Accessibility links

Breaking News

4 Republican Presidential Candidates Face Off in Fiery Debate


Republican U.S. presidential candidates participate in their fourth debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dec. 6, 2023.
Republican U.S. presidential candidates participate in their fourth debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dec. 6, 2023.

Four Republican candidates sparred for two hours Wednesday -- at times attacking and yelling over each other -- in the fourth and final presidential debate of the year. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was absent, as he has been for the three previous debates.

That did not stop former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from criticizing the former president and accusing the others of being too afraid to do so. Trump, despite facing 91 felony counts and a civil lawsuit, remains substantially ahead of his rivals, according to opinion polls.

Israel-Hamas war

Two months after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, the Republican candidates agreed Israel should be allowed to conduct its own war against the group without interference from the United States.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asserted “This administration is trying to hobble Israel from being able to defend itself,” calling out Hamas for wanting “a second Holocaust.”

The governor also suggested cutting off oil revenue to Iran, saying they “send it to Hamas… to Hezbollah, and they foment jihad throughout the Middle East.”

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Russian President Vladimir Putin is thrilled that America has redirected its attention from Ukraine to Israel, saying “There is a reason that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins, China won’t invade Taiwan.”

She made the same comparison with Ukrainians who want to help the Israelis, “because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins … but what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that’s what [President] Joe Biden has given us.”

Christie, asked in the NewsNation debate if he would send in U.S. troops to free the American hostages held by Hamas and other militants, said, “You’re damn right I would send the American army in there to get them out safely.”

Southern border and fentanyl

On fentanyl entering the U.S. through the southern border, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he would have had a different conversation with China’s leader than President Biden and would “tell Xi Jinping you will not only not buy land in this country or donate to universities,” but also say, “U.S. businesses won’t expand into the Chinese market” until China stops manufacturing fentanyl for the Mexican cartels.

DeSantis said he wants cartels categorized as “foreign terrorist organizations” and added the he will build a wall at the border to discourage entry, but unlike former President Trump, would get Mexico to pay for it. Haley would “end all normal trade relationships with China,” pointing to the country as the source of the drug.

Attacking the former president

A Messenger/Harris poll indicates that among Republican voters former President Donald Trump leads his competitors with support from 68% of those surveyed, followed by DeSantis at 9% and Haley at 7%. Ramaswamy garnered 4%, while Christie and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who qualified to participate only in the first of the four debates but officially remains in the race, were at 1% or less.

The candidates attempted Wednesday to distinguish themselves from the former president, should he not run or not be able to run due to his court cases.

Kaivan Shroff, political commentator and press secretary for Dream for America, says the candidates missed the chance to “attack the real frontrunner in the race. Only Chris Christie did so.”

Christie had called Trump an “angry, bitter man who wants to be back as president because he wants to enact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him.”

Shroff warned that “Haley and DeSantis showed they were too cowardly to make the case against Trump in this final debate of the year and they will pay the price.”

Ramaswamy took a swipe at the former and current presidents as well as his on-stage rivals, saying “It is going to take a leader from the outside with fresh legs from the next generation to unite this country.”

On to the first official challenge: Iowa in January

The first voting on the 2024 presidential campaign calendar is the Iowa Republican caucus on January 15. Analysts say Ramaswamy could be the most vulnerable candidate at this point, especially after some sharp personal barbs at his rivals Wednesday night evoked boos from the audience.

“I think he has hit the apex of his candidacy,” said Andra Gillespie with the Department of Political Science at Georgia’s Emory University. Gillespie called Ramaswamy a “novelty” given his lack of elective experience. “It just becomes a question of ‘how long can he sustain this candidacy?’”

Meantime, Christie has said he will stay in the race. Gillespie expects him to compete through the New Hampshire primary on January 23 “or until he runs out of money.”

99 counties

Saturday, DeSantis completed his tour of all 99 counties in Iowa, courting voters in the Midwest state ahead of the caucuses. The latest poll averages posted by the website 538 Wednesday show Trump leading in Iowa by 45.9% to DeSantis’s 19.7%, Haley’s 17.5% Ramaswamy’s 4.8% and Christie’s 3.9%.