Coming off criticism of the second GOP presidential debate, the RNC’s third offering allowed more time for candidates to spout off their talking points and less time to challenge each other directly.
The size of the stage in the third debate, hosted by NBC News alongside partners Salem Media Group and the Republican Jewish Coalition, shrunk by two. The highlight of the evening came in the first five minutes when entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy argued that the Republican National Committee (RNC) had failed the party by giving the debate to NBC, which chose its own Lester Holt, Kristen Welker and Salem’s Hugh Hewitt to moderate the debate.
“Think about who’s moderating this debate, this should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Elon Musk. We’d have 10 times the viewership, asking questions the GOP primary voters actually care about and bringing in more people to our party. We got Kristen Welker here, you think the Democrats would actually hire Greg Gutfeld to host a Democratic debate?” Ramaswamy asked.
“The fact of the matter, and Kristen I’m gonna use this time cause this is actually about you and the media and the corrupt media establishment, ask you the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that you pushed on this network for years — was that real? Or was that Hillary Clinton made up disinformation? Answer the question. Go,” he continued.
I’m sick and tired of this Republican Establishment that has made us a party of losers. Where is the accountability for years of losing: 2018, 2020, 2022 and now last night? I’m calling on @GOPChairwoman to resign tonight. pic.twitter.com/8hxVqWGlwL
— Vivek Ramaswamy (@VivekGRamaswamy) November 9, 2023
When Ramaswamy called on Welker to respond, Holt moved on, tossing the same question to the next presidential candidate. And so it continued — even as candidates took jabs at each other and lobbed attacks on records and rhetoric, the moderators moved on, hardly ever allowing the White House hopefuls to rebut each other.
Note to moderators: it’s called a DEBATE for a reason. Pls let them
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) November 9, 2023
The first half of the debate was dominated by foreign policy, with candidates explaining whether they would continue to fund Ukraine and what they would tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel continues to wage war on the terrorist organization Hamas. The moderators all followed a similar formula: ask the initial question, kick it to the next candidate and go around the horn until they had each delivered that portion of their stump speech.
The debate — or lack thereof — was tame, allowing for several squabbles between Haley, Ramaswamy and DeSantis to stand out from an otherwise dull procession.
Another notable moment came after Ramaswamy used his time to discuss the Israel-Hamas war to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s foreign policy.
“Do you want a leader of a different generation who’s going to put this country first, or do you want Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels? We’ve got two of them,” Ramaswamy said, referring to DeSantis and Haley.
Haley was once again not offered a response but later told the businessman that she wears “five-inch heels” that shouldn’t be worn unless “you can run in them.”
Vivek, I wear heels. They’re not for a fashion statement— they’re for ammunition.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) November 9, 2023
Hewitt, the lone conservative moderator of a debate that was criticized for having too liberal a bent in the hosts, did not get his first question in until past the 40 minute-mark of the event. He used it to shift the conversation to the threat of China and the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok. Ramaswamy pointed to the fact that Haley’s adult daughter used the app as a way to slam the former ambassador for criticizing him for previously joining the app.
“In the last debate, she made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might want to take care of your family first,” Ramaswamy began before Haley told him to leave her family out of it.
“The next generation of Americans are using it, and that’s actually the point,” Ramaswamy continued.
“You’re just scum,” Haley hit back, rolling her eyes.
Aside from Holt’s first question which asked the 2024 hopefuls why they should be the nominee, notably the candidates seemed to forget the front runner who was absent from the stage: former President Donald Trump. The former president once again skipped the debate, instead opting to hold a rally just a half-hour drive from his competitors. (RELATED: ‘They’re Not Watchable’: Trump Rips GOP Debate During Rally)
“Why should you be the nominee and not the former president?”
“Donald Trump’s a lot different guy than he was in 2016,” DeSantis said in his opening statement. “He owes it to you to be here and explain why he should get another chance.”
With 20 minutes left in the program, the moderators asked their first question on culture war issues, where South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott began to battle with Haley over a potential national abortion limit. But for the most part, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Scott stayed out of the few tense exchanges, using their time to focus on their foreign policy stances and how they would handle the messaging of the Republican party’s pro-life movement.
Holt twice scolded the crowd for failing to hold their applause and response to candidates answers, a snapshot of the little back and forth allowed during the two hour forum.
Haley summed up the frustration of the candidates who were not given more opportunities to respond when criticized by their competition.
“No. I’m going to speak to the fact that two people hit me and you didn’t let me respond.”