The third Republican presidential debate saw the five remaining major GOP contenders, once again sans Donald Trump, taking the stage in Miami to discuss foreign policy and the Israel-Gaza conflict, how inflation and the rising cost of living is pinching many Americans — and whether to ban TikTok.
But let’s be honest: The most viral parts of the night involved Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy trading barbs.
The five Republicans who qualified for round three included former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Haley, entrepreneur Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Frontrunner Trump also certainly qualified, but he skipped the debate once more, holding a rally nearby in Hialeah, Fla., targeting the Miami suburb’s influential Cuban-American community.
Related: Haley looks like top challenger to Trump ahead of latest GOP debate, with a Social Security plan that’s ‘differentiating’ her
The debate was dominated by Haley and Ramaswamy, who both topped real-time Google search trends, as well as topping trends on X.com, formerly known as Twitter. He called her “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels” at one point. She called him “scum” after he invoked her (adult) daughter’s TikTok habit. And round and round it went.
If you missed the debate, these are some of the highlights that went viral on Wednesday night, which everyone will probably still be talking about on Thursday.
Vivek Ramaswamy calls the GOP a ‘party of losers’
Moderators Lester Holt and Kristen Welker from NBC News and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt came out of the gate asking the five candidates why Republican voters should choose them as the next U.S. president over frontrunner Trump. Ramaswamy’s response was to blame the GOP “establishment” for Democrats’ wins in the elections on Tuesday, as well as Republican losses in last year’s midterms and the 2020 elections.
“We’ve become a party of losers at the end of the day,” he said, calling for “accountability” in the party. “I am upset about what happened last night. I think there’s something deeper going on in the Republican Party here.”
Read more: ‘We’ve become a party of losers’: Vivek Ramaswamy blasts GOP ‘establishment’ in Miami debate
Haley says we need an accountant — not Donald Trump — in the White House
Answering the same question about why Republicans should choose her over Trump, Haley — a former member of Trump’s cabinet when he was in the White House — had this to say:
“I think he was the right president at the right time [in 2016]. I don’t think he’s the right president now.” She blamed the former president for helping put the country $8 trillion in debt, noting, “our kids are never gonna forgive us for that.”
“I think we need an accountant in the White House,” she added.
DeSantis calls out Trump for not attending the debate
The Florida governor scored some early buzz by digging at Trump for skipping the first three presidential primary debates, saying Trump “owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance.”
What’s more, DeSantis took a swing at Trump’s record while he was in office. “He should explain why he didn’t have Mexico pay for the border wall. He should explain why he racked up so much debt. He should explain why he didn’t drain the swamp,” he said.
In his closing statement, DeSantis also promised to “deliver on all my promises,” unlike Trump.
Haley fires back at Ramaswamy’s ‘Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels’ comment
In one particularly spirited exchange toward the beginning of the night, Ramaswamy called both DeSantis and Haley “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels,” while accusing them of putting their personal interests and investments over what’s best for Americans.
“Do you want a leader from a different generation who’s gonna put this country first?” he asked, referring to himself, “or do you want Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels, in which case we’ve got two of them on stage tonight,” he said, drawing audible groans from the audience.
Haley scored applause by responding: “I’d first like to say, they’re 5-inch heels, and I don’t wear them unless you can run in them.”
She continued, “The second thing I will say is, I wear heels. They’re not for a fashion statement. They’re for ammunition.”
Read more: Nikki Haley stomps on Vivek Ramaswamy’s ‘3-inch heels’ comment during Republican debate
Everyone on stage wanted to ban TikTok
The candidates were also asked whether they would support banning the popular Chinese-owned social-media app TikTok, which counts over 150 million American users. The candidates heartily agreed.
“TikTok is not only spyware, it is polluting the minds of American young people,” Christie said.
“Yes, I think that China is the top threat we face,” DeSantis said. “They’ve been very effective at infiltrating different parts of our society. It’s not just military — it’s economic and it’s cultural.”
And Tim Scott said that if American leadership can’t eliminate TikTok, then the app should require parental consent to allow kids ages 14 and under to use it.
As for Haley, she didn’t answer the question, and instead insisted on responding to some previous statements her competitors had made during the debate. So when it was his turn, Ramaswamy seized on the opportunity to note that Haley’s daughter uses TikTok, which led to ….
Haley called Ramaswamy ‘scum’ after he called out her daughter’s TikTok usage
What Ramaswamy said was, “In the last debate, [Haley] made fun of me for actually joining TikTok — while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time,” he said. “So you might want to take care of your family first.”
Haley responded with, “Leave my daughter out of your voice,” as their exchange drew groans and boos from the audience. “You’re just scum,” she added after shaking her head and rolling her eyes at him.
It should be noted that Haley’s daughter is a grown, married woman. Still, many viewers, including those identifying as Republican, called out Ramaswamy for dragging Haley’s family into the debate.
DeSantis called out the Fed for overstepping
DeSantis promised to “reign in the Federal Reserve” if he becomes president, blaming the Fed, Congress and both major political parties for “botching” the economic issues and causing the high inflation that Americans have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic, due to their “reckless monetary policy.”
“They botched it. Congress botched it. Both parties are to blame. The Fed should focus on stable prices, they are not an economic central planner for the American people,” DeSantis said.
More on MarketWatch:
DeSantis promises to ‘rein in’ the Fed to fight inflation, as Scott says he’d bring back Keystone XL pipeline
Trump tries to upstage GOP debate with rally targeting South Florida’s Cuban community
‘Rich people should not be collecting Social Security,’ Chris Christie says at GOP debate