What happened during the fourth Republican debate?

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on as fellow candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy passes by, during a break at the fourth Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S. December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Four Republican presidential contenders clashed in Wednesday’s presidential primary debate, as they sought to solidify their second-place position with less than six weeks left before the start of the primaries. The four were Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Former president Donald Trump once again chose to not participate in the event.

The event, held at the University of Alabama, may mark the final debate organised by the Republican National Committee. The absence of Trump overshadowed the debate, as he continued to dismiss such gatherings, leaving his rivals without a direct platform to challenge him.

Haley and DeSantis fought to solidify their second-place positions. Haley, currently outpacing DeSantis in early state public polling, found herself under attack, with Christie stepping in to defend her at one point.

The debate covered a range of topics, from border security to gender-affirming care, and even delved into Trump’s fitness for office. However, there were no discussions about abortion, a pivotal issue for conservatives in the 2024 cycle.

Chris Christie, seizing an opportunity to speak about 17 minutes into the debate, launched a direct attack on Trump, asserting that the failure of 2024 rivals to challenge Trump was a significant issue. Christie deemed Trump unfit for office, echoing concerns about his potential autocratic governance based on recent statements. The debate saw various candidates offering critiques of Trump, ranging from his age and electability to his conduct during the pandemic.

Haley, emerging as a leading alternative to Trump, faced intensified attacks from DeSantis, Christie, and tech entrepreneur Ramaswamy. Despite the onslaught, Haley maintained her composure and countered the criticism, attributing it to jealousy over her growing support. Christie, although differing with Haley on policy, defended her intelligence against personal attacks.

Ramaswamy, known for his provocative statements and conspiracy theories, stirred controversy by promoting unfounded claims about the Capitol attack and the 2020 election. His personal attacks on fellow candidates, particularly labelling Haley as a “fascist,” garnered collective animosity on stage.

Christie, carving out a distinct role for himself, focused on demanding accountability from Trump and other candidates. He emphasized the need for an independent attorney general and depoliticizing prosecutions, contrasting with Trump’s approach. Christie also challenged DeSantis on specific issues.

The candidates expressed varying degrees of hostility toward immigrants and foreign powers. Haley and DeSantis supported restrictions on Muslim migration, with Haley advocating a strong stance against Iran. Ramaswamy presented extreme positions, suggesting arming the Taiwanese people and endorsing a controversial conspiracy theory about demographic shifts in the United States.

The debate showcased the intensifying competition among Republican candidates, the notable absence of Trump, and the diverse range of perspectives on crucial issues facing the nation. The fight between the candidates showcased the challenges and complexities within the Republican party as it heads to the 2024 primaries.


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