Who Will Be at the Third Republican Presidential Debate?
Republican presidential hopefuls will debate each other on Wednesday night in the third GOP presidential debate. The event, held in Miami, will see the least number of candidates yet as several candidates didn't meet the Republican National Committee's requirements to participate — hi, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — or have dropped out — we're looking at you, former Vice President Mike Pence.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will participate in the Miami debate.
The two-hour debate starts at 8 p.m. Eastern. NBC's Lester Holt and Kristen Welker will be moderating it.
Former President Donald Trump, who is still the front-runner, will not be joining the five candidates. He's skipping it in favor of his own even in Hialeah, Fla., which is about 30 minutes from the debate site. He also hasn't met some of the requirements put forth by the RNC, such as agreeing to support whoever wins the nomination.
The second Republican presidential debate of 2023, which was held in September, was rife with anti-transgender sentiment, with trans people being called mentally ill and promises from candidates to ban gender-affirming health care.
It was also marked by the usual GOP talking points: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, allow school “choice,” ban critical race theory, close the borders, promote fossil fuels, stop abortion, put down teachers’ unions.
Below, check out the five candidates who will be debating on Wednesday and have a quick refresher about their very anti-LGBTQ+ record.
Arguably the most anti-LGBTQ+ presidential candidate in U.S. history, Ron DeSantis has made it the mission of his governorship to attack queer and trans people, whether it’s children or families or adults. He was once seen as the alternative to Trump in the Republican Party, but DeSantis's campaign has stalled and his polling numbers have been decreasing.
In addition to his draconian “don’t say gay” law that forbids the discussion of the existence of LGBTQ+ people or their experiences in the world in schools through high school graduation, he has stripped parents of the right to access lifesaving, medically proven and endorsed care for their children. His administration has rolled back access to books, medical care, bathrooms, and most public accommodations for transgender people in the state.
After Disney objected to his assault on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, DeSantis sought to get revenge against one of Florida’s largest employers.
He says that Florida is “where woke goes to die” and rails about “wokeism” and “woke gender ideology” nonstop, but those words have no meaning, critics say.
DeSantis has also aimed at drag performances by punishing private businesses that host them with examinations of their liquor licenses.
DeSantis is also reportedly closely connected to one of the internet’s worst anti-LGBTQ+ trolls, Chaya Raichik, who runs the hate account Libs of TikTok on Twitter.
DeSantis also denies the existence of transgender people.
“Asking us to be complicit in a fraud” that is “not true…we are not going to accept things that are not true in this country,” he said of trans identity at a campaign kickoff rally in Des Moines, Iowa, a few days before Pride Month this year.
“You take a man, and they dress up as a woman, and you tell me I have to accept that they are a woman, then you’re asking me to be complicit in a lie. And I just refuse to do that,” DeSantis said on the right-wing Benny Johnson Show in April.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
In 2011, former New Jersey governor and early Trump endorser Chris Christie said, “I am not a fan of same-sex marriage,” adding, “I believe marriage should be between one man and a woman,” during an NBC’s Meet the Pressappearance.
He also vetoed a bill by Democrats in New Jersey that legalized same-sex marriages within hours of the bill’s passage.
Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley
One of the most anti-LGBTQ+ candidates in the Republican field is the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, Nikki Haley.
She has opposed marriage equality for decades. She voiced that opposition since at least 2004, when she told reporters that she believed in marriage “between a man and a woman.”
By 2009, she said that if a same-sex marriage bill crossed her desk as governor, she would veto it. She continued to defend her position throughout her governorship, even after marriage equality was ushered into the state.
In 2016, she attacked a directive by a federal judge and Department of Education officials who advised public schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms following their gender identity.
In 2021, she called policies that allow transgender girls and women to play team sports “an attack on women’s rights.”
More recently, she has said that a fellow presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not go far enough with his “don’t say gay” law. At the time, prohibitions for discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity ended in elementary school. Since then, those prohibitions have been extended through high school graduation. She's also said that trans student athletes are somehow responsible for suicidal ideation in girls.
In late May, she denied the existence of trans people, asserting that Dylan Mulvaney was just “a guy dressed up like a girl, making fun of women.”
Haley has been gaining in the polls in recent weeks.
Former pharmaceutical executive and political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy describes himself as a nationalist who believes that America must regain civic pride.
However, since entering the election spotlight, he has used nearly every opportunity to spout lies and far-right talking points about the LGBTQ+ community.
He criticized the “trans cult” when speaking on Fox News with Sean Hannity in May.
“Dress how you want, behave how you want as an adult, live your life freely, but leave our kids alone and do not demand that we change our language or the way we live our lives,” he said.
On Meet the Press, Ramaswamy defended his belief in the binary gender system and told host Chuck Todd that “gender dysphoria for most of our history, all the way through the DSM V, has been characterized as a mental health disorder.”
In the second debate, he said, “Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder. … It is not compassionate to affirm a kid’s confusion. That is not compassion, that is cruelty.”
Major medical and mental health organizations do not consider transgender identity a mental disorder. The DSM he referred to is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which no longer lists trans identity as an illness.
Ramaswamy said lack of parental notification and involvement increases the risk of suicide among trans youth — ignoring the fact that mandatory notification would put young trans people at risk of this or various other bad outcomes if their parents are not supportive.
South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott
Image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
The South Carolinian is the only Black Republican senator serving in the U.S. Senate and a staunch anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaker.
Accordingly, he opposed the Respect for Marriage Act, which guaranteed marriage equality regardless of sexual orientation or race. Additionally, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the forerunner to the Equality Act.
Last year, Scott introduced legislation that would cut federal funding for schools that used students’ preferred pronouns without prior parental approval.