The four remaining candidates vying to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee traded barbs and accusations in a fourth debate Wednesday evening that saw Nikki Haley accused of being in the bag for big financial interests by two of her rivals.
The presidential hopefuls — former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — answered questions posed to them by News Nation’s Elizabeth Vargas, The Washington Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson, and Megyn Kelly, who did most of the moderating at the University of Alabama venue.
A running theme during the debate was Ramaswamy and DeSantis calling out Haley for allegedly being owned by powerful special interests. The accusation carried a fresh sting in light of the recent revelations that Haley met with and ostensibly received the endorsement of some of the most powerful names on Wall Street, including BlackRock boss Larry Fink and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon.
Kelly kicked off the event by noting that Haley had $100,000 in the bank when she left the government in 2018 but is now worth $8 million “thanks to lucrative corporate speeches and board memberships like you had with Boeing.”
“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?” Kelly asked.
Haley did not deny she sought support from the financial elite, stating, “We will take support from anybody we can take support from. … When it comes to these corporate people that want to suddenly support us, we’ll take it.”
She then said of her rivals on the stage, “In terms of these donors that are supporting me, they’re just jealous.”
Her non-denial seemed to embolden Ramaswamy, who accused Haley of purposefully mispronouncing his name when she should know better because she is also of South Asian descent. Ramaswamy also claimed that Haley’s meeting with the heads of Wall Street was tied to her call to eliminate anonymity in online social media, as The Dallas Express reported.
“Larry Fink, the king of the woke industrial complex, the ESG (Environmental, social, and governance) movement, the CEO of BlackRock, the most powerful company in the world, is now supporting Nikki Haley. And to say that doesn’t affect her is false because it was after that meeting later that day that she says that every American needs to be doxed by having their ID, their government-issued ID, tied to what they say on the internet,” Ramaswamy said.
He followed up by calling Haley “corrupt,” a theme he hammered home later in the debate by holding up a notepad on which he had scrawled “Nikki = Corrupt” in all caps.
DeSantis also accused Haley of being in bed with BlackRock, which he said is heavily invested in pushing ESG. “They want to use economic power to impose a left-wing agenda on this country. … We know from her history Nikki will cave to those big donors when it counts,” he said.
As the two men manning the podiums to her left piled on, Haley returned fire in her own way. “I love all the attention fellas. Thank you for that,” she said.
Christie was slow to enter the fray, but when he did, he defended Haley and took aim at Ramaswamy, whom he considers a surrogate for former President Donald Trump. His theme for the night amounted to: Trump is a dictator and a bully, and the other candidates are afraid to criticize him. Later on, Christie elicited boos from the crowd when he claimed that Trump was only seeking retribution and that he would be found guilty of criminal charges anyhow, which could disqualify him from office.
“I’m in this race because the truth needs to be spoken,” Christie declared.
Like previous debates, the greatest contrast for Ramaswamy, when compared to the other candidates, came during discussions of foreign policy, particularly the subject of Israel and Hamas.
DeSantis claimed, “Hamas wants nothing less than a second Holocaust,” and accused President Joe Biden of kneecapping Israel and empowering Iran by not giving Israel his blessing to do whatever it takes to wipe out Hamas.
Ramaswamy once again championed the America First perspective that has often been derided as isolationist. He argued that an attack on Israel is not an attack on the United States.
The border crisis was addressed in the context of the fight against the trafficking of fentanyl, with DeSantis channeling Trump by suggesting he would designate fentanyl traffickers terrorists and kill them.
Haley said her immigration policy would include deporting all “illegals that have come under Biden’s watch” while subjecting those that have been in the United States longer to vetting. Haley also blamed China for the fentanyl epidemic.
Ramaswamy took a more philosophical view on fentanyl, saying the country should deal with the demand caused by a “crisis of purpose and meaning” and the underlying mental health epidemic.
Asked to discuss how they would tackle the economic crisis of spiraling costs putting home ownership out of the reach of too many Americans, Haley highlighted that her 25-year-old daughter, who recently got married, bought a home. Haley herself noted that the average age of a first-time home buyer today is 49.
DeSantis steered his answer to the question of the economy toward the treatment of student loans, insisting that the risk should fall on the universities.
Ramaswamy defended cryptocurrency from those who want to regulate it and attacked administrative rule-making. He said he would implement a West Virginia vs. EPA test, referring to the 2022 landmark Supreme Court case that curbed the powers of the administrative state, a decision championed by the populist right.
Though the most scathing criticisms of Trump came from Christie, DeSantis took his own shots at the current front-runner, accusing Trump of failing to deliver on “draining the swamp.” Arguing that Trump is too old to serve effectively, DeSantis warned, “Father time is undefeated.”
In his signature style, Ramaswamy created the most commotion on social media when he laid out several assertions that the populist right takes as self-evident but that Democrats reject as unhinged, dangerous conspiracy theories.
“Why am I the only person on this stage at least who can say that [January 6] now does look like 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 up the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false,” Ramaswamy carried on before Kelly cut him off.
Ramaswamy also said he would end anti-trust protection for healthcare companies and repeal the legal shield vaccine manufacturers have against litigation for alleged harms.
Given a chance to make a closing statement, Christie hammered Trump again on what the former governor claimed would be an eventual conviction even though the audience was again not receptive.
Ramaswamy took on what he called the “climate change agenda,” which he claimed was a hoax. He noted that more people die of cold temperatures than of warm temperatures and said, “We should not be bending the knee to this new religion.”