GOP Challengers Finally Produce Fireworks As Clock Ticks To Run Down Trump

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Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
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Even with fewer participants on stage, the GOP presidential candidates produced plenty of entertaining spats, one-liners and viral moments at Wednesday night’s debate all without former President Donald Trump being in attendance.

The fourth Republican National Committee (RNC) debate, hosted by NewsNation, the Washington Free Beacon and the Megyn Kelly Show, featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for a rather heated program. Christie wasn’t addressed once for the first 17 minutes of the show, as the remaining trio waged a war of words over transgender surgeries for kids and corporate corruption, but the lid of Moody Music Hall in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, soon blew off.

Christie first piped up 18 minutes in after Kelly reminded him that she “had not forgotten” to ask him a question. The presidential hopeful pointed out that Haley, DeSantis and Ramaswamy were too busy arguing with each other to acknowledge the GOP front runner who was absent from the stage: Trump. The former president once again opted to skip the program.

“These three are acting as if the race is between the four of us,” the former governor said. “It’s often very difficult to be the only person on stage who’s telling the truth.”

Early in the debate, DeSantis and Ramaswamy teamed up on Haley for her previous comments on sex reassignment surgeries and her belief that social media users must pass an ID verification. Christie, though, picked DeSantis as his target, claiming multiple times he lacks the ability to give a straight answer to the moderator’s questions.

The former governor pointed this out after DeSantis was asked whether Trump, at 77-years-old, was “fit” to be president.

“Father time is undefeated,” DeSantis said before Christie berated the Florida governor for dodging the question. “I think we need to have somebody younger.”

In the middle of the event, Ramaswamy held up a legal pad with the handwritten words “Haley = Corrupt” to further emphasize his feelings for the former U.N. ambassador after he called into question her authenticity. The entrepreneur was asked if he questioned Haley’s devotion to the Christian faith.

When Ramaswamy wasn’t taking swipes at Haley, and when Christie wasn’t taking shots at DeSantis, the two turned their attention to each other as they stood at opposite ends of the stage. (RELATED: Christie Spotted Getting Heated With Moderators During Commercial Break After Vivek Told Him To ‘Enjoy A Nice Meal’)

“You do this at every debate,” Christie said after Ramaswamy interjected to refute the former governor. “You go out on the stump and you say something, all of us see it on video, we confront you about it on the debate stage, you say you didn’t say it, and then you back away.”

“Listen, this is the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first twenty minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. So shut up,” Christie later continued.

“Just do everybody a favor,” Ramaswamy later hit back. “Just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out of this race.”

With back-and-forths that ginned up the crowd and required the moderators to break them up, the event was far different from the third debate hosted by NBC News and Salem Radio, which more often resembled a TED Talk. After being hesitant to respond to attacks during the third debate, this time around the candidates didn’t wait for the moderators to give them a chance to refute their competitors.

What may have sparked the quarrels between the candidates was the direct questioning from moderators Kelly, Washington Free Beacon Editor-In-Chief Eliana Johnson and News Nation’s Elizabeth Vargas.

The first question of the debate came from Kelly who addressed the “elephant in the room” and asked DeSantis why he was still in the race despite underachieving. Kelly then asked Haley if she was “too tight with the banks and the billionaires” to win over middle class Americans before grilling Christie about his low approval rating among his party.

Previous moderators were criticized for failing to ask questions that mattered to Republican voters, but Kelly, Johnson and Vargas managed to touch on the border crisis, Trump, sex reassignment surgeries and parental rights all within the first hour. The candidates were even asked which former president they would model themselves after if elected. (RELATED: Cut Mics, Expensive Curtains, ‘Offensively Stupid’ Questions — GOP Debate Falls Flat)

In all, the night was summed up by a quick back and forth that later fueled more bickering.

“Ron has continued to lie because he’s losing,” Haley began after being given a chance to discuss the gender identity debate in schools.

“That’s not a lie.” DeSantis shot back — but he didn’t refute the other half of her statement.