Four of the GOP presidential candidates attacked each other over transgender issues during their fourth debate at the University of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus on Wednesday night, underscoring the fact that the Republican Party has not given up on emphasizing culture war issues.
Shortly after the debate’s start, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attacked former Ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for being insufficiently socially conservative, claiming Haley had criticized him for passing a bill barring minors from accessing gender-affirming care, which he called a form of child abuse, as reported by News Nation, host of the evening.
DeSantis claimed Haley supports “gender mutilation of minors” and does not support government intervention to stop these treatments.
Haley responded that she had actually criticized Florida’s original “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, for only going as high as third grade.
She said it should be expanded to all grades. DeSantis pointed out that the expansion was a different piece of legislation, which was passed earlier this year.
“We’re talking about sex change operations on minors,” countered DeSantis. “They do puberty blockers, these are irreversible. Talk to [detransitioner] Chloe Cole. She went through this. Now she’s an adult, she’s warning against it. She may never be able to have kids again. That is what Nikki Haley opposed. She said the law shouldn’t get involved with that. I just ask 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 stand up for anything?”
“I never said that,” Haley replied. “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.”
DeSantis later criticized Haley for not signing a bill to ban transgender people from facilities matching their gender identity, saying, “I don’t think men should be going into little girls’ bathrooms,” and painting transgender people as child predators.
Haley countered that she has always supported single-sex bathrooms.
“When I was governor, ten years ago, when the bathroom situation came up, we had maybe a handful of kids that were dealing with an issue, and I said, ‘We don’t need to bring government into this, but boys go into boys’ bathrooms, girls go into girls’ bathrooms, and if anyone else has an issue, they use a private bathroom,” she said. But now, she added, the issue has “exploded.”
Haley later noted that when DeSantis ran for governor in 2018, he said that fighting the “bathroom wars” was not “a good use of his time.”
DeSantis countered that he has since signed such a bill into law, and claimed that transgender kids had been going into bathrooms that did not match their assigned sex at birth.
“South Carolinians never allowed that to happen, and we did not have that issue at the time,” Hayley said. “What I have always said is boys go into boys bathroom, girls go into girls bathroom. But I also say that biological boys shouldn’t be playing in girls’ sports, and I will do everything I can to stop that, because it’s the women’s issue of our time.”
Vivek Ramaswamy said during the debate that his “North Star” is that “transgenderism is a mental health disorder,” a statement he has previously made on the campaign trail and in past debates.
He suggested banning “genital mutilation and chemical castration,” asserting that the government can impose restrictions on gender-affirming care just like it imposed age restrictions for smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol legally.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, when asked about bans on gender-affirming care, said he believed parents should be the ones making decisions about a child’s health, not the government.
“I get to make the decisions about my children, not anybody else, and every parent that’s out there who’s watching tonight, [if] you start to turn over just a little bit of this authority? The authority they take from you next, you’re not going to like.”
“Every once in a while, parents are going to make decisions that we disagree with,” he added. “But the minute you start to take those rights away from parents, you don’t know that slippery slope, what rights are going to be taken away next.”
Christie said that, as a Republican, he believes in “less government.”
“We should empower parents to be teaching values that they believe in in their homes without the government telling them what those values should be,” he said.
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