Four Republican presidential candidates — minus the front-runner, Donald Trump — took the stage Wednesday night to make another pitch to voters with just weeks to go before voting in the 2024 primary begins.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy sparred over policy and personality.
Here are some notable moments you might have missed.
Christie compares the absent Trump to ‘Voldemort’
Addressing Christie early in the debate, moderator Megyn Kelly brought up his low approval rating with the GOP base compared to Trump, whom Christie has aggressively campaigned against.
She asked how he then could become the party’s nominee.
“It’s often very difficult to be the only person on the stage who’s telling the truth,” Christie responded, adding that the others onstage have been willfully ignoring an obvious dynamic in the race: Polls show Republican voters prefer the missing man above any other candidate.
To make his point, Christie invoked the infamously evil Harry Potter wizard.
“The fifth guy, who doesn’t have the guts to show up and stand here, he’s the one, who … is way ahead in the polls, and yet I’ve got these three guys who are all seemingly [wanting] to compete with, you know, Voldemort. He who shall not be named,” Christie said, drawing some laughter in the audience. “They don’t want to talk about it.”
“The fact of the matter is he’s unfit to be president,” Christie said of Trump. “And there is no bigger issue in this race, Megyn, than Donald Trump. And those numbers prove it.”
Trump, for his part, has repeatedly pushed back on Christie’s criticism.
Haley claims TikTok can fuel antisemitism
When responding to a question about antisemitism on college campuses, particularly amidst the Israel-Hamas war, Haley claimed that the social media network TikTok — which she has sharply criticized — can cause people to become more antisemitic.
“We really do need to ban TikTok once and for all, and let me tell you why: For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok, every day, they become 17% more antisemitic, more pro-Hamas based on doing that,” Haley claimed, referring to the extremist group that launched a terror attack on Israel in October, sparking the war.
Haley appears to have misspoken about a recent survey that claimed spending time on TikTok increased the possibility that someone would have antisemitic or anti-Israel views.
TikTok has pushed back against the contention that its platform is used to spread discriminatory content.
The popular app’s community guidelines state, in part, “We do not allow the presence of violent and hateful organizations or individuals on our platform. These actors include violent extremists, violent criminal organizations, violent political organizations, hateful organizations, and individual perpetrators of mass violence. We do not allow anyone to promote or materially support violent or hateful actors.”
DeSantis, focusing on previous GOP priority, says he would take action on health care
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has again become a talking point on the trail, with President Joe Biden’s campaign often pointing to how Republicans have called for repealing it after multiple past attempts failed.
At the debate, DeSantis responded when asked why voters should trust him on health care: “I think we have millions of Americans who do not have access to affordable health care … The other thing is, we have millions and millions of people that don’t have access to good doctors and good hospitals.”
DeSantis noted that Florida had not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and suggested it was because it could cost too much money.
He later said, “You need price transparency, you need to hold the pharmaceuticals accountable, you need to hold big insurance and big government accountable, and we’re going to get that done. I think it’s very, very important economically. I think it’s very very important for the country that we get that done.”
Recently, DeSantis pledged to “transcend Obamacare” when asked by a local reporter whether he would repeal or replace former President Barack Obama’s landmark initiative.
Trump has also promised to try and get rid of Obamacare if reelected.
Haley says she doesn’t want to bomb Iran
When asked by Kelly if her past comment to “punch [Iran] once and punch them hard” meant that she wanted to bomb Iran in order to curb its nuclear ambitions, Haley said no.
“But I’ll tell you, I dealt with Iran every day when I was at the United Nations, and [they] only respond to strength,” she said, going on to criticize the Biden administration’s policies including releasing Iranian oil revenue as part of a hostage deal.
“You’ve got to punch them, you’ve got to punch them hard, and let them know that. That’s the only way they’re going to respond,” Haley said.
ABC News’ Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Hajah Bah, Libby Cathey, Abby Cruz, Hannah Demissie, Mariama Jalloh, Nicholas Kerr, Soo Rin Kim, Kendall Ross and Will McDuffie contributed to this report.
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