Former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy pose on stage prior to the Republican debate ain Miami on November 8. File Photo by Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
Dec. 6 (UPI) -- The candidates sounded off on each other and on the one candidate not in attendance during the fourth Republican primary debate on Wednesday.
And much like the previous debates, the candidates went after each other, this time within the first few minutes.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy targeted former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who moderators said has surged ahead of them in the polls.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took aim at the absent former President Donald Trump, saying there is "no bigger issue in this race" than him.
Haley said DeSantis is "lying because he's losing," and Christie called Ramaswamy an "obnoxious blowhard" all before the first commercial break.
The two-hour debate, held at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama, aired on NewsNation's television network and website.
Haley was pressed about the support she has received from big corporations and wealthy donors. She was recently endorsed by a political action committee that is part of the Koch Industries' fundraising network.
Asked if she was "too tight with the banks and the billionaires," Haley said, "We'll take it."
"I don't ask them what their policies are," she said. "I tell them what my policies are."
Ramaswamy was critical of Haley for being worth $8 million, which moderators said came from her involvement with corporations, such as Boeing and Blackrock, and being contracted for corporate speeches. Haley noted that after 10 months of working with Boeing, she stepped away as it sought a bailout during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt," Ramaswamy said.
Ramaswamy accused Haley of calling for Americans to be "doxxed," saying she advocated requiring citizens to share their government identification when signing up for social media platforms. He said this would be abused by the government.
Haley responded that social media companies should be transparent about how their algorithms work. She added that users' real names should be attached to their social media handles to curb cyberbullying.
DeSantis defended his electability out of the gate when moderators cited national and state polls that show him trailing Trump and more recently Haley.
"I'm sick of hearing about these polls. In November 2022, there was going to be a big red wave," DeSantis said. "That crashed and burned. One place it did come was Florida. We're going to earn this nomination."
DeSantis was asked whether he would send American troops to the Middle East to secure the release of hostages taken by Hamas in it's Oct. 7 attack on Israel. He did not answer the question directly, which put him under fire from Christie.
"This is the problem with the first three debates," Christie said. "Ron is asked a question and he doesn't answer it."
Christie said he would send American troops.
"I would absolutely if they had a plan that showed me we could get them out safely," he said. "You're damn right I would send our American army in there to get them out safe and get them out now."
DeSantis said the Biden administration has "hobbled Israel from being able to defend itself."
Asked again about sending American troops -- this time to Taiwan in the event of an invasion by China -- DeSantis did not answer. Instead, he said he would deter an invasion from happening. He called deterring China's ambitions to "export authoritarianism" the No. 1 national security issue facing the United States.
Haley's plan to deter China is to make it clear that the United States will come to Taiwan's defense.
Ramaswamy agreed and emphasized the need to build a stronger relationship with India and support it blocking China's passage through the Andaman Sea, where it ships oil from the Middle East.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate committee Tuesday that he sees "blinking lights everywhere I turn," referring to increased threats of terrorism in the United States. He added that he had not seen so many threats elevated simultaneously.
When Haley was asked about Wray's comments, she said, "America right now is acting like it's Sept. 10."
"We better remember what Sept. 12 felt like," she said. "Iran knows the easiest way to get into America is through the southern border. We have to get foreign infiltration out of our country, out of our schools, off of our social media."
Haley said earlier that social media has played a role in rising anti-Semitism in the United States. She also cited data that said 50% of young adults think Hamas' Oct. 7 attack was "warranted," though she did not say where the data came from. She supports banning TikTok, which she said has made users more anti-Semitic. Again, she did not clarify the source of her claim.
During a town hall in Iowa on Tuesday, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity he would be a dictator only on his first day in office. He continued to say that he would close the southern border and drill for oil on U.S. soil.
Christie was asked about these comments, to which he said they are "completely predictable." He called out the other three candidates for in the first debate saying that they would support Trump even if he is convicted on felony charges.
Trump is facing more than 90 felony charges and is also facing charges in a civil case in New York. He was previously found liable of battery and defamation in a case where a federal judge found he raped journalist E. Jean Carroll "digitally."
"Those poll numbers are the way they are because folks like these three make it seem like his conduct is acceptable," Christie said. "Be careful what you wish for if you ever get another Donald Trump term. He will only be his own retribution."
DeSantis did not answer whether he believes Trump is fit to serve as president, though he said a younger nominee is needed to do the job. He dismissed Trump's comments.
"That's not how he governed. He didn't even fire Dr. Fauci," DeSantis said, referring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"He said he was going to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it. He deported less than [former President Barack] Obama. Some of these policies, I was there cheering him on and he didn't deliver."
NewsNation hosts Elizabeth Vargas, SiriusXM talk show host Megyn Kelly and Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson moderated the debate.
Candidates needed to poll at 6% or higher in two national polls or in one national poll and two early voting state polls to qualify. Early voting states are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Wednesday's debate will was the fourth to take place without Trump. He has been outspoken against the debate and primary process, calling for debates to be canceled and the Republican Party to throw its support behind him.
The RNC has not announced details for its fifth debate, which is expected to take place before the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15.
This story has been updated to correct that Megyn Kelly's talk show is on SiriusXM.