to turn the screws on them, don't let them have any oil revenue. The money they get, they send to Hamas, they send to Hezbollah and they foment jihad throughout the Middle East. So Biden has empowered Iran just like he's empowered other adversaries. We stand with Israel, they're our best ally in the Middle East, we have a unique relationship with them. And you will see a strong relationship when I'm the President of the United States.

VARGAS: But would you send American troops?

CHRISTIE: This is [inaudible]. This is the problem with the first three debates, Ron gets asked a question and he doesn't answer it. Your question was very specific, you said, would you send American troops as commander in chief? And he went on to this minute and 30 second hosanna about his knowledge of the military and what we need to do and didn't answer your question. Look, when your President of the United States, you're not going to have a choice whether to answer that question or not. Your generals, your Secretary of Defense, your Secretary of State, your National Security Advisor are going to present plans to you. They're going to look at you and say, "Do we go or don't we, Mr. President?" And you can't give a 90-second speech about your military services. Honorable as it is.

VARGAS: So would you send American troops in to rescue those hostages?

CHRISTIE: I would, absolutely. Absolutely. If they had a plan which showed me that we could get them out safely, you're damn right I'd send the American Army in there to get our people home and get them home now, and I'll answer that question directly.

VARGAS: Thank you Governor Christie.

JOHNSON: Mr. Ramaswamy, you have said it was irresponsible for Ambassador Haley to call Hamas' terrorist rampage an attack on America. And for her to quote rabidly shout, "Finish them." The Hamas terror attack left dozens of Americans dead and was the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust. Why wouldn't it be a good thing to finish? Hamas,

RAMASWAMY: Finish them was purposefully vague in a discussion that included Iran, which is what I objected to. And I think it's as US president, you have to be responsible. What happened to Israel was dead wrong, what Hamas did was medieval. It was subhuman, it was immoral. And we have to call that out for what it is on October 7th. But to say that that was an attack on America fails a basic test. I mean, Nikki, if you can't tell the difference between where Israel is in the US is on a map, I can have my three-year-old son show you the difference. That is irresponsible because it has major consequences because that doesn't leave room for what actually is an attack on America. So I believe I have the strongest pro-Israel position actually on the stage, even though it's a little bit different than the standard GOP talking points.

And it is this, the founding vision of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, the George Washington figure of Israel. What did he believe he believed that we don't want as Israel to depend on the fleeting sympathies of the West and have our hands tied. I think Israel has an absolute right to defend itself to the fullest, without the US the UN or the EU or anybody else, second guessing their decisions as the Biden administration, guess what, is now starting to do. I think that's a more deeply pro-Israel position than anybody else. And it keeps the actual lines of accountability clear because it is a pro-American position. And as leader of the United States of America, just as a father of two sons, my sole moral duty is to my family. As your next president, my sole moral duty is to you, the people of this country. That's how I'm going to lead. So I'll tell Bibi, you smoke the terrorists on your southern border, you go ahead and we're rooting for you. We're going to smoke the terrorists on our own southern border and that's how I'm going to lead this country.

DESANTIS: But Americans, we were killed in that attack.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy.

DESANTIS: Americans were killed in that attack. And so if you looked at this terrorist attack and the number of Americans, this would be one of the top 10 terrorist attacks in American history. So our own people were killed in that attack. And I think it's absolutely appropriate to point that out and to say that we're in this together and we are going to work with Israel so that these people are brought to justice.

RAMASWAMY: I agree with that.

JOHNSON: Ambassador Haley, I'm coming to you. Iran is on the threshold of becoming a nuclear state. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranian military leaders gave the green light for Hamas' attack on Israel. You said in last month's debate that by contrast to the Biden administration's approach to Iran, you would, "Punch them once and punch them hard." Were you saying that it's time to bomb Iran?

HALEY: No, I was not saying it's time to bomb Iran. But I will tell you, I dealt with Iran every day when I was at the United Nations and they only respond to strength. What they don't respond to is when you weaken the sanctions like they did on Iran that allowed China to send them billions to fill their proxies, what they don't respond to is when you give $6 billion for five hostages, that only makes them want more hostages. What they don't respond to is when they do 140 strikes on our men and women in Syria and Iraq and we do nothing but just some small shots back. 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.

The problem is you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65, he was getting drones and missiles, drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins, China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins, these are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America, and that's what Joe Biden's given us.

RAMASWAMY: I want to say one thing about the tie to Ukraine, if I may. So foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I want everybody at home to note that I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now, a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden who still support this, what I believe is pointless war in Ukraine. And I think those with foreign policy experience, 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. Look at that. This is what I want people to understand. I mean she has no idea what the hell the names of those provinces are, but she wants to send our sons and daughters and our troops and our military equipment to go fight it.

So reject this myth that they've been selling you, that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through. Look at the blank expression, she doesn't know the names of the provinces that she wants to actually fight for. And there's [inaudible] the donors right there that are playing [inaudible].

CHRISTIE: Enough. Enough.

KELLY: Okay, hold on. Hold on.

CHRISTIE: Let me just say something here. His reasonable peace deal in Ukraine, he made it clear, give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin, you'll never put Ukraine in Russia and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China. Let tell you something, that's no reasonable-

RAMASWAMY: That's not my deal. That's not my deal, Chris.

CHRISTIE: Yes, it's exactly what you said.

RAMASWAMY: I'll describe my deal.

CHRISTIE: You do this at every debate.

RAMASWAMY: I'll tell you exactly what it-

CHRISTIE: Don't interrupt me, I didn't interrupt you. Okay, you say this-

RAMASWAMY: Tell me about how you want to send our kids to die, go for it.

KELLY: Mr. Ramaswamy.

CHRISTIE: You do this at every debate, you go out on the stump and you say something. All of us see it on video, we confront you out on the debate stage, you say you didn't say it and then you back away. And I want to say what?

RAMASWAMY: I'll tell exactly what I said, Chris.

CHRISTIE: I'm not done yet.

RAMASWAMY: Well, this is-

CHRISTIE: Now, look-

KELLY: Hold on.

RAMASWAMY: [inaudible], this man is spewing nonsense.

CHRISTIE: Let me say something. This is the fourth debate, the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. So shut up for a little while.

RAMASWAMY: I'm going to respond to that.

CHRISTIE: I want to say something-

RAMASWAMY: What's your version on [inaudible].

KELLY: We're going to let you respond, let him finish.

CHRISTIE: I want to say something else. We're now 25 minutes into this debate. And he has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence, not her positions, her basic intelligence. She doesn't know regions, she wouldn't be able to find something on a map that his three-year-old could find. Look, if you want to disagree on issues, that's fine. And Nikki and I disagree on some issues, but I'll tell you this, I've known her for 12 years, which is longer than he's even started to vote in a Republican primary. And while we disagree about some issues and we disagree about who should be President of the United States, what we don't disagree on is this is a smart, accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her.

RAMASWAMY: So I'm going to take this… I'm going to take several times over. So first of all, I think we've just learned something from Chris Christie. We learned three things-

KELLY: Hold on. Go head.

RAMASWAMY: We learned three things right there. First of all, Chris Christie also doesn't know what provinces in Eastern Ukraine, he actually wants us to fight for. Chris, your version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York. So do everybody a favor, just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out this place. When it comes to Nikki, I think if you're going to actually send your sons and daughters to go die in somebody else's war-

CHRISTIE: While you weren't voting-

KELLY: Hold on.

RAMASWAMY: Excuse me, Chris, I'm speaking and I'm not done yet.

CHRISTIE: I haven't heard a time when you aren't speaking.

RAMASWAMY: You had your chance, and we're going to be done. So listen up to this is if these people want to send your sons and daughters to go die in Ukraine, they've been arguing for it for a year, $200 billion of our taxpayer money sent over. Neither of them could even name for you the provinces that they actually want to protect. And this is the people who have been touting their so-called foreign policy experience. It is intellectual fraud. These people are lying to you. The same people who told you about weapons and mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion, didn't know the first thing about it, yet they sent thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. 20 years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon.


RAMASWAMY: And you have to see that today.

KELLY: Thank you Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: It's Dick Cheney

KELLY: Thank-

VARGAS: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: And you got to see that today.

VARGAS: Thank you Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: Dick Cheney all over again in this party.

VARGAS: Thank you Mr. Ramaswamy. 15 seconds.

RAMASWAMY: Name the provinces. Neither of you could even name [inaudible]-

VARGAS: Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you.

HALEY: [inaudible]-

DESANTIS: I think we've had enough of this.

CHRISTIE: [inaudible].

HALEY: [inaudible] and Crimea.

RAMASWAMY: [inaudible].

CHRISTIE: Let me say-

RAMASWAMY: Actually, Crimea is the wrong answer, Nikki.

KELLY: All right. The floor is Christie's.

CHRISTIE: All right, let me just say this. This is the kind of thing where he talks about experience. I was the US attorney in New Jersey when the terrorist attacks were launched against the United States in 2001. I brought the first two cases in this country against terrorists who tried to attack us again and I know about the threat of terrorism and bullying in this country and around the world, and at that time, he was learning about the provinces in Ukraine sitting with his smart-ass mouth at Harvard. That's what was going on. And so the fact of the matter is, and back then he was a Democrat, so the fact is-

RAMASWAMY: [inaudible].

CHRISTIE: The fact is that all he knows how to do-

RAMASWAMY: While you're busy hugging Barack Obama getting him elected.

CHRISTIE: All he knows how to do-

VARGAS: Thank you.

CHRISTIE: All he knows how to do is insult good people who have committed their lives to public service and not say anything that moves the ball down the field for the United States.

VARGAS: All right, thank you Governor Christie. We are going to take a quick break, cool things down a little bit. When we come back, we're going to tackle issues on the southern border. We'll be back in a few minutes.

[commercial break]

VARGAS: Welcome back to the Republican primary debate live on NewsNation from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We are now going to go to the crisis on the southern border. Polls show immigration and the crisis are among the most pressing issues for Republican voters right now, both the issue of migrants crossing illegally into our country and the separate issue of fentanyl being smuggled in mostly through legal ports of entry. All year, NewsNation has been at the border documenting the crisis. In 2023 alone, border patrol encountered a record 2.4 million migrants. All four of you have talked tough. The question now is how realistic is the talk? So Governor DeSantis, I'd like to start with you. You have pledged to send the military to the southern border on day one of your administration with orders to shoot, "Stone cold dead anyone illegally entering with a backpack that you believe contains fentanyl." Critics have called this a shoot first ask questions later policy that would amount to extrajudicial killing. You are a former military lawyer. Why do you think this idea of yours would be legal?

DESANTIS: The drug cartels are invading our country and they are killing our citizens by the tens of thousands every year. We had a situation in Florida, there was an 18-month-old baby that was crawling on the floor of an Airbnb rental, there was fentanyl residue on the carpet and the baby died. Is this acceptable in this country? I know the elites in DC, they don't care. They don't care that fentanyl is ravaging your community. They don't care that illegal aliens are ravaging our community and overwhelming our community. The commander in chief not only has a right, you have a responsibility to fight back against these people. We're-

VARGAS: And does that mean shooting first?

DESANTIS: It means you're going to categorize them as foreign terrorist organizations and we will identify… Just like we would anywhere. When I was in Iraq, Al-Qaeda wasn't wearing a uniform. You'd see anyone walking down the street, they all had man dresses on. You didn't know if someone had a bomb, an IED attached or not. And so, you had to make a judgment based on intelligence, based on positive identification, but we're going to be able to get the intelligence on these cartel people. And here's the thing, if we had a wall across the southern border, which I support, this would not have happened.

We need to build a wall across the southern border. I'll get it done and I'll make for… Mexico is supposed to pay for it, remember. Here's how you do that. I'm going to have fees on remittances from foreign workers when they send the money back to foreign countries, we're going to tax it, and we're going to build the wall with that. So yes, you should have had that, but we don't have it, I'm going to build it, but we have to lean in on this problem. I am not going to sit there and allow mothers to lose more kids because of fentanyl overdose. I am not going to sit there and let sex trafficking go unabated or human trafficking go unabated. There's going to be a new sheriff in town and these drug cartels better buckle up.

VARGAS: Thank you. Ambassador Haley, you have pledged to catch and deport all migrants who are here in this country illegally, but then you said in Londonderry, New Hampshire last month that you will not deport those who are working and paying taxes rather than feeding off the system, which is it?

HALEY: So first of all, what I said is all of the seven or 8 million illegals that have come under Biden's watch absolutely have to go back. We have to stop the incentive of what's bringing them over here in the first place. Biden just gave temporary protective status to 500,000 Venezuelans. That's a half a million social security cards, that's a half a million driver's licenses, and I know from my time at the United Nations, the first thing they do is pick up the phone and said, "We came over, come on over," and that's what sends more. You have to go and deport these people, so they know it can't happen again. For those that have been here longer than that, we've got to start seeing, who is it? How long have they been here? Have they been vetted? Have they paid taxes? Have they been working? And figure out who else is out there.

But what I know is my parents came here legally, they put in the time, they put in the price, they are offended by those that are coming illegally. We can't let them skip the line, but when you talk about fentanyl like you did before, let's look at something else. Yes, I think we should send special operations over and take out the cartels. I think we should do a remain in Mexico policy, so they never step foot in US soil in the first place, but look at where fentanyl came from. Let's go to the heart of the matter. It came from China.

That's why we need to end all normal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl. I promise you, they need our economy. They will immediately stop that, but this is where Trump went wrong. Trump was good on trade, but that's all he was with China because here he allowed fentanyl to continue to come over. 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 base in Cuba and police stations and Trump didn't do anything about it.

VARGAS: Thank you.

DESANTIS: [inaudible] from China though. Listen, 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. She wrote a love letter to the Chinese ambassador saying how great a friend China is. You can look at it. We put it on our website, rondesantis. com. There's also a video of her as governor standing in front of a Chinese flag with a Chinese business saying that she now works for them, talking about this Chinese company. So, she's been very weak on China. Now, here's the problem, the rhetoric is different, but… One, 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 donor. She will not stand up for you.

VARGAS: 15 seconds, ambassador.

HALEY: First of all, he's mad because those Wall Street donors used to support him and now they support me. The second thing is he has a Chinese company, [inaudible], that he just did a rally there last year. They have given you 340,000 in campaign donations-

DESANTIS: It's an American company.

HALEY: … Between them and their employees. They are tied to the Communist-

DESANTIS: It's an American company.

HALEY: … Chinese Party.

VARGAS: Thank you.

HALEY: JinkoSolar is another one. They went and expanded. You gave 2 million in subsidies and they-

DESANTIS: I banned China from buying land in the state of Florida.

HALEY: And the Department of Homeland-

DESANTIS: I ejected the Confucius Institute. Nikki Haley brought Confucius Institutes to the universities in South Carolina.

HALEY: That is not true.

DESANTIS: I ejected them, so I have a record of standing up and doing what's right, and here's the thing-

HALEY: You have a record of lying.

DESANTIS: She's trying to say things like that, even the liberal media groups that usually if I say the sky is blue, they'll fact check me and say that's wrong. They looked at her charges, they said it was totally false, that they could not find one instance of me recruiting a Chinese business coming to Florida.

VARGAS: Thank you.

DESANTIS: You know why? Because we never recruited any Chinese businesses in the state of Florida.

VARGAS: Thank you. Mr. Ramaswamy, over the past year, fentanyl has killed more than 75,000 Americans, 1,000 of them right here in Alabama. You have vowed to use the military to "annihilate drug labs inside Mexico", something the president of Mexico said would be a hostile act, but fentanyl can easily be made anywhere and labs that are shut down can easily and quickly be replaced. Are your tough enforcement policies offering false hope to a country racked by addiction?

RAMASWAMY: To the contrary, I don't think it's going to have to come to that if we deal with the actual demand side problem that we also have in this country. The easy part is talking about how we're going to use our military to secure the border. I will and I believe that everybody else wants to do the same thing, but the harder part is dealing with the crisis of purpose and meaning, the mental health epidemic raging across this country like wildfire. And there's a reason why after the opioid crisis you see fentanyl and even after we get fentanyl and we are going to be sure to make sure we do it, this one is worse for many reasons, they're illegally lacing it into pharmaceuticals, so it's more dangerous, but we're deluding ourselves. The real false promise here is thinking that we're going to have dealt with that underlying mental health epidemic in this country by just dealing with the demand side of it.

But I want to get back to this issue of the root cause because a lot of these are coming from labs in Wuhan, China of all places, drug materials that are going to the Mexican drug cartels that they're pumping across that southern border like a modern opium war. I think it is going to take a US president that's going to have a very different conversation with Xi Jinping than what Joe Biden just had in California.

I'll tell Xi Jinping, "You will not only not buy land in this country or donate to universities in this country, US businesses won't expand into the Chinese market until they're playing by the same set of rules." And the same country that's putting fentanyl into illegal pharmaceuticals in Mexico, it's no coincidence is the exact same country that also unleashed hell on the world with the COVID-19 pandemic. We also have to hold them accountable with every financial lever that we have available.

VARGAS: Thank you.

RAMASWAMY: That is what it actually means to stand with a spine, and you mark my words, if we're willing to stand with a spine, China will absolutely have to fold because they're in a tougher spot than we are. And then we're back to playing by the same set of rules, that's the answer.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy. Thank you. Let's talk about the economy. Ambassador Haley, homeownership has always been part of the American dream, but it's increasingly out of reach for younger Americans. This year, mortgage rates reached 30-year highs. Home prices have risen $190,000 over the past decade. Is this the free market at work or should the federal government do something to make homes more affordable?

HALEY: Well, first of all, you're exactly right. My daughter just got married and I saw how hard it was for her and her husband to buy a home. Right now, the average homeowner in America is 49 years old. You've got young people everywhere, that used to be the American dream and now it's out of reach, but you look at what happened. You first of all look at what the Fed did. The Fed did a terrible job when they allowed all of that money to go through. You saw the Treasury bond rates go up, that affected mortgage rates, that affected automobile rates, that affected insurance rates, and so now we have a high interest rate. You've got a supply issue. Ask any builder, the supply issues have continued to be there. That's caused the rate to go up, and then you've got insurances that have gone up.

And so, what you have is a lot of younger people who one, can't afford a home, but two, the banks aren't lending them any money. They've made the regulations so hard that they don't want to give loans on mortgages anymore. So, what we have to do is we have to open it up. We have to one, grow our economy, so that people have more money in their pockets. We've got to look at the supply chain and make sure that we are funneling that, so that builders don't have to sit there and go overseas to find things. And then we need to make sure that we really stop paying down this debt, make sure that we stop the borrowing, stop the spending. I'll veto any spending bill that doesn't take us back to pre-COVID levels because our kids are not going to forgive us for all the spending that happened. And as much as everybody wants to talk about how Donald Trump had a good economy, $9 trillion in debt he did just in four years, and we're all paying the price of that, including those mortgage prices.

JOHNSON: We're going to come back to President Trump, I promise. Governor DeSantis, the latest NewsNation decision desk poll found that inflation tops the worries of American voters. 61% say their very concerned and the working class is hardest hit. Economists say this was fueled by a glut of federal spending. The Biden administration has added $6 trillion to the national debt so far, but President Trump wasn't exactly a penny pincher. His administration added 7.8 trillion. Do Republicans, including President Trump, share the blame for inflation? And what concrete steps would a president DeSantis take to help Americans make ends meet?

DESANTIS: The borrowing, printing and spending of money was both parties in Washington DC. That's just a fact. These Republicans in Washington have spent, it's driven your prices higher, and it's driven your interest rates to the point where you can't afford… I met a young fellow in Iowa, he had graduated college a couple years ago and he's like, "Governor, I don't have a chance. I'm gainfully employed." He's like, "I have no chance to afford a home and start a family," that is taking the American dream away from people. So, we're going to get the inflation down, we're going to get the interest rates down, we are going to reduce spending, and I will be willing to veto and I vetoed a lot as governor of Florida and we'll do that. We're also going to open up all of our domestic energy for production, lower your gas prices, lower the price of fuel.

That's going to help the economy, it'll also help jobs and we'll do it, but another thing that's burdening young people are these student loans. Now, I don't support having a truck driver having to pay a student loan for someone that got a degree in gender studies. That is wrong, we should not have taxpayers do that. What I'm going to do though is I'm going to get to the root cause of the problem. These student loans are going to be backed by the universities because they need to have an incentive to produce gainful employment for people. They should not be indulging in ideological studies. They should be focusing on things that work, and we're going to take some of this money and we're going to move it to actual vocational training. In Florida, we doubled apprenticeships. We have more truck drivers, these are in-demand skills. Don't let anybody tell you that the only way you can be successful is through a four-year brick-and-ivy degree. That's one way you can be, it's not the only way, and we're going to fix that problem in the United States of America.

JOHNSON: Mr. Ramaswamy, you've praised cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, as an opt-out from our "broken financial architecture" and you oppose efforts to regulate it. The head of the largest international crypto exchange just pleaded guilty to allowing his platform to launder money for terrorists, including Hamas. You say your cryptocurrency plan will, "Ensure economic freedom for Americans." Won't it also ensure economic freedom for fraudsters, criminals, and terrorists?

RAMASWAMY: Look, fraudsters, criminals and terrorists have been defrauding people for a long time. Our regulations need to catch up with the current moment. The fact that SBF was able to do what he did at FTX shows that whatever they have as the current framework isn't working, and I think it is nothing short of embarrassing that Gary Gensler, the current leader of the SEC, in front of Congress could not even say whether Ethereum counted as a regulated security or not. And so, I think that this is just another example of the administrative state gone too far. Here's the dirty little secret in American politics today, the people who we elect to run the government are not the ones who are even actually [inaudible] that are writing regulations that Congress never gave them the authority to write.

And the good news is a US president can absolutely fix that. That takes a US president with a spine. So, what I've said is in my administration, by the end of year one, we will have a 75% reduction in the number of federal bureaucrats. We will shut down government agencies that should not exist. We will rescind any regulation that fails the test of West Virginia v. EPA, which is the most important Supreme Court case of our lifetime that said, "If Congress didn't delegate that to an administrative agency, then it's unconstitutional." These are seismic changes. These are big changes that the next president can deliver without asking Congress for permission or for forgiveness.

And I want people to understand that distinction because people have been sold myths by politicians for a long time saying, "I'm going to work with Congress to do this or that." Much of what you've heard on the stage from the other politicians fit that description, they need Congress. The things that I'm promising you, this is what the leader of the executive branch gets to do under Article II of the Constitution-

JOHNSON: Thank you, sir.

RAMASWAMY: … Cut down the bureaucracy [inaudible]-

JOHNSON: Thank you, sir.

RAMASWAMY: … Grow our economy and put the Federal Reserve in its place as part of the crypto discussion-

JOHNSON: No, no, no, Mr. Ramaswamy-

RAMASWAMY: 90% headcount reduction at the Fed.

JOHNSON: … You're out of time. 15 seconds, Governor DeSantis.

DESANTIS: So, one of the dangers that we're going to face, Biden wants, is a central bank digital currency. They want to get rid of cash. Crypto, they want to force you to do that. They'll take away your privacy. They will absolutely regulate your purchases. On day one as president, we take the idea of central bank digital currency and we throw it in the trash can. It'll be dead on arrival when I'm the president of the United States.

RAMASWAMY: I agree with that-

KELLY: We got to go to break. We got to go to break. We have a whole second hour to get to, it's exciting. And when we come back, we got a big subject, huge you might even say, Donald Trump. Stay tuned.

[commercial break]

KELLY: Welcome back, everyone. So, you've all spent a lot of time criticizing each other on this stage, as Governor Christie pointed out, and less so for most of you on the front-runner in this race, Donald Trump. We invited him to come tonight, as you know, but he declined to come, but we'd like to ask you a couple questions about him now. Ambassador Haley, former President Trump recently promised if he's reelected to bring back and expand his program restricting immigration from Muslim countries. Here he is in Iowa on October 16th.

VIDEO CLIP OF DONALD TRUMP: No longer will we allow dangerous lunatics, haters, bigots, and maniacs to get residency in our country. We're not going to let them stay here. If you empathize with radical Islamic, terrorists and extremists, you're disqualified. You're just disqualified.

KELLY: Ambassador Haley, do you support President Trump's plan for ideological screening?

HALEY: Well, I don't think that you have a straight-up Muslim ban, as much as you look at the countries that have terrorist activity that want to hurt Americans. You can ban those people from those countries, that's the way we should look at it is which countries are a threat to us. You look at what came across the southern border, what worries me the most are those that came from Iran, from Yemen, from Lebanon, those areas where they say death to America. That's where you want to be careful.

It's not about a religion, it's about a fact that certain countries are dangerous and are threats to us. A president has one job, and that's to keep Americans safe. And that's what we've got to do is make sure that we have good national security in that process, and that's the way you should look at it, is where the terrorist threats are, how we're going to deal with it and what we're doing about it. And the biggest threat we have right now is communist China, but you have to also look at what Iran and Russia are doing as well, and we need to be paying attention to that. That's why we have to focus on things like cyber, on space, on artificial intelligence, and not just the regular things that we've always focused on.

DESANTIS: It's not just terrorism though, that's important, but look what's happened in Europe. You have more anti-Semitism in Germany than at any time since Adolf Hitler. Why? Because they imported mass numbers of people who reject their culture. Europe is committing suicide with the mass migration and it's illegal and legal. Nikki Haley said the other day there should be no limits on legal immigration and that corporate CEOs should set the policy on that.

HALEY: That's not true. You're lying.

DESANTIS: There needs to be limits on immigration and we should not be importing people from cultures that are hostile. So for example, I said with Gaza, you had some of the squad wanted to import 300,000 people from the Gaza Strip. I said, "No, we're not taking anyone from Gaza because of the anti-Semitism and because they reject

DESANTIS: … affect American culture, so we've got to get smart about this. We cannot let the United States be like Europe.

VARGAS: Governor Christie. Governor Christie. Governor Christie.

RAMASWAMY: If I may just hit this point because it relates to what they just said. There are things that the government can do right now that nobody's talking about amongst the professional politicians in this race. What about all of the illegals who are already here? Here's the answer. There's 287G in the law. That is a provision that already allows ICE agents to deputize or allow local law enforcement to enforce those ICE [inaudible]. It shocks me that nobody in the Republican Party's talking about it because there are one million then officials, law enforcement officials in this country, and against that backdrop, we absolutely have the ability to deport anybody who's in this country illegally. We need to be talking about it more in this country.

VARGAS: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy. Thank you. Governor Christie.

HALEY: I actually did that as governor of South Carolina.

VARGAS: Governor Christie, asked last night in Iowa whether he would be a dictator if he wins a second term in office, Donald Trump quipped, no, "Except for day one", promising to seal the southern border. He has also pledged to begin the largest deportation operation in American history saying that migrants are "Poisoning the blood of our country." He has pledged to round up and expel an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. What do you make of that plan?

CHRISTIE: I think it's completely predictable. I mean, look, he's made it very clear. There's no mystery to what he wants to do. He started off his campaign by saying, "I am your retribution." Eight years ago he said, "I'm your voice." This is an angry, bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him, anyone who has 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. Yet at the first debate, my three colleagues on this stage, when asked if he would be convicted of federal felonies, would they still support him, raised their hand, looked into the camera and let everybody know that they would still support him, even if convicted of felonies. Federal felonies, by the way.

Federal felonies which involve our election process, federal felonies which involve the most sensitive of our governmental secrets, federal felonies where he instructed others to commit crimes, folks who are now agreeing to go to jail because of what they did in his name. Do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator? All you have to do is look at the history and that's why failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that somehow he's a victim empowers him. You want to know why those poll numbers are where they are? Because folks like these three guys on the stage make it seem like his conduct is acceptable. Let me make it clear. His conduct is unacceptable. He's unfit and be careful of what you're going to get if you ever got another Donald Trump term. He's letting you know "I am your retribution. Elizabeth, he will only be his own retribution. He doesn't care for the American people. It's Donald Trump first.

VARGAS: Thank you, Governor Christie. Governor DeSantis. Governor DeSantis. Thank you. Thank you. Governor DeSantis. Donald Trump would be older on day one of his second presidency than Joe Biden was on day one of his first. You have said Trump is not the same man he was when he ran in 2016. Your campaign is running ads showing Trump confused and you have said he has "Lost the zip on his fastball." You seem to be saying Donald Trump is no longer mentally fit to be president. Is that what you think?

DESANTIS: Look, he is … Father Time is undefeated. The idea that we're going to put someone up there that's almost 80 and there's going to be no effects from that, we all know that that's not true, and so we have an opportunity to do a next generation of leaders and really be able to move this country forward. We also need a president that can serve two terms. I don't think Donald Trump … I don't think he'd be able to get elected. The Democrats want him to be the nominee. We see that. They're going to turn the screws the minute … if he got the nomination-

VARGAS: But do you think he's mentally fit to be president?

DESANTIS: I think we need to have somebody younger. I think when you get up to 80, I don't think it's a job for that, but let me just respond to some of the things there. Look, the media's making a big deal about what he said about some of these comments. I would just remind people that is not how he governed. He didn't even fire Dr. Fauci. He didn't fire Christopher Ray. He didn't clean up the swamp. He said he was going to drain it. He did not drain it. He said he was going to build the 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.

Some of these policies he ran on in '16, I was cheering him on then, but he didn't deliver it. Here's what I can promise people. A hundred percent of the things I promised as governor, I delivered on those promises. I beat the Left time and time again and that's what I'll do for you as president. We got to start winning again as a party. Yes, win the election, but we've got to start getting these issues. I will go in and wreak havoc on this bureaucracy. You will see people fired and we are going to bring a reckoning for how this government handled COVID-19 and the lockdown.

RAMASWAMY: Listen, here's what's irritates the heck out of me. Now, Chris, you had your chance to wax eloquent on Donald Trump. You were doing it all this whole race.

CHRISTIE: Why doesn't he just answer the question? The question was very direct. Is he fit to be president or isn't he? The rest of the speech is interesting but completely nonresponsive and if we were in a courtroom, they'd strike the answer and say, "Governor DeSantis, you're a smart man-"

RAMASWAMY: No, they wouldn't. They would argue that-

CHRISTIE: No, they would.

RAMASWAMY: No, they wouldn't, Chris.

CHRISTIE: They would strike the answer because you're not answering it. Is he fit-

DESANTIS: You have your thing. You have your thing.

CHRISTIE: No, I don't have my thing. He's the thing. Is he fit or isn't he?

DESANTIS: We not want to do someone that's almost 80.

CHRISTIE: You're talking about him being 80 years old, Ron. Is he fit, Ron?

DESANTIS: It doesn't mean that somebody couldn't be elected. That's up to the people to decide.

VARGAS: Governor DeSantis. Governor DeSantis, let him finish.

DESANTIS: I think we have an opportunity to choose somebody who is in the prime of their life.

VARGAS: Guys, no talking over each other.

DESANTIS: We don't have to worry about all this stuff with [inaudible] and we'll do it.

KELLY: Governor, please stop, I'm going to come to you. Finish.

DESANTIS: Look, Father Time is undefeated. I don't know how he would score on a test, but I know this. We have an opportunity to nominate someone and elect someone for two terms who's going to be spitting nails on day one and for eight years deliver you big results.

KELLY: So you do think he's fit. You do think.

DESANTIS: We should not nominate somebody-

CHRISTIE: He won't answer

DESANTIS: Who's almost 80 years old.

CHRISTIE: He's afraid to answer.

DESANTIS: No, I'm not.

CHRISTIE: No, you have to … either you are afraid or you're not listening.

DESANTIS: No, it's not.

CHRISTIE: There's a simple question.

DESANTIS: You don't want to hear the answer. [inaudible].

KELLY: Nobody can hear this. No one can hear you, they can't hear you. You finish and then you get it back.

CHRISTIE: Look, I'm a simple guy. I hear the question and I answer it. Is he fit or isn't he? I'll concede. You are fit, Ron. You are a new generation. You're 44 years old. I wish I was still 44 years old.


CHRISTIE: Well, congratulations. I'd still take 45. Is he fit or isn't he? This is the problem with my three colleagues. They're afraid to offend. Let me tell you something. If you're afraid-

RAMASWAMY: See, I want to say-

VARGAS: Hold on, Mr. Ramaswamy.

CHRISTIE: If you're afraid to offend Donald Trump, then what are you going to do when you sit across from President Xi, you sit across from the Ayatollah, you sit across from Putin? You have to be willing to offend with the truth and answer the question. [inaudible]

RAMASWAMY: It's not about offending.

KELLY: I promised Ron DeSantis a minute and not a full minute. You've been waiting and then we're moving on.

DESANTIS: It's not about offending. It's about pointing out do you want to elect somebody who will be older than Biden was when he went in 2021? I don't think he's as bad as Biden was at all, but I do think that over a four-year period, it is not a job for somebody that's pushing 80. We need somebody that's younger. We need somebody that's going to be able to go in there and clean house on day one and do it for two terms.

RAMASWAMY: Here's my issue with all three of my other colleagues on this debate stage is all three of them have been licking Donald Trump's boots for years for money and endorsements. Ron DeSantis, you've been a great governor, but you would've never been one without actually begging Donald Trump for that endorsement.

DESANTIS: You attacked him in your book a year ago.

RAMASWAMY: Same thing with Chris Christie as a lobbyist begging them for COVID money for his special interests in New Jersey, prepping him for the debates last time around. These people are now Monday morning quarterbacking some decision he made. I think the real enemy is not Donald Trump, it's not even Joe Biden. It is the deep state that at least Donald Trump attempted to take on. If you want somebody who's going to speak truth to power, then vote for somebody who's going to speak the truth to you.

Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6th now does look like it was an inside job, that the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11, 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 that actually put out the Trump Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false?

There's a reason why I'm the only person on this stage who can say these things. That's what it's going to take, not people who were licking his boots one time and now Monday morning quarterbacking and criticizing when it's convenient.

KELLY: Governor Christie, you do not favor a ban on trans medical treatments for minors, saying it's a parental rights issue. The surgeries done on minors involve cutting off body parts at a time when these kids cannot even legally smoke a cigarette. Kids who go from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones are at a much greater likelihood of winding up sterile. How is it that you think a parent should be able to okay these surgeries, nevermind the sterilization of a child and aren't you way too out of step on this issue to be the Republican nominee?

CHRISTIE: No, I'm not because Republicans believe in less government, not more, in less involvement with government, not more in government involvement in people's lives. You know what, Megan? I trust parents and we are out there saying that we should empower parents in education, we should empower parents to make more decisions about where their kids go to school. I agree. We should empower parents to be teaching the values that they believe in in their homes without the government telling them what those values should be. Yet we want to take other parental rights away. I'm sorry. As a father of four, I believe there is no one who loves my children more than me. There's no one who loves my children more than my wife. There's no one who cares more about their success and health in life than we do.

Not some government bureaucrat, not some … You look at these jokers down in Congress, it takes them three weeks to pick a speaker and up until two days ago, they couldn't promote somebody in the military in the United States Senate who earned their new rank, and we're going to put my children's health and my decisions in their hands for them to make those decisions, for Joe Biden to make those decisions for me and for my wife? Let me just say this. This is not something I favor. I think it's a very, very dangerous thing to do, but that's my opinion as a parent, Megan, and I get to make the decisions about my children, not anybody else. Every parent out there who's watching tonight, you start to turn over just a little bit of this authority, the authority they're going to take from you next, you're not going to like. I'll stand up for parents each and every time.

RAMASWAMY: There are laws banning smoking and drinking by a [inaudible]

DESANTIS: You do not have [inaudible].

KELLY: Hold on, hold on. Let me tell you something. I have a follow-up question for him and you guys are going to get to weigh in. Okay? Here's my follow-up question. You talk about parental rights, let's talk about them. When you were governor in 2017, you signed a law that required new guidelines for schools dealing with transgender students. Those guidelines required schools to accept a child's preferred gender identity even if the minor's parents objected.

CHRISTIE: Not true.

KELLY: It said that there is no duty for schools to notify parents if their son or daughter changes their gender identity, allowing this serious issue to remain a secret between the school and a child. How is any of that pro-parental rights?

CHRISTIE: By the way, that's simply not true.

DESANTIS: You're doing what you accused me of, Chris.

RAMASWAMY: It is absolutely true.

CHRISTIE: That's simply not true. That's simply not true. That law was put into effect in 2018 and regulated in 2018 after I was out of office, Megan.

KELLY: You mandated the guidelines.

CHRISTIE: No. No, we did not, Megan. We did not issue those guidelines and you're wrong about that. Simply wrong. I have stood up each and every time.

RAMASWAMY: I think if this is one issue that's disqualifying, it's this one.

CHRISTIE: I stood up every single time for parents to be able to make the decisions for their minor children. Every single time parents should make those decisions. By the way, you know what? Every once in a while parents are going to make decisions that we disagree with, but the minute you start to take those rights away from parents, you don't know that's slippery slope, what rights are going to be taken away next and what's going to be imposed on you.

DESANTIS: As a parent, you do not have the right to abuse your kids. This is cutting off their genitals. This is mutilating. These minors, these are irreversible procedures and this is something that other countries in Europe like Sweden, once they started doing it, they saw it did incalculable damage. They've shut it down. I signed legislation in Florida banning the mutilation of minors because it is wrong. We cannot allow this to happen in this country. I know Chris disagrees with me and I think he has an honest position. Nikki disagrees with me. She opposes the bill that we did to ban that. She said the law shouldn't get involved with it.

HALEY: I did not.

DESANTIS: You said the law shouldn't get involved with it. She also, though, I think, and this flows from what she did as governor of South Carolina, they had a bill to try to say that men shouldn't go into girls' bathrooms and she killed that bill and she bragged that she killed that bill. Even to this day she bragged that. I don't think men should be going into little girls' bathrooms. I think it's wrong and I think we have every right to protect them from that.

KELLY: I am going to come to you. I promise him seconds. Go quickly.

RAMASWAMY: I think the north star here is transgenderism is a mental health disorder. We don't let you smoke a cigarette by the age of 18. We don't let you have an addictive drink of alcohol by the age of 21. I just challenged Ron DeSantis to go one step further and support what I think is clearly within the authority to do using federal funds just like Reagan did in '84 for the Highway Act that said the minimum drinking age needs to be 21. We can do the same thing when it comes to banning genital mutilation or chemical castration. I know Ron's been unclear about on the federal level. I'm crystal clear. That's where I stand. That's a mental health disorder. That's where we need to be at.

KELLY: Got it. That's it. Go ahead.

HALEY: First of all, Ron has continued to lie because he's losing.

DESANTIS: No, it's not a lie.

HALEY: You are lying.

DESANTIS: You said it on tape.

HALEY: First of all, I will say that when I was governor, 10 years ago when the bathroom situation came up, we had maybe a handful of kids that were dealing with an issue and I said we don't need to bring government into this, but boys go into boys' bathrooms, girls go into girls' bathrooms and if anyone else has an issue, they use a private bathroom. Now 10 years later we see that this issue has exploded and this shows how hypocritical Ron continues to be. When he was running for governor and they asked him about that, he said he didn't think bathroom bills were a good use of his time. You can go look that up.

DESANTIS: I signed a bathroom bill in Florida, so that's obviously not true.

HALEY: The idea that you would say that I was against it-

DESANTIS: I signed it, you didn't. You killed it. I signed it. I stood up for little girls. You didn't do it and there was this going on. I was actually just in South Carolina. Some of the legislators told me at the time there were boys going into the girls. That's the whole reason why they did it.

HALEY: No, no, no, no, no.

DESANTIS: So they say when she does that explanation, that that doesn't hold water and this is the upstate of South Carolina.


DESANTIS: I signed the bill, I protected the girls.

HALEY: Do you know South Carolinians?

DESANTIS: She did not do it. I know that.

HALEY: Do you know South Carolinians? Because South Carolinians … No, no, no. You are not going to talk about my state like that because I will tell you for a fact, South Carolinians never allowed that to happen and we did not have that issue at the time. What I have always said is boys go into a boys' bathroom, girls go into a girls bathroom. But hold on one second. I also say that biological boys shouldn't be playing in girls' sports and I will do everything I can to stop that because it's the women's issue of our time.

DESANTIS: I signed legislation to protect women's sports. I actually get this stuff done.

JOHNSON: We're going to move on from this.

KELLY: You got it.

JOHNSON: Thank you, guys. We're going to move on. Mr. Ramaswamy, when discussing your Hindu faith in September you seemed to take a shot at Ambassador Haley who is also Indian American and who converted to Christianity as an adult. You said "An easy thing for me to do being a politician is to shorten my name, profess to be a Christian and then run. Make Vivek Vicky or whatever." Are you questioning Nikki Haley's Christian convictions, and why is your campaign made a point of referring to Ambassador Haley by her given first name Nimarata, even though she's gone by Nikki for her whole life?

RAMASWAMY: Well, my whole deal is if Nikki Haley of all people should know how to pronounce my name correctly, the rest of the news media can learn it. My deal is I'll call her Nikki when she can say my own name right and that's our little fun side bet there. Here's what I will say is deeper. I don't question her faith, but I question her authenticity and I think that's deeper here. We were just talking about the trans issue. This is a symptom of a deeper cancer in American life, identity politics, this new religion that says your race, your gender, and your sexuality are your identity. It is anti-American, it is meritocratic, it's anti-meritocratic and it is dividing this country to a breaking point. I've spoken about this to the Left. My books are all about this. I've preached this to the Left, but it's even worse when republicans try to play the same game.

We're talking about that trans issue and Nikki Haley's campaign launch video sounded like a woke Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light ad talking about how she would kick in heels. At the first debate, she said that only a woman can get this job done. That's what she said. 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. Nikki, I don't have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem and I think that that's what people need to know. Nikki is corrupt. This is a woman who will send your kids to die so she can buy a bigger house. This is the problem, using identity politics more effectively than Kamala Harris is a form of intellectual fraud and it actually needs to … and there's her donor puppet masters wielding their puppet right up here tonight.

This is how this game is played. The puppet masters put up their puppet and I reject the use of identity politics in this party. It has been a cancer coming from the Left and I'm sick and tired of the double standards, the people of this country are too, having two X chromosomes does not immunize you from criticism.

JOHNSON: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Governor Haley, would you like to respond?

HALEY: No, it's not worth my time to respond to him.

RAMASWAMY: You have been using identity politics at every step. She knows it's true and that's why she's [inaudible].

HALEY: Sir, we're not going to give you a response to the question that was to you.

KELLY: Okay, we got to move on to this. Now by arrangement with the Republican National Committee, we've got two questions for you about the Justice Department and our election system. Here's Tom Fitton with Judicial Watch. Governor Christie, this one's for you.

FITTON: President Trump and many of his supporters claim federal law enforcement agencies have abused his civil rights for the last eight years by, among other things, spying on him and now prosecuting him while having treated Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden with kid gloves. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans think more highly of the U.S. Postal Service than they do the FBI or Justice Department. What would you do as president to restore the faith of the American people in these agencies?

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, I'm the only person on this stage who's actually done a job in the Department of Justice. I was the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey in the fifth-largest office in this country appointed by President Bush on September 10th, 2001. It was an extraordinary time in this country to be on the front lines of fighting the greatest attack against our country since Pearl Harbor. I'm proud of the seven years I spent in the Justice Department and one of the reasons I am is because I had an attorney general when I came in named John Ashcroft and John Ashcroft stood up and told each and every one of us our job was to do one thing, to make sure justice was done every day regardless of partisanship, regardless of gender or race or any other consideration. That's what we did for seven years and at a time when our country was at its greatest moment of danger in the last 40 years, we did exactly that and there was not another domestic terrorist attack on this soil.

What I would do as president having had that experience and the only one who's had that experience is to pick an attorney general who will absolutely do the same thing that John Ashcroft did, to pick U.S. attorneys who will only care about making sure that justice is done without regard to any other consideration but the facts that are presented and whether someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the government can prove it. We have had attorneys general like Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch and Jeff Sessions and now our current attorney general who have not met that standard. And the only way you restore people's faith in the justice system is to put someone like that in charge of the Justice Department and then as president to get at the hell out of the way on anything that involves criminal investigations. If a president's involved in trying to do something and put their thumb on the scales, Donald Trump says he will do, that makes people much less likely to believe our justice system can be fair.

VARGAS: Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you. Governor DeSantis, this next one is for you. Back to Tom Fitton.

FITTON: Many Republicans are concerned about the legitimacy of elections. A federal judge just ruled that Pennsylvania must count on dated mail-in ballots and unlike Alabama, many states still don't require any identification to vote. What should states do now to increase election integrity and voter confidence for the 2024 election?

DESANTIS: Well, Tom, thanks for the question. Thanks for what you guys do at Judicial Watch. It's really, really important. There's a lot of corruption in this government. You guys are doing a great job. What you should do for election integrity is do what we did in Florida. 20 years ago, Florida and elections was a joke. Everybody would laugh at it. I came in, I removed a couple supervisors from South Florida. We require voter ID universal, no Zuckerbucks, no mass mail balloting and no ballot harvesting. We even have an agency that prosecutes people for violating election laws. The result of that in both 2020 and 2022, we counted millions and millions of votes on election night, produced the results, it was transparent and everybody was happy. That is not happening throughout this country.

But let me tell you this, as the nominee, I think it's important. Not every state's where we need it to be there is ballot harvesting in places like Nevada, all these places. I am not going to fight with one hand tied behind my back. I'm going to have organizations in all the swing states. If they're harvesting, we are harvesting. If they're Zuckerbucks, we're Zuckerbucks. We are going to exploit whatever the rules are. I favor changing the rules to be like Florida and some of the other states that have done a good job, but until then we have to do that.

Then just on the Justice Department and FBI, I mean, I remember being in Iraq working with FBI on the ground and then I was a special assistant. I used to have such a high regard for these agencies. What they did to Donald Trump with the Russia collusion was one of the biggest abuses of power in the history of our country. These agencies need to be cleaned out. With me, you'll have a new FBI director on day one. We're going to clear out the DOJ, the IRS, all these places. Buckle your seatbelts, there's going to be a new sheriff in town.

KELLY: Thank you. All right, we got to do a quick break. We're going to come back in one minute. China up next.

[commercial break]

JOHNSON: Welcome back to the final GOP Presidential Primary Debate of 2023. We're going to talk about our college campuses, starting with you, Ambassador Haley. House Republicans yesterday hauled Elite University presidents up to Capitol Hill to answer for the displays of antisemitism on college campuses. These leaders, including the president of Harvard, were asked

JOHNSON: … asked whether calling for the genocide of the Jews would violate school policies against harassment and intimidation. All of them said it would depend on the context, including whether that speech veers into conduct. How do you think these schools and the rest of society should balance the imperative of free speech against the need to prevent radical activists from harassing and intimidating others?

HALEY: It was disgusting to see what happened. If this had been the KKK that was doing protests on those campuses, every one of those college presidents would've been up in arms. This is just as bad. The idea that they would go and allow that kind of pro-Hamas protest or agree with the genocide of Jews and try and say that they needed context on that, there is no context to that.

This is what we need to do to deal with it. First of all, we have got to get foreign money out of our universities. You've got Arab money, you've got Chinese money, you've got others. We need to go to every university and say, "You either take foreign money or you take American money, but the days of taking both are over."

The second thing we need to do is we need… Biden made a mistake not including anti-Zionism in the definition of anti-Semitism. If you don't think that Israel has a right to exist, that is anti-Semitic. We will change the definition so that every government, every school has to acknowledge the definition for what it is.

The third thing is we really do need to ban TikTok once and for all, and let me tell you why. For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok, every day, they become 17% more anti-Semitic, more pro-Hamas based on doing that. We now know that 50% of adults, 18 to 25, think that Hamas was warranted in what they did with Israel. That's a problem. When campuses also don't go and protect, when they have these rallies, and you've got students that are scared, we need to go to these universities and say, "If you're not going to protect these students, if you're not going to acknowledge anti-Semitism, we'll take your tax-exempt status away." That'll fix it and that'll take care of it for them.

JOHNSON: Staying with you, ambassador Haley, on October 6th, the Israeli government thought it had a clear-eyed view of the threat from Hamas. In fact, according to the New York Times, it even had Hamas' attack plan and dismissed it as an aspiration. The Israelis were wrong. In our country, the FBI director told the Senate panel just yesterday that he sees, "Blinking red lights everywhere," and that the threat level has, "Gone to a whole nother level since October 7th." Which of the threats facing our country do you worry could blindside us?

HALEY: What worries me and what keeps me up at night is what happens between now and election day while Joe Biden's in office. That's what worries me more than anything else, but I'll tell you that America right now is acting like it's September 10th. We better remember what September 12th felt like because it only takes one. And whether you're looking at open borders that are allowing people to come in, Iran knows the easiest way to get to America is through the southern border, and we're not doing anything to stop it.

We've got to get the foreign infiltration out of our country, whether it's in our schools, whether it's on our social media, whether it's we need to stop all foreign lobbying that's happening to members of Congress, and we need to start America again. Until we do that, we are going to be at threats. We've got to look at, Iran, China and Russia want to destroy the West. We have to start acting strong again. We've got to start protecting Americans. Right now, Americans don't feel protected, and we're not doing anything to strengthen it. So, Joe Biden continues to be a problem, that'll change on election day.

KELLY: Governor DeSantis, if China invades Taiwan, would you send American troops, as President Biden's has said he would do?

DESANTIS: We will be able to deter that from happening. I think that's the important thing, we need a strategy of denial so that we're deterring Xi's ambitions.

KELLY: What if it doesn't work?

DESANTIS: It's going to work. Taiwan's an ally. We have longstanding American policy, and you know how that's done, and we will follow that.

But here's the thing, Taiwan is important, not just because of semiconductors. It's important because if China's able to break out of this first island chain, they're going to be able to dominate commerce in the entire Indo-Pacific. They will use that to export authoritarianism all around the world, including here in the United States.

You look at some of these guys, actually, some of them that are supporting Nikki on Wall Street, they grovel to China. Anytime something happens, they got to go do that. So, they already exert a huge amount of authority over this country. It will get a lot worse. So, deterring China's ambitions is the number one national security task that I will do as president and we will succeed. The 21st century needs to be an American century. We cannot let it be a Chinese century.

VARGAS: Mr. Ramaswamy, I'm coming to you next.

RAMASWAMY: I'll be clear on the same issue, if I may.

VARGAS: Okay, I'm coming to you next on Taiwan. You said, if you want to stop Xi from invading Taiwan, "Let's open a branch of the NRA in Taiwan and put an AR-15 in the hands of every family and train them how to use it. That will-"

RAMASWAMY: I stand by it.

VARGAS: "… give Xi a taste of American exceptionalism." The national police in Taiwan announced a zero gun policy last year. Is this a serious policy proposal? And if it isn't, why do you keep repeating it?

RAMASWAMY: Well, it's part of a broader deterrence strategy, and so, I think I'm going to respectfully disagree with Ron here. I think the next U.S. president needs to be crystal clear that at least for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will absolutely defend Taiwan, and it is with that clarity that we actually achieve deterrence.

But I have a broader strategy than that. We need to get onside in our relationship with India, take it to the next level. India has to be able to block the Andaman Sea, which is where China gets most of its Middle Eastern oil supplies. That's critical.

I also do believe the Second Amendment is a critical way of preventing foreign autocrats from being able to, "It's worked in America, why wouldn't it work in Taiwan?" So, it is part of a broader strategy, but I do think that we need to be specific about our deterrence strategy or else Xi Jinping is just encroaching by the day.

And the reason why we're not doing it for China, I want to be crystal clear, is because we're scared. Why are we scared? Because we depend on them for our modern way of life. Why do we depend on them for our modern way of life? It's because Nikki Haley's latest friends like Larry Fink have created co-mingled economies with BlackRock, Tellan, Exxon and Chevron. They can't drill here while being a shareholder of PetroChina, not applying those same constraints in China. So, it is our economic dependence on China that makes us scared. If that were a Russian spy balloon, we'd have shot it down in an instant. If that were a Russian spy base in Cuba, we'd be actually going hard on them instead of turning the other way as we are with China. So, it comes back down to that economic dependence. We cannot depend on them for our pharmaceuticals, our semiconductors, and people have been lied to for a long time. Our own military, the F-35 jets that we make in this country-

VARGAS: Thank you.

RAMASWAMY: … depend on China and it's going to take an outsider to fix that broken establishment.

VARGAS: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy. Ambassador Haley, would you like to respond?

HALEY: I mean, when it comes to China and Taiwan, the one way that we keep China from going into Taiwan is, one, make sure that we win in Ukraine, that we protect our friends, but also let China know that there'll be hell to pay if they go into Taiwan. They need to know that there is going to be a force that's going to go against them and they need to know it's not just going to be the United States. That is why we need to build our partnerships with India, with South Korea, with Japan, with the Philippines, with Australia. We need to start pulling that alliance together. And the first way we do that is we need to make sure that on day one we look at the fact, whatever…

If China pulled the rug out from under us tomorrow, would we be ready? Think about what happened during COVID. Everybody told you to wear a mask, they were made in China. Everybody told you to take a COVID test, they were made in China. I mean, everything that happened, if you go to the drugstore, all those medicines are made in China. We have to make sure that we are not relying on China for anything related to our national security, which means let's start focusing on doing deals with our friends now.

VARGAS: Thank you, Ambassador. Governor Christie, I'd like you to weigh in on that. And do you think arming every family in Taiwan with an AR-15 is a plausible policy.

CHRISTIE: I don't think we have constitutional authority over Taiwan, to give them a Second Amendment. I think they can only do that for themselves.

But look, I want to be really clear. Once again, I want to play the role of actually answering your question, which is if China went after Taiwan, you're absolutely right, I would, as president, have us go militarily and defend them.

Secondly, I'm not afraid based upon those economic relationships to do that because these economic relationships mean nothing. Nothing. If what's going to happen is that China is going to come and act in that region of the world however they see fit. It's not right.

And I'll say this about what I heard from Nikki earlier. She said that Donald Trump was good on trade. He wasn't. And the proof that he wasn't good on trade with China is that all he did was impose tariffs, which raised the prices for every American. You want to know what has contributed to inflation in this country? Yes, it's more government spending. Yes, it's the fact that we're printing too much money. Absolutely. But it is also the increase in prices that were driven by Donald Trump's tariffs.

VARGAS: Thank you.

CHRISTIE: And one last thing, you can't say he was good on trade because he didn't trade. He didn't change one Chinese policy in the process. He failed on it.

VARGAS: Thank you, Governor Christie. Governor DeSantis, switching subjects here. For 15 years, Republicans have been burned by politicians' promises to repeal Obamacare. Trump repeatedly promised to replace it with, "Something terrific," but failed to propose anything. You're now promising something better, but Florida has more uninsured people than almost any other state. Why should Americans trust you more than any other Republicans who've disappointed them on this issue?

DESANTIS: Well, I think we have millions of Americans who do not have access to affordable healthcare, and it's not just getting some type of card and Medicaid, because a lot of times they don't even get access to doctors. Do you actually get access to care?

The other thing is we have millions and millions of people that don't have access to good doctors and good hospitals.

Florida did not expand Obamacare. I think the states that did that I think are struggling financially.

So that, yes, we declined to do that and I don't think that that was the right policy to do, but we are going to go after the cost. You're paying too much for everything. We've actually addressed this in Florida in some ways, but you need price transparency. You need to hold the pharmaceuticals accountable. You need to hold big insurance and big government accountable, and we're going to get that done. I think it's very, very important economically. I think it's very, very important for the country that we get that done.

VARGAS: Go ahead.

RAMASWAMY: Yeah, so I actually wanted it. This is a very personal issue to our family. I wanted to take actually a minute to recognize my wife who's here today, badass surgeon. She did a bunch of cases with cancer survivors earlier today, flew here to be here tonight. We'll be back at 7:00 AM in Columbus, Ohio tomorrow, taking care of those patients in the OR, and on the front lines of people who have actually not swallowed for years.

And here's something that's awful that's happening in our healthcare system. They'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.

My wife, Apoorva in many cases, does not get paid for those procedures. She does them anyway because it's the right thing to do, but that does not work system-wide.

So, here's the answer. We don't have a healthcare system in this country. We have a sick care system. We need to start having diverse insurance options in a competitive marketplace that cover actual health, preventative medicine, diet, exercise, lifestyle and otherwise. And here's how we deliver that, end the antitrust exemptions for health insurance companies. That's where the competitive marketplace begins. That's crony capitalism, and that's the answer.

KELLY: Next question's for you. Okay, through Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration and private industry developed a COVID vaccine in record time. The program protected the drug companies from virtually all lawsuits over vaccine injuries. The government has a program to compensate for such harm, but critics say it is a black hole of bureaucracy. 12,000 claims filed, 10% decided, only eight payouts so far in a forum with no right to counsel, no hearings, no appeals. Mr. Trump says he is very proud of warp speed. Should he be?

RAMASWAMY: Well, this question specifically on liability goes back to actually Reagan. And Reagan is a president who I admire. Many of us do I think that reviving that spirit is in many ways gonna be good for this country in so many ways. But one of the areas where he erred was this special form of lobbying to say that one kind of manufacturer, a vaccine manufacturer, cannot be sued for their product liability. So I have pledged it is part of my legislative agenda. We will repeal that just like we will repeal every other form of crony capitalism. People who have been harmed by those vaccines deserve accountability. They cannot be forgotten Americans. And I think one of the top lessons we learned from that Covid pandemic is that free speech in this country is most important in those alleged times of emergency.

If we have been allowed to openly debate the merits of those vaccines, they would've been never mandated in the way that they were. And in general, I don't think that we should want capitalism and democracy to share the same bed anymore. It's time for a clean divorce, let companies be companies. But I don't like the crony capitalism. This dates back a long time in both parties and I think that we need to end the lobbying. And I personally believe that if you have been working in the government, you should not lobby that government for 10 years. If you have been a government elected official doing deals with companies, be they Boeing or be they pharmaceutical companies, you should not join the board of that company for 10 years after. The former chairman of the FDA, the leader commissioner of the FDA ended up on the board of Pfizer. Nikki Haley did deals with Boeing, ends up on the board of Boeing. I don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat. We need some basic principles that end the corruption in government. That's how we got the health insurance exemptions. That's how we got the pharmaceutical product liability exemptions. End the corruption.

KELLY: Okay, thank you.

RAMASWAMY: End the corruption.

DESANTIS: We need a reckoning for what this government did during COVID-19. That includes the MNRA shots. They put it out, it was experimental, people wanted it. Then the government started trying to mandate it to say, you don't have a right to put food on your table if you don't take an MNRA shot that was under emergency use. They tried to take nurses away. Now in Florida, we blocked that. We provided protections for everybody so that they wouldn't lose their job. You also have the FDA approving an MNRA shot for six months old babies. There was no data to support that. They're doing it because big pharma will make money. So I'm gonna go in there. CDC, NIH, FDA, we're gonna clean house. There's gonna be a reckoning because right now nobody's been held accountable for any of the damage, and they're gonna try to do it again. When I'm president, this will never happen to our country ever again.

VARGAS: Thank you Governor DeSantis. And we'll be right back in just a few moments for our closing statements from our four candidates at the Republican primary debate.

[commercial break]

JOHNSON: Welcome back to the Newsnation primary debate here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We're going to do one final question before closing statements, and we want to get you all in, so we're going to give you 45 seconds for this last one. Governor Christie, we're going to start with you. Which former president would you draw inspiration from for your own presidency and why?

CHRISTIE: I would draw inspiration from Ronald Reagan. In the last year, I've spent a lot of time writing a book about President Reagan that's going to be called What Would Reagan Do? That book's going to come out early in 2024. And what I learned more than anything else was that Ronald Reagan was a slave to the truth. Ronald Reagan stood up for the truth, whether it was popular or unpopular at the moment. In 1964, he stood up against the John Birch Society when it was very unpopular to the party to do it, but he would not put up with our party standing for lies and deceit, even if it gave him political progress. That's the kind of president that I will be, and I would draw that inspiration from the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

JOHNSON: Ambassador Haley?

HALEY: Well, I have to say too, I think George Washington, when you look at the responsibilities he had, of how do you go and take on this great American experiment and make sure that the people are protected, and they always knew that government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people, it was never meant to be all things to all people. And then, 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. And I think we need that now more than ever.

JOHNSON: Governor DeSantis?

DESANTIS: Reagan, Washington, Lincoln, excellent. One of the guys I'll take inspiration from is Calvin Coolidge. Now, people don't talk about him a lot. He's one of the few presidents that got almost everything right. He understood the proper role of the 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 who knows how we've gone off track with this massive fourth branch of government, this administrative state which is imposing its will on us and is being weaponized against us. So, silent Cal knew the proper role of the federal government. The country was in great shape when he was President of the United States, and we can learn an awful lot from Calvin Coolidge.

JOHNSON: Over to you, Mr. Ramaswamy, to conclude our history lesson.

RAMASWAMY: Sure. Well, I will say Ron picked a president who was born on July 4th. I'll pick one who died on July 4th. It's Thomas Jefferson. He was 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. And you all are sitting on a swivel chair today, he invented the swivel chair while he was at it, while writing that Declaration of Independence. That's that founding spirit that we miss, that we're the pioneers, we're the explorers, the guy who sent them out on the Lewis and Clark expeditions.

And I think a lot about what would Thomas Jefferson say to today's Republican Party, and I think one thing he'd remind us of, we haven't talked about as much tonight, but I think it is one of the interesting ideological discussions we're having in our party, is freedom of speech. You get to express your mind freely no matter how heinous the opinion. Thomas Jefferson understood that. He's an inspiration for me.

JOHNSON: Thank you, sir.

VARGAS: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy. And believe it or not, it's time for closing statements. Governor Christie, would you like to begin?

CHRISTIE: Sure. Thank you. I want you all to kind of picture in your mind's election day, you will all be heading to the polls to vote, and that's something that Donald Trump will not be able to do because he will be convicted of felonies before then and his right to vote will be taken away.

Look, here's the bottom line. You can boo about it all you like and continue to deny reality. But if we deny reality as a party, we're going to have four more years of Joe Biden. When my colleagues here raised their hands and said they would support him even if he was a convicted felon, the bigger problem with it is they were confirming the lies he's told to the American people. If you're too timid to take on Trump, believe me, others will see that timidity; Xi, Putin, and the Ayatollah, the border crossers on the southern border, and the criminals in our streets. They'll sense that timidity and they'll take advantage of that failure or leadership.

We need to get back to an old American idea, that every person is responsible for their own conduct, even a president. I'll be the kind of president who has the humility that knows that you work for the people. It's not the other way around. I will earn your trust. I want to earn your vote.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Governor Christie. Mr. Ramaswamy?

RAMASWAMY: I'll use this to just address a topic we didn't talk about tonight, but I think is one of the most important topics that needs to be discussed. That is this climate change agenda that is shackling this country like a set of handcuffs. I said it the first debate and I stand by it, the climate change agenda is a hoax, because it has nothing to do with the climate. That's what we have to see. 98% reduction in the climate disaster related deaths in the last century. Eight times as many people are going to die of cold temperatures this year than warm ones, yet against that backdrop, there's an issue coming up in Iowa. It's core to Iowa farmers.

I met Kim Junker, Kathy Stockdale and other farmers who are about to have a carbon capture pipeline built across their land using eminent domain to do it. That's unconstitutional and it's wrong. And if you thought COVID was bad, what's coming with this climate agenda is far worse. We should not be bending the knee to this new religion. That is what it is. It is a substitute for a modern religion. We are flogging ourselves and losing our modern way of life, bowing to this new God of climate. And that will end on my watch.

KELLY: Thank you. Ambassador Haley?

RAMASWAMY: It's the most critical issue that's coming up. Thank you.

HALEY: Thank you very much. Our country is in chaos. We see it on the southern border. We see it on our streets, in our cities, we see it on college campuses. We feel it with our economy, with inflation and with debt. And we feel it around the world with wars in Europe and within the Middle East. We have to stop the chaos, but you can't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos. And that's what Donald Trump gives us.

My approach is different. No drama, no vendettas, no whining. I envision an America where we're protected from illegal immigration and Chinese infiltration. I envision an America where we unleash our economy and we reject socialism. But more importantly, I envision an America where we rediscover our national purpose and our pride.

VARGAS: Thank you.

HALEY: I crushed Joe Biden in the polls-

VARGAS: Thank you.

HALEY: And if you give me this chance, we will crush him in November and take our country back.

VARGAS: Thank you, Governor.

HALEY: Go to nikkihaley.com.

VARGAS: Thank you, Ambassador Haley.

Governor DeSantis?

DESANTIS: We are in jeopardy of being the first generation of Americans to leave to our kids and grandkids an America less prosperous and less free than the one we inherited. I refuse to sit idly by and let that happen, but we got to have people that are going to be willing to fight the people that are doing this to us. You can't be these establishment Republicans that just cave at the first sign of opposition. I'll fight for you.

We also need to win again as a party. Yes, win the election, which we've struggled to do, but also win on these big issues. And nobody has defeated these people more than what I have done in the state of Florida. On issue after issue, we have won and we have won big. And that's what we'll do for you. We also need leadership. Leadership is not about doing what's easy. It's about being willing to set out that vision,

JOHNSON: Thank you.

DESANTIS: … knowing they're going to shoot arrows at you, they're going to come at you.

VARGAS: Thank you.

DESANTIS: I will fight the good fight. I will keep the faith that I will finish race.

VARGAS: Thank you. Thank you, Governor.

DESANTIS: Thank you and God bless you.

VARGAS: Thank you all of you.

KELLY: Thanks to all of you. Thanks for watching.

JOHNSON: Thank you guys.

Presidential Candidate Debates, Republican Candidates Debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369114

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives