Five worst moments from final Republican 2024 presidential debate: Ron DeSantis leads anti-trans attacks

GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis wears a suit and tie as he stands at a podium for the Republican debate, where he made several anti-trans statements

The fourth Republican debate featured just four candidates – narrowing the broad pool down to Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie – competing not only to get the GOP presidential nomination, but to see who could shoehorn in the most anti-trans talking points. 

Despite attacks on the trans community not being a politically popular idea, the GOP’s 2024 White House hopefuls embraced them anyway at the final debate on Wednesday (6 December) in a desperate attempt to beat current favourite Donald Trump, who continues to dominate in national polls.

Discussions over real issues impacting Americans quickly devolved into candidates like DeSantis and Halley flaunting their hardline stances on trans rights in the US. 

With primary elections just weeks away, here are five ways the Republican presidential candidates tried to use anti-trans attacks to bolster their political prowess at the final debate. 

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Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis butted heads over trans people using bathrooms

South Carolina governor Haley and Florida governor DeSantis began the anti-trans tirade by sparring over bathroom bills, which prevent trans people from using restrooms that align with their authentic selves. 

DeSantis said Haley “killed” a South Carolina bill that would have banned trans people from using certain restrooms during her time as governor. 

As governor in 2016, Haley said she didn’t believe it was “necessary” to pass such a bill, and the legislation stalled before it even reached her desk. 

During the presidential debate, Nikki Haley hurled a similar complaint against DeSantis, saying: “When he was running for governor and they asked him about that, he said he didn’t think bathroom bills were a good use of his time.”

In response, Ron DeSantis laughed as he proudly proclaimed that he signed an anti-trans bathroom bill into law in Florida – “so that’s obviously not true”.

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DeSantis repeated the anti-trans dog whistle that gender-affirming healthcare is ‘child abuse’

The Florida governor continued his anti-trans attacks well into the debate, pivoting from what toilets people use to the healthcare they can access. 

He equated gender-affirming care for trans youth to “mutilation”, a dangerous and common anti-trans dog whistle. DeSantis then drew loud cheers when he said parents “do not have the right to abuse” their kids by helping them access gender-affirming healthcare.  

In May, DeSantis signed a trans healthcare ban into law as part of a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation he claimed would “protect the innocence of Florida’s children”. The law, which was partially enjoined following a scathing legal ruling in June, limits healthcare for trans adults and completely denies it for any trans person under the age of 18. 

GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis wears a suit and tie as he stands at a podium for the Republican debate, where he made several anti-trans statements
During the fourth and final Republican debate, Ron DeSantis equated parents helping their trans kids access gender-affirming healthcare to ‘abuse’. (Getty)

Ron DeSantis’ anti-trans statements during the final Republican debate are not backed by medical guidance. 

The American Medical Association, American Association of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association and more leading medical groups declared gender-affirming healthcare as safe, effective and medically necessary for trans youth. Many have urged politicians to stay out of the debate.

Additionally, studies show that access to gender-affirming healthcare – like puberty blockers and hormone therapy – is linked to better mental health outcomes for trans people

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Vivek Ramaswamy took it a step further by falsely claiming that being trans is a ‘mental health disorder’

Amid the anti-trans tirades from DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy tried to get his time in the spotlight by airing his own utterly false claims about the community, alleging that being trans is a “mental health disorder”. 

“We don’t let you smoke a cigarette by the age of 18,” Ramaswamy said on stage. 

“We don’t let you have an addictive drink of alcohol by the age of 21 … That’s [being trans] a mental health disorder; that’s where we need to be at.”

However, Ramaswamy’s claims are patently not true. Both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization declared that being trans is not a mental disorder.

This is not the first time that he’s made such spurious claims. During the second Republican debate in September, the businessman claimed it wasn’t “compassionate to affirm” a trans kid’s “confusion”

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Nikki Haley claimed trans inclusion in sports is the ‘women’s issue of our time’

Later in the debate, Haley moved from gender-affirming healthcare to trans inclusion in sports. The former US Ambassador to the UN declared that trans girls and women playing on sports teams that are in line with their gender identity is the most pressing issue for women in the US. 

“I will do everything I can to stop that because it’s the women’s issue of our time,” Nikki Haley said, receiving applause from the Republican debate audience. 

GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley wears white dress as she stands at a podium for the Republican debate, where she made several anti-trans statements
Nikki Haley claimed that trans people playing on sports teams that align with their gender is the biggest ‘women’s issue of our time’. (Getty)

Haley conveniently seemed to gloss over the fact that Roe v Wade was overturned in 2022, which dismantled decades of legal protection and paved the way for individual states to curtail or outright ban abortion rights. 

The ruling compounded existing concerns about attacks on reproductive health and the control people have over their bodies in the US. 

Haley previously claimed that trans inclusion in sports was a pressing women’s issue in the US on the campaign trail. In June, she suggested that trans people being able to play sports was causing suicidal ideation in teenage girls. 

She doubled down on her comments in a statement to NBC News, saying: “If you think this kind of aggressive bullying isn’t part of the problem, you’re not paying attention.”

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If you thought Chris Christie was a trans ally in the final Republican debate, you’re wrong

While he wasn’t as hardline as Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis, the former governor of New Jersey nonetheless used his time at the podium to attack trans healthcare. 

Christie told debate moderator Megyn Kelly that he wouldn’t approve an outright ban on gender-affirming healthcare because he believed parents should get to make decisions about healthcare for their children

GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie wears a suit and tie as he stands at a podium for the Republican debate, where he made several anti-trans statements
Chris Christie repeated that he wouldn’t support a federal trans healthcare ban, but he doesn’t approve of such medical treatments for trans youth. (Getty)

“We should empower parents to be teaching values that they believe in their homes without the government telling them what those values should be, and yet, we want to take other parental rights away,” he said. 

Christie added that he trusted parents to make decisions about their kids “without the government telling them what those values should be”, before declaring he ultimately didn’t approve of gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth because he believes it’s “dangerous”. 

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