‘I love the attention, fellas’ Haley says defending herself in combative 4th GOP debate

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Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s seen as surging in Iowa and New Hampshire, had to fend off attacks from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy in Wednesday’s debate.

The three GOP hopefuls, along with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, squared off in the fourth presidential debate, the last one scheduled before the holidays and the Jan. 15 Iowa Caucus.

The clear frontrunner in the Republican race, former President Donald Trump, again chose not to participate in the debate.

Haley has been moving up in the polls in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, putting a target on her back from other candidates.

In the first segment of the debate, DeSantis and Ramaswamy went after Haley for having support from corporate donors and said those donors would have influence over her.

“I love all the attention, fellas,” Haley said. “Thank you for that.”

The attacks come after a super PAC supporting Haley’s candidacy received a $250,000 contribution from a wealthy Democratic donor, Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman.

“They want to use economic power to impose a left-wing agenda on this country,” DeSantis said.

Haley also recently received the endorsement of the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity Action.

“In terms of these donors that are supporting me, they’re just jealous. They wish that they were supporting them,” Haley said.

As more attacks came, which included her needing to defend a stance to ban social media bots from other countries she had a zinger for the other candidates.

Ramaswamy questioned how Haley built her wealth after leaving the United Nations where she served as an ambassador during the Trump administration.

“You were bankrupt when you left the U.N. After you left the U.N. you became a military contractor. You actually started... on the board of Boeing whose back you scratched for a very long time and then give foreign multinational speeches like Hillary Clinton is and now you’re a multimillionaire, that math does not add up. It adds up to the fact that you are corrupt,” Ramaswamy said.

Haley defended herself receiving support from corporate donors.

“I don’t ask them what their policies are,” Haley said. “They asked me what my policies are. And I tell them what it is. Sometimes they agree with me, sometimes they don’t. Some don’t like how tough I am on China. Some don’t like the fact that I’ve signed pro-life bills. Some don’t like the fact that I may oppose corporate bailouts. That doesn’t matter. That’s who I am.”

Ramaswamy said he questioned Haley’s authenticity, saying she’s used identity politics to gain favor.

“Nikki Haley’s campaign launch video sounded like a woke and Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light ad talking about how she would kick in heels ... She said that I have a woman problem. Nikki, I don’t have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem and I think that that’s what people need to know. Nikki is corrupt,” he said, holding up a sign he wrote on a legal pad that read “Nikki equals corrupt.”

Haley had a brief retort.

“It’s not worth my time to respond to him,” Haley said.

When it came to foreign policy, Haley said the U.S. needs to be strong and stand up to Iran and Syria.

“We need to make sure that we have full clarity that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won’t invade Taiwan,” Haley said. “There’s a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that’s what Joe Biden has given us.”

Ramaswamy said the foreign policy experience did not translate into foreign policy wisdom.

“She has no idea what the hell the names of those provinces are, but she wants to send our sons and daughters and our clinics and our military equipment to go fight it,” Ramaswamy said.

Haley also wasn’t alone in defending herself.

She had backup from Christie when Ramaswamy called on Haley to name provinces in Ukraine that need to be defended from Russia in the ongoing war.

“We disagree about some issues and we disagree about who should be president United States. What we don’t disagree on is this is a smart accomplished woman. You should stop insulting her,” Christie said.

DeSantis accused Haley of not supporting legislation to stop gender affirming care for minors.

“She said the law shouldn’t get involved in that. And I just asked you if you’re somebody that’s going to be the President of the United States and you can’t stand up against child abuse. How are you going to be able to say anything?” Desantis said.

Haley accused DeSantis of lying about her record.

“I said that if you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, you should have to be 18 to have anything done to change your gender,” Haley said.

DeSantis pointed to Haley’s opposition to a so-called “bathroom bill” in South Carolina when she was governor that would have required people to use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth.

Haley said at the time, the state only had a handful of situations where the concern mattered and those children would use a private bathroom.

“I said we don’t need to bring government into this, but Boys go into boys’ bathrooms. Girls go into girls’ bathrooms, , If anyone else has an issue, they go to a private bathroom,” Haley said.

She added the situation has since grown. Haley also reiterated that she believes transgender women should not be allowed to participate in women’s sports.

DeSantis pointed to how he signed legislation in Florida to prevent minors from undergoing gender-affirming medical care for minors. He said when he recently visited South Carolina, “some of the legislators told me at the time there were boys going into the girls (restrooms).”

“You’re not going to talk about my state like that, because I will tell you for a fact. South Carolinians never allowed that to happen,” Haley said in response. “We did not have that issue at the time.”

Haley in 2016 said that type of legislation wasn’t necessary, as her office had not received any complaints on the issue and South Carolinians respected each other’s backgrounds.

In order to make the debate stage, candidates needed at least 80,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors from 20 states and territories. They also needed to have at least 6% support in two national polls or one national poll and two polls in early-voting states.