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Haley on defense as DeSantis, Vivek take turns throwing bombs

Haley has emerged as a media favorite in recent weeks, drawing considerable airtime and headlines while remaining well behind Trump in GOP primary polls.

Published: December 6, 2023 11:00pm

The fourth Republican presidential primary debate saw former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley play defense in the face of relentless attacks from Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and tech executive Vivek Ramaswamy.

Haley has emerged as a media favorite in recent months, drawing considerable airtime and headlines, but has remained in a clear third place behind Donald Trump and DeSantis in most polls. At present, Trump boasts 61.0% support in the RealClearPolitics polling average, compared to DeSantis's 13.5%, Haley's 10.3%, Ramaswamy's 4.9%, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's 2.5%.

Trump did not attend the debate, which marked one of the last chances for candidates to distinguish themselves before the Iowa Caucus, the first nominating contest of the Republican primary next month.

While Christie, for his part, at times offered some support to Haley, her other opponents largely zeroed in on her record, putting her in the hot seat over her time as South Carolina's governor and challenging her foreign policy expertise.

Vivek challenges Haley to name three Eastern Ukrainian provinces

Ramaswamy defended his position of coming to a negotiated settlement with Russia to end the Ukraine War, a point of contention between himself and Haley that has prompted tense exchanges in prior debates.

"Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom," Ramaswamy said, before noting that both Haley and President Joe Biden still support the war.

He then suggested that one thing Haley had in common with Biden "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 the blank expression," he said, pointing to Haley.

The exchange saw Christie interject on Haley's behalf to criticize Ramaswamy's behavior, calling him the "most obnoxious blowhard in America." 

"This is a smart, accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her," Christie said.

DeSantis and Vivek both challenge Haley on digital I.D.

DeSantis and Ramaswamy were of the same mind during an exchange on Haley's past calls for creating a digital I.D., with both insisting that she sought to identify individual internet users, presenting a means for the government to potentially retaliate against its citizens.

"We're marching towards fascism under Biden," Ramaswamy said. He further pointed to reports that Special Counsel Jack Smith had reviewed users who interacted with Trump's tweets. 

"The only person more fascist than the Biden regime is Nikki Haley who thinks the government should identify every one of those individuals with an I.D. That is not freedom, that is fascism," he said.

Haley, for her part, defended her prior statements, saying she had discussed the prevalence of bot accounts working on behalf of American foreign adversaries and that she had sought to crack down on such practices.

"I will always fight for freedom of speech for Americans," she said. "We do not need freedom of speech for Russians, and Iranians, and Hamas... I never said government should go and require anyone's name."

DeSantis, however, jumped in, saying "That's false. She said 'I want your name.'"

"She said one of the first things I'm gonna do 'all social medias, I want your name,'" DeSantis continued.

Haley and DeSantis battle over their gubernatorial records on transgender issues

DeSantis went on offense against Haley for her rejection of a bathroom bill while she was governor. 

"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," Haley said, prompting DeSantis to interject that "I signed a bathroom bill in Florida so that's obviously not true."

"I signed it, you didn't. You killed it, I signed it," DeSantis said. "I stood up for little girls, you didn't."

Vivek attacks Haley on identity politics

Ramaswamy accused Haley of "intellectual fraud" and "using identity politics more effectively than Kamala Harris" by highlighting her status as a woman and suggesting that Ramaswamy's criticisms of her and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel suggested he had a "woman problem."

"Nikki, I don't have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem," he declared while holding up a sign that read "Nikki = Corrupt."

"This is a woman who will send your kids  to die so that she can buy a bigger house," he declared. "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."

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.