Here’s What Happened During and After the NBC News Republican Primary Debate

By A.J. Katz 

NBC News hosted the third Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 cycle on Wednesday from Miami, Nightly News’ Lester Holt, Meet the Press’ Kristen Welker and Salem Radio Network host Hugh Hewitt co-moderated the live event, and it featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. ambassador/South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, business executive Vivek Ramaswamy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.

No, primary front runner and former President Donald Trump did not show up, once again.

Unlike previous debates, candidates were given 90 seconds to respond to questions, longer than in previous debate, and 60 seconds for follow-up questions. Additionally, invoking another candidate’s name or policy did not entitle that candidate to receive an opportunity to respond. All candidates were given the opportunity to answer the first question, and all candidates were granted a 60-second closing statement.


When asked by Holt at the outset, “Why you and not him?,” DeSantis went right after Trump, criticizing his record and touting his own success in Florida.

Now, if you look where we are now, it’s a lot different than where we were in 2016. And Donald Trump’s a much different guy than he was in 2016. He owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance. 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. And he said Republicans were going to get tired of winning. Well, we saw last night… I’m sick of Republicans losing! In Florida, I showed how it’s done! One year ago here, we won a historic victory, including a massive landslide right here in Miami-Dade County. That’s how we have to do it.

Ramaswamy pledged to be “unhinged” during the debate, and he certainly was. He used his opening statement to call his Republican party “the party of losers,” and call for different moderators. “Think about who’s moderating this debate. It should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk,” he said, before claiming, “We’d have ten-times the viewership; asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bring more people into our party. Do you think the Democrats would hire [Fox News host] Greg Gutfeld to host a Democratic debate? They wouldn’t do it.”

Ramaswamy then insulted Welker, “This is actually about you Kristen 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?”

Later, when asked about potentially banning TikTok in the U.S., Ramaswamy (who uses the app) attacked Haley (who in a past debate insulted him for using the app), saying that her daughter “was using the app for a long time,” and she “should take care of her family first,” a line that elicited boos and groans from many in the audience. Haley’s response, “keep my daughter out of your voice,” adding, “you’re just scum.”


While Ramaswamy did not like the debate or its moderators, DeSantis had a different take, saying in a post-debate interview with NBC News: “I think we did really well and I think NBC did a good job. I mean, I have watched debates over the years, I participated in a couple already, and I think the people at home probably got a good viewing experience because the questions were substantive, people were able to talk, there wasn’t a lot of screaming back and forth, and so I think the value of this debate was probably more than the one we did in Simi Valley.”

Over on CNN, Republican political strategist Scott Jennings bashed Ramaswamy for his “ludicrous” performance at the debate.

As previously mentioned, Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley went head-to-head throughout the debate, butting heads over foreign policy regarding support for Israel and Ukraine. The two have clashed at prior debates and are relatively close in terms of Republican primary polling.

Jennings said he felt Haley and DeSantis had the best performances at the debate and that Haley did well taking on Ramaswamy.

“I thought Haley, by the way, just on the merits, had a really strong night [on] abortion and otherwise. I thought DeSantis has had a really strong open. I thought so. If you agree that it’s gotten down to those two as the real possibility here. They both were very good. There were some great answers tonight on DeSantis, you know, was assailing Biden over some of his responses on Israel.

You know, I thought Haley taking on Ramaswamy when he by the way, Ramaswamy, he’s like the guy running the ship in Spaceballs. You know, he went right to ludicrous speed right outta the gate… He’s at like 4%.”


Rachel Maddow led MSNBC’s special coverage alongside Nicolle Wallace, Ari Melber, Joy Reid, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell and Stephanie Ruhle. Maddow surprised many viewers and perhaps her co-hosts by complimenting DeSantis’ performance:

“I think this will be an unpopular position at this table: I think Ron DeSantis is getting better. I thought that he was the worst supposedly potentially viable candidate I had ever seen in a presidential debate, in debate one, and now I feel like this new beta version of his software is like churning out some new things. Like he’s spoken in a way that I actually think reflects the fact that he’s been working on it. And he talked in ways that were sort of human and he got what seemed to be legitimate applause. And that means that he’s a candidate who can change.”

Maddow later gave Ramaswamy a backhanded compliment in her post-debate analysis, noting that he seemed to have struck a nerve among his competitors during the debate; with the Ramaswamy-Haley-TikTok episode being the prime example.

“There is a deep, palpable, withering disgust that Vivek Ramaswamy seems to inspire from his fellow candidates,” said Maddow. “He makes them say things that you can’t imagine they’ve ever said before in their lives,” she said. “He makes them make facial expressions on the stage that you’re quite sure that they don’t know that they’re making in public. He really brings out a side of them that makes news, frankly.”

MSNBC then showed a clip of Haley calling Ramaswamy “scum,” to which Maddow remarked, “I think if they all just said what they really meant, cut to the chase, this could be a lot more clarifying. Wow! Never seen that in any debate at any level, and I’ve covered some weird debates at weird levels.”

Over on Fox, Fox & Friends analyzed the debate on Thursday morning. Brian Kilmeade said Ramaswamy was “throwing bombs” in general. Fellow co-host Ainsley Earhardt was the first to bring up Ramaswamy’s attacks on Haley, saying, “Women don’t appreciate it. When you go after your daughter and your high heels, it’s sexist.”

Steve Doocy agreed, saying, “He had a terrible night.” The Fox host said this was part of Ramaswamy’s overall strategy, noting that he was “an attack dog,” going after the Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel and the debate moderators before his verbal attacks on Haley.

Doocy felt “Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis were, for the most part, the winners.”

Kilmeade was complimentary of Chris Christie‘s performance, despite the extremely difficult path he has. “I know Chris Christie, it’s hard to see a path. But man, is he good,” Kilmeade said. While the panel seemed to agree that Christie could do well with independents as the GOP candidate against President Biden, “right now it’s tough” being anti-Trump in the 2023 Republican presidential primary.