Few punches were pulled as five candidates vied to position themselves as an alternative to former President Donald Trump on Wednesday night during the third Republican presidential debate.
The debate, which took place in Miami, Florida, included all the candidates still in the race who met the higher poll standards required to make the stage: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Right off the bat, Ramaswamy used his opening statement to break the fourth wall and challenge Republican Party leaders off stage as well as the NBC News moderators — Lester Holt, Kristen Welker, and Hugh Hewitt. Ramaswamy said he could not understand why party leaders agreed to a debate on NBC when they should have arranged for Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk to host.
“We’d have 10 times the viewership, asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bring in more people into our party,” Ramaswamy said.
The suggestion came after Ramaswamy called out Republican leaders for all the election failures since Trump was elected in 2016.
“We’ve become a party of losers at the end of the day. There is a cancer in the Republican establishment. Let’s speak the truth. I mean, since Ronna McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022. No red wave that never came. We got trounced last night in 2023. And I think that we have to have accountability in our party for that matter,” he said.
Ramaswamy then took NBC to task directly, demanding that NBC moderators explain why they pushed “the Trump-Russia collusion hoax.”
He also clashed with Haley, who, like Ramaswamy, is a first-generation American of Indian descent. Yet the two have developed an increasingly bitter rivalry on the debate stage and off.
Ramaswamy called out Haley for her alleged neocon-influenced foreign policy, referring to Haley, as well as DeSantis, as “Cheney in 3-inch heels,” a reference to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is viewed by many as a principal architect of the Second Gulf War.
Not done with antagonizing Haley, Ramaswamy suggested that she did not answer a question about banning China-owned TikTok because “her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So, you might want to take care of your family first.”
An incensed Haley demanded, “Leave my daughter out of your voice.” She later called Ramaswamy “scum.”
Haley urged Republicans to rethink their stance on abortion, noting that ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Democrats have been harnessing anger about the decision among pro-abortion activists and stoking fears that Republicans would restrict women’s freedoms.
“Let’s focus on how to save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can and stop the judgment. We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore,” Haley said.
All the candidates expressed support for Israel in its war against Hamas and denounced rising antisemitism on college campuses. Divergences came on the issue of aid to Ukraine, on which Haley, Christie, and Scott took hawkish stances, linking all the global conflicts together and calling for more military spending. Scott called for a strike on Iran, calling the country “the head of the snake.”
Once again, Ramaswamy did not shy away from an opportunity to set his foreign policy views apart from the rest.
“Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy,” he said, calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, “a Nazi” and “a comedian in cargo pants.”
On the subject of frontrunner Trump, the candidates took a more measured tone. Christie, who has often made criticism of Trump a centerpiece of his campaign, toned down his attacks to simply a mention of the former president’s legal troubles.
DeSantis claimed Trump was “a lot different guy than he was in 2016” and appealed for the former president to join his fellow candidates on the debate stage.