Where the Republican candidates stand on Donald Trump

Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie all have different pitches on why they should be the GOP nominee and not Donald Trump. They will likely all fail to convince Republican primary voters

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 09 January 2024 17:23 GMT
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The field of Republican candidates has winnowed significantly since the beginning of the campaign, going from eight hopefuls appearing on the stage during the first primary debate to just four in the fourth showdown.

The frontrunner by a wide margin is former President Donald Trump, who has declined to appear at any of the debates so far, but his reticence to argue his case hasn’t had any impact on his strong primary poll numbers.

The four top remaining challengers have all used different tactics to take on Mr Trump.

Biotech entrepreneur and anti-woke author Vivek Ramaswamy has been mimicking him while at times struggling to explain why he’s running against a man he has called “the best president of the 21st century”.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been creative in finding different ways to call Mr Trump a wildly incompetent and dangerous criminal.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has argued that he would be a more competent, and most importantly, younger, version of the ex-president who would be able to run again in 2028.

Former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley initially instituted the “pro-having it and pro-eating it” cake policy of disgraced former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson when it came to Mr Trump, attempting to remain on the fence and not annoy either Republicans supportive or critical of the former president. More recently, she has become slightly more outspoken in her criticism.

Here’s a rundown of what each of them have said about Mr Trump:

Ron DeSantis

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During a press conference at a Florida charter school on Monday, Mr DeSantis slammed Mr Trump for skipping the GOP primary debates.

“If you’re doing so well, you should want to go up there and make your case, and I think voters deserve to hear from candidates as to why they should be the nominee,” he said, according to WFLA.

Mr DeSantis also pushed back against Mr Trump after the ex-president blamed his fellow Florida man after the College Football Playoff committee excluded Florida State University from the playoffs. Similarly, the governor went after his former ally for siding with Disney in his ongoing feud with the entertainment giant over disagreements on social issues.

“If you’re going to be a keyboard warrior, get out of your dungeon, get off the keyboard, stand on the debate stage, and let’s go,” Mr DeSantis said. “Let’s do it. I don’t think he will do it because I don’t think he can stand there for two hours against me and come out on top.”

Over the weekend, Mr DeSantis appeared on Meet The Press on NBC bashing Mr Trump for his failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“This is part of a pattern where he’s running on things that he didn’t do,” the governor said, citing the border wall among other things. “Here’s what I will do. What I think they’re going to need to do is have a plan that will supersede Obamacare that will lower prices for people so that they can afford health care while also making sure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected.”

Nikki Haley

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As South Carolina governor in 2016, Ms Haley said she was appalled by then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the US, later putting in place a version of that plan, prompting massive protests at airports.

Ms Haley, whose parents are Indian immigrants, said at the time that Mr Trump’s promise was “absolutely un-American,” adding that it was just one of many “unacceptable” things Mr Trump had said and done.

She still joined the Trump administration as UN Ambassador and defended the policy when Mr Trump put in place a 90-day ban on travellers and refugees from coming to the US from Muslim-majority countries.

She’s now trying to attract GOP voters by emphasizing the drama of those years.

“We cannot have four years of chaos, vendettas and drama,” she has told voters, according to The New York Times. “America needs a captain who will steady the ship, not capsize it.”

She also bashed Mr Trump by saying that as president, she would not praise dictators and that she would “have the backs of our allies”.

Campaigning in New Hampshire last week, Ms Haley spoke of her time as one of America’s top diplomats.

“If he was doing something wrong, I showed up in his office or I picked up the phone and said you cannot do this,” she said in Wolfeboro.

Vivek Ramaswamy

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Mr Ramaswamy has called Mr Trump “the best president of the 21st century” and the ex-president has returned the favour, calling the political neophyte a “very, very, very intelligent person”.

At the second debate, Mr Ramaswamy argued that while Mr Trump was a great president, he was better equipped to lead Mr Trump’s movement into the future.

“I think Trump was an excellent president. But the America First agenda does not belong to one man,” Mr Ramaswamy said on the debate stage. “I will respect Donald Trump and his legacy because it’s the right thing to do. But we will unite this country to take the America First agenda to the next level.”

After meeting Mr Trump, Mr Ramaswamy said his intellect “exceeded my expectations,” according to The Washington Post, pointing to his “memory and command over specific details relating to his foreign policy record and tenure in office” as well as his friendly personality when greeting guests.

“He kept commenting on my energy. I was like, ‘Actually, I thought you had a lot of energy too,’” Mr Ramaswamy said.

He has also said that “The donor class and the Republican Party does not like Trump. And they don’t like it when other candidates say good things about Trump, and that puts other candidates on a tight leash. What runs through the undercurrent of the Trump movement is a form of nationalism, and I share that nationalism”.

Mr Ramaswamy recently ended up in hot water when he was asked on CNN whether he believed the term “vermin” to be neo-Nazi rhetoric after Mr Trump used the word to describe his political enemies.

“This is a classic mainstream media move,” he said, dodging the question. “Pick some individual phrase of Donald Trump, focus on literally that word without actually interrogating the substance or what’s at issue.

“You have Antifa and other related groups that have been burning down cities for the last three years in this county,” he added. “We have an invasion on our southern border, we have millions of people crossing our southern border, let’s talk about the substance of why we have to recognize that we’re not in ordinary times.”

Chris Christie

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At the Florida Freedom Summit last month, Mr Christie waged a battle with the Trump-loving audience, slamming the crowd for being afraid of the truth and detached from reality.

“Your anger against the truth is reprehensible,” he told the crowd as they booed him. “The problem is you want to shout down any voice that says anything different than what you want to hear.”

“You can go and boo about it as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the truth and the truth is coming,” he added.

“What a shock, you’re for Trump. I’m going to fall over dead. The problem is you fear the truth,” Mr Christie said.

“I assume that you’re yelling for $33 trillion in debt,” he told the audience. “It must be one of the things you’re for. You’re probably for it. Because you won’t be here to pay for it. But our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be here to pay for it.”

Late last month, Mr Christie pointed to Mr Trump’s use of aggressive rhetoric as one of the reasons behind the rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism following the outbreak of Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

“Well, look, when you show intolerance towards everyone, which is what he does, you give permission, as a leader, for others to let their intolerance come out,” he told CNN. “Intolerance towards anyone encourages intolerance towards everyone, and that’s what’s going on here.”

On Sunday, Mr Christie appeared on CBS, saying that Mr Trump “acts like someone who doesn’t care about our democracy. He acts like someone who wants to be a dictator. He acts like someone who doesn’t care for the Constitution”.

“I think I’ve made it very, very clear how I feel about this, and if folks want to return to some decency and civility why would you ever vote for Donald Trump?” he added.

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